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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Fahrenheit 451 redux

A whole herd of Captain Beattys February 6, 2022 at 1:48 a.m.

Hasn't Tennessee been in this mess before?

When William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow were going at it during "Scopes," H.L. Mencken supposedly had to stand on a table frequently to catch the action in the packed courthouse in rural Tennessee. The story goes that one time the table collapsed underneath him and one of the sisters in the audience announced: "It's a jedgment! The walls are falling in and Mr. Mencken is the first to go. And he won't go to glory, either!"

They said if Mencken hadn't had the Scopes Monkey Trial, he would have had to have invented it. That dust-up was all about banning information in the schools. And the whole mess didn't leave Tennessee with a better reputation.

And here we go again.

A few days ago, the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel "Maus" was removed from the eighth-grade English curriculum in McMinn County, Tennessee. The school board said the book--about the experiences of Holocaust survivors--had "rough, objectionable language" in it, plus a drawing of a nude woman. For the record, you can't watch Schindler's List without seeing naked people as they are dehumanized by the Nazis. And you can't read Mark Twain without reading rough, objectionable language.

Rough, objectionable language! How is one supposed to tell the story of the Holocaust without it? Are we to tip-toe around the descriptions and the objectives of the bastards who pulled it off? To hell with that. Besides, eighth graders hear and see worse on free TV after 9 p.m.

According to dispatches, the local board in that Tennessee precinct voted unanimously (10 to 0) to remove the book, which says a lot about that local school board, and nothing good. The board did say the book should be replaced, according to CNN, "with another book without content deemed objectionable." We hear "The Three Little Pigs" is available.

" 'Maus' has played a vital role in educating about the Holocaust through sharing detailed and personal experiences of victims and survivors," says an outfit that should know, the U.S. Holocaust Museum. "Teaching about the Holocaust using books like 'Maus' can inspire students to think critically about the past and their own roles and responsibilities today."

Just not in one Tennessee school district.

But what goes around . . . . After this controversy made the papers, the hard-cover version of Art Spiegelman's book began climbing to the top of best-seller lists. NB: The hard-cover edition. May its author make a bundle.

Perhaps the kids in the McMinn County school district will find something else to read. Or as Captain Beatty explained to fireman Montag in Fahrenheit 451:

Authors, full of thoughts, lock up your typewriters. ... Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. ... Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade-journals.

Yes, they'll find something else to read. But it won't be as good. Or as educational.

Print Headline: Fahrenheit 451 redux


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