I read on twitter yesterday that an organization against domestic abuse was going to have a ceremonial book burning of Fifty Shades of Grey. And I was appalled and sickened by the news and generally sad that people seemed to approve of the action. Please, if you’re reading this, read on, because this has nothing to do with whether or not I like the Fifty shades books.
Book burning, what can I say? I suppose it is an expression of free speech, but … It horrifies me. Remember when people were burning the Harry Potter books? I mean, Harry Potter, seriously? Would those who cheer at burning Fifty shades cry foul at burning Harry Potter? We members of a society based on Freedom of speech, where do we draw the line? Where do any of us get to choose what book is good, decent or right to be read?
There are books I would never read, books I would not want my children to read, if I had them. Books with ideas I would loathe and cry out against, books that promote hatred. Hatred of other people for their race, color, nationality, religion, disability or gender. I would cry out against the ideas espoused in such books, and yet, I would defend the readers’ right to read, and the authors’ right to write, much as I despised what was written. Is this not our responsibility in a free society, to support the right of someone to express ideas so repellent to our own?
There was a very powerful episode of the old TV show the Waltons that dealt with this subject. Around the beginning of World War Ii, the town got in a frenzy about books. John Boy was publishing a translated version of Hitler’s book in his newspaper, because he felt strongly that it was important to understand what the German leader was saying and his motives. The town was in an uproar, and on one bright Sunday, the pastor got the idea to burn the book and any other German books he could find. Unknown to anyone but John Boy, one member of their church was German and could speak and read the language fluently. John Boy raced to try to rescue the books. He grabbed one, and recognizing what it was before it went into the flames, he went to Mrs. Bremer and asked her to read it. She began to read, “In the beginning, god created the Heavens and the earth.”
Yes, the good people of Walton’s Mountain were about to burn a German copy of the Bible, right there in their church.
No, no, I’m not claiming this thing with Fifty Shades is similar, exactly. That Waltons Episode was an act of ignorance and hysteria. But the concept remains. Can we who love and value books, who would fight for our right to read any book we choose, can we sit back and remain silent when we hear of someone burning a book for their own cause, a worthy cause, as in this case. It doesn’t matter that the BDSM lifestyle presented in Fifty shades has nothing to do with domestic abuse, or that the lifestyle when practiced between consenting adults with safety first and foremost is nothing like domestic abuse. (No, I’m not involved in the lifestyle myself, and this is not a defense of it or lack of defense of it.(
The point is, and please please understand me, the point is that when we start to decide what ideas we will let be in print, when we try to say it’s ok to burn this book because we don’t approve of it, but not ok to burn that one because we do approve, isn’t this a slippery slope for all of us who hold the right to read immeasurably precious?
I don’t know the organization that is going to do this book burning, but how I wish I could cry out to them and say “Wait! Think before you light that bonfire, please!”