Monthly Archives: September 2006

Censorship And Classic Banned Books

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. And even the recent popular culture phenomenon, the Harry Potter series.

All of these seemingly-unrelated books share a common thread; each has been banned or challenged by conservative literary activists and professional educators.

Each of these significant cultural works metaphorically transcends the written word on a page and respectively represents a different America: one faced with the ugly dehumanization of slavery, a post-bellum country continuing to brutalize their impoverished minorities and a wealthy country recently taking a liking to imaginative coming-of-age epics.

In fact, nearly half of the top ten most-challenged pieces of literature are tenants on the list of primary works of literary art. Including the aforementioned texts, the American Library Association’s Web site lists John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men as another text historically experiencing a barrage of worry and censorship attempts in certain schools and libraries.

Other works suffering separate, but similar, moral criticism includes James Joyce’s Ulysses, Walt Whitman’s collection of poetry Leaves of Grass and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

When advocates for book censorship deem a certain text inappropriate for younger audiences, the conflict becomes a fight against the right to free speech. Freedom of speech, some claim, is as purely and explicitly American as its flag. Others stand beside a strict, conservative moral code, which is implicitly American as well. Those in favor of banning certain books often find these written displays of immorality and promiscuity challenging to the traditional social mores and potentially compromising to their personal values.

The opponents of book banning and censorship contend the action is a direct and blatant violation against the freedom of speech. The result of these two sides is a muddled argument of personal rights versus collective social morality.

In 2005, according to the American Library Association, over half of the most-challenged books deal with sexual themes, including 20th century classics like The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings faced heated debates due to its use of incest within the narrative as well as its profane language. Recently, scholars and critics have argued J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series persuades children to sinfully indulge themselves in black magic and devil worshiping. Opponents of Twain’s still widely-read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are sensitive to Twain’s heavy use of the word nigger and Finn’s lack of moral development throughout this American picaresque novel.

Whether people are advocates for keeping certain books in an uncensored format or banning them, their inability to sit quietly in their corners rightfully exists in a country where intelligent and respectful disagreements are encouraged.

Many major texts have undergone some amount of disapproval and debate; even the Bible’s place in libraries and schools has been vehemently argued about. In a country with a countless number of varying belief and value systems, a book is bound to experience welcoming acceptances as well as bitter reproaches from the world of academia and the general reading population.

The American Library Association continues to fight against book banning and censorship by organizing and instituting Banned Book Week in the last week of September. During this weeklong celebration, the ALA urges people to read historically banned books, utilizing their own discretion and encouraging the right to free speech.

Books are a powerful medium. As we learn in his powerful autobiography, reading permitted the once-enslaved Frederick Douglass to become a free man. While banning books and censorship does compromise the right to the freedom of speech, its value becomes apparent in the American culture’s redefining of right and wrong, good and bad and artistic and unartistic.

Lost In Translation: Book To Film Adaptations

William Shakespeare, perhaps surprisingly, was a literary thief. So were novelists James Joyce and Mark Twain. With a rise in the popularity of movies during the 20th century, film directors and screenwriters also are borrowing examples from literature to create their movies’ plots and characters.

Though each artist uses different mediums to transport their ultimate goal, the two types of craftsmen utilize similar techniques.

Writers and film directors seem to quietly revert, both consciously and subconsciously, to a simple phrase when conjuring up enticing plots and subplots, emotionally and psychologically complex characters and symbolic settings: larceny is genius.

Movie directors may borrow certain elements from famous pieces of literature to strengthen their respective works. While many film plots seem completely unique or innovative, such as The Matrix trilogy, movie buffs may be surprised at how many films subtly steal significant literary or philosophical texts. One of the most successful film trilogies in history employs ideas from one of the most well-known philosophy books in history. The Matrix directors, the Wachowski brothers, created a seemingly innovative story about a man given a chance to view the authentic, yet sobering, reality humanity is kept from seeing. This story strikingly resembles one of ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s most memorable allegories.

In The Matrix, the protagonist Neo represents the epitome of the late 20th century generation man. He receives an opportunity to take a pill and become plugged into the true reality, rather than the dream-like world humans populate. From this moment on, Neo experiences a clear-cut dichotomy of light versus dark, perception versus reality and good verses bad. Similarly, in his famous dialogue The Republic, Plato uses a cave allegory to illustrate a similar point on the difference between the shadows of perception and the light of truth and reality. Like Neo in The Matrix, Plato’s metaphorical character must push through the initially blinding and confusing reality. The Matrix also contains a multitude of biblical plots and characters, such as the crucifixion of Neo as the Savior, the concepts of prophet and the John the Baptist recreation Morpheus.

Artistic thievery, however, is not solely for the films of the creativity-deprived late 1990s. One of the most popular and entertaining musicals of all time derives its plot from one of the most widely read and performed plays in English literature. In 1961, West Side Story took the movie industry by storm and claimed itself the most acclaimed motion picture of [its] time. The story of two star-crossed lovers from opposing New York City gangs won ten Oscars and its lives on in high school auditoriums and stereos across the country. The writers of West Side Story, however, had a plot framework from the late 16th century in mind, nearly guaranteeing the most acclaimed motion picture of their time.

In early years of his career, William Shakespeare wrote a drama people continue to romantically quote. The Westside Story creators used the dramatic demigod’s hit play Rome and Juliet as the blueprints for their modernized version. By changing the setting and the backgrounds of the character, screenwriters Jerome Robbins and Arthur Laurents created a modern day Romeo and Juliet in their characters Maria and Tony.

Ironically, though, even Shakespeare dabbled in the larceny is genius philosophy, for he twisted many of his plots from other authors’ works. Some scholars contend Shakespeare spun Romeo and Juliet from Tristan and Isolde, a romance from the Middle Ages. A Hollywood remake of this play recently was released in theatres. Other movies masking themselves as new ideas include the teen-marketed 10 Things I Hate About You (Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew ) and She’s All That (George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which also inspired the adaptors of My Fair Lady ).

There are films deliberately and directly adapted from books. Movies such as Lord of the Rings, though abridged for time concerns, keep the same basic plotlines and major characters. Other popular adaptations include Pride and Prejudice and the Harry Potter series. Criticism can justifiably arrive when directors and screenwriters begin to change point of views or personal philosophies take shape in the film, as in Mel Gibson purportedly did in The Passion of the Christ.

The book-to-movie adaptations, whether subtle or explicit, flood the aisles of video stores and attract viewer’s attention with their advertisements in the entertainment sections. Before you visit your local movie theatre, dust off the classic pieces of literature sitting ornamentally on the bookshelf in your living room. You can play detective and investigate the infinite amount of literary crimes in Hollywood.

Across The Blackboard: Commonly Taught Literature

In the midst of sixteen years of schooling, including four years at college, many readers find themselves weary and unenthusiastic when it comes to reading for required literature courses. This exhausted reaction may be attributed to continual re-assignments of classic works of fiction throughout the years.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlet Letter and Of Mice and Men are all commonly taught pieces of literature high school and college students can expect to see on one or more syllabi throughout their educational duration.

While each of these repetitious assignments is culturally relevant and artistically crafted, eagerness subsides and questions begin to develop regarding who authorizes which texts have enough merit to be taught. With an endless array of richly-engaging texts, high school teachers and college professors frequently manage to choose primarily the same novels to teach to their classrooms. Ironically, the word ‘novel’ literally means new, yet academia continues to use the old. Students young and old often have read the same novels as one another during their time in school.

Some of the most popular novels teachers monotonously include in their syllabi every year include Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Each of these famous American novels is centered on major moral American downfalls or notorious scandals in the United States.

For example, Twain’s regionally-guided text has gained academic popularity and canonized literary status because of the author’s use of derogatory slang and the memorably picaresque adventures of his adolescent, morally-ambiguous protagonist. Yet, the most intriguing element of Twain’s text lies beneath the mischievous actions and presence of blatant racial slurs during the 19th century. Huck’s older confidant Jim juxtaposes well with the young Huck, and their relationship is memorable, signifying why many teachers continue to utilize this exciting and morally-relevant journey down the Mississippi River.

Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, one of the most popular novels in all of literature, contains a high, but accessible level of symbolism and epitomizes the ubiquitous and unparalleled popular attraction to the American dream. Set during the recognizably money-hungry era of the Roaring Twenties, it dictates the eventual fall of the stock market, the legal implementation of Prohibition and the glitz and glamour of flappers and socialites.
Fitzgerald’s American classic pinpoints the life of a self-made man, Gatsby, and his eventually fatal downfall. Told through the eyes of Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby attracts many teachers and professors because of its classic conflict between moral values and greedy capitalism, its purely American-driven themes and its ironic twists and turns.

Perhaps as popular as Fitzgerald’s tour de force, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird has become a reliable staple of educational literature taught in classrooms across the country. First published in 1960 and winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, To Kill a Mockingbird reminds its readers of the disgusting, inhumane nature of bigotry. The story provides a compassionate hero in one of the most memorable characters in literature, Atticus Finch. Lee’s unforgettable novel demands compassion while tragically narrating the violent rippling effects of racism. Its glowing theme reminds readers of the true meaning behind humanity.

Regardless of their merit, some students and tuition-paying parents may still wonder why the same highlighted, note-ridden pages of literature find their ways in thousands of backpacks every year. These novels include Toni Morrison’s The Song of Solomon, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. It is an issue of power and authority, and the answer lies in the elusive, but omnipresent canon of literature in American academics.

While there are anthologies and lists of works arguing the merit of certain novels, there is not a specifically-designated, singular group collectively deciding which books are included and which are exiled. Who dictates whether students will read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, or whether Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God contains enough literary value for academic instruction? This group of literary authorities is comprised of significant members of academia, publishers and occasionally parents.

A shared thread runs through many of the commonly taught pieces of literature. Like all pieces of art, literature is bound in history. This country’s biography is deeply rooted in strict, moral codes of religion, specifically Protestantism. It should be no surprise then that a majority of our famous works deal with major moral decadence and moments of ethical indifference. The protagonists lose their moral compass and must find their way back to the ethical avenue.

At the heart of each of these commonly taught novels lies the critical reason why teachers across the country choose to constantly assign these masterpiece novels: morality and the hope for an eventual ethical epiphany in the reader.

Creative Inight On Popular Culture: Chuck Klosterman

Pop Culture: Chuck Klosterman’s Wit and Insight

Chuck Klosterman watches a seemingly inordinate amount of television. He also rocks out to Black Sabbath, Radiohead and Fleetwood Mac. He devours all that pop culture indiscriminately puts on his dryly sarcastic, insightful and post-modern intellectual plate.

The senior Spin magazine writer has gained popularity outside of the well-known publication in his lengthy cultural commentary, “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto.”

Klosterman’s self-proclaimed manifesto can be scathingly funny, occasionally so hysterical readers are prone to lose any audio while laughing (see “Track 7: George Will versus Nick Hornby”), and it will dramatically change the way many view MTV’s “The Real World,” “Saved By the Bell” and the uncool genius of Billy Joel’s music.

Klosterman’s work is not solely a basic satirical summation of why people passionately cared (or for some, still care) about the shallow love triangle between “Saved by the Bell” characters Zack, Kelly and Slater, or a general acknowledgement of the annoyance soccer moms consistently bring to American suburbia. Using post-modernism as his theoretical backdrop, the writer dives into the representations of reality often misinterpreted as insignificant actions and images.

The comedic breadth of this North Dakota native is expansive, and his analysis extends well beyond the superfluous, rudimentary and saccharine spectrum of teen-oriented television or the arguments over the coolness of certain musicians and the reverberations of rock music today.

Klosterman also occasionally writes for ESPN.
His mastery of sports knowledge and its inclusion in the social and cultural paradigm is evident through his writing. He can construct certain cultural tastes based on whether or not a person rooted for the traditional Boston Celtics or the entertaining Los Angeles Lakers during the 1980s. For example, in terms of rap music, if one is a Lakers’ fan he or she is likely to support Ice Cube and NWA, but the Celtics enthusiasts are likely bob their heads to Eminem, “the only white guy who can keep up.”

Klosterman divides “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” creatively and fittingly into a form resembling a CD. Each chapter represents a track with brief interludes of sporadic and philosophical wonderments. In one of the funniest interludes, Klosterman gives his readers 23 questions whose answers determine whether or not they can love another person. To begin, he narrates a certain dilemma, and while it is atypical, one gets the idea Klosterman has done some serious thinking and moral consideration with these topics. One of these moral, pop culture dilemmas include whether or not a person would allow a gorilla to suit up for the Oakland Raiders if they were the general manager. Absurd? Of course. Intelligent and humorous? Absolutely.

Besides this acclaimed manifesto and contributing to the likes of Spin, The New York Times Magazine and G.Q., Klosterman also has written two other books, “Fargo Rock City” and “Killing Yourself to Live.” While these two works may not be as exclusively aimed to dissect the paradigm of popular culture, they match the same off-tangent humor, insightful wit and naturally inquisitive base “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs” is so strongly founded upon. Chuck Klosterman rarely seems to become full of the buffet of representations pop culture incessantly offers.

Contemporary Voice: Ian McEwan

A master in controlling time and narrative flow. A sophisticated journalistic style that is unrivaled in the 21st century. A Virginia Woolf-like understanding of daily moments of fate within the public sphere.

While contemporary author Ian McEwan does not limit himself only to these effective literary techniques, he has proven himself to be unobtrusively adept in eliciting empathy and emotion from his readers across the globe.

Born on June 21, 1948, McEwan graduated from the University of Essex with a degree in English Literature and continued his education at the University of East Anglia to pursue a Master of Arts in English Literature. During his post-graduate experience at East Anglia, McEwan discovered the creative, boundless vocation of writing, providing him with the ability to emotionally touch and challenge readers across every ocean.

McEwan’s literary career began appropriately in 1975 with an award-winning collection of short stores called First Love, Last Rites. The author’s success has only continued to increase 30 years later. In 1997, McEwan welcomed critical acclaim to his first novel, Enduring Love, and one year later, his novella Amsterdam received the prestigious Booker Prize for contemporary literature.

McEwan also received critical and popular praise in 2001 for his well-crafted and multi-perspective novel Atonement.
Set in the 1930s, McEwan uses a girl aspiring to become a renowned author as his protagonist and, in doing so, explores the difficulty in separating reality from fiction and the muddled consequences in confusing the two. Like famous author Virginia Woolf, McEwan changes narrators, only without the stream-of-consciousness effect Woolf famously utilized.

His latest work has solidified McEwan as one of the most respected and talented contemporary writers. As the winner of the 2005 James Tait Black Award, Saturday resembles Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in its setting and sense of weary anticipation toward the uncontrollable. Saturday follows neurosurgeon Henry Perowne during one day in 2003, with the unfortunate, catastrophic events of Sept. 11 still lingering in the rearview mirror of McEwan’s novel. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, McEwan has frequently spoken about the global consequences of the attacks, the developing fear of future attacks and the lack of morality and empathy in the zealous religious fundamentalists.

As a self-proclaimed atheist who subtly resembles an agnostic at times, McEwan claims morality derives from the ability to empathize and the power of imagination, rather than a set of supreme laws from what he calls sky gods.

Though he may have involuntarily received the role of the post-Sept. 11 literary voice, McEwan is a writer both readers and literary critics can rely upon for engaging plots, interesting developments and human characters, complete with character insufficiencies and admirable virtues.

His works have already entered the chalkboard-covered walls of many classrooms in both Europe and America, and many of McEwan’s writings will surely find a permanent place in the future academic canon of English literature.

Bridging Cultures: Jhumpa Lahiri

In her first novel The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri writes, “Though they are home they are disconcerted by the space, by the uncompromising silence that surrounds them. They still feel somehow in transit, still disconnected from their lives, bound up in an alternate schedule, an intimacy only the four of them share.”

While The Namesake is not the work earning Jhumpa Lahiri her initial critical praise and the coveted Pulitzer Prize, it does specify the major celebrated themes of her writings.

Born in London, England, in 1967, Lahiri grew up in an academic family with Bengali roots; her parents were a teacher and a librarian, respectively. After enrolling at New York City’s Barnard College, the future Pulitzer Prize winner graduated an English major in 1989. Aggressively pursuing post-graduate degrees, Lahiri earned two master’s degrees, Creative Writing and Comparative Studies in Literature and Arts, as well as a Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies from Boston University.

After teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design and Boston University, the acclaimed author wrote The Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories which invite readers to experience the complications of many Indian-Americans and Indian immigrants in America. Lahiri seamlessly guides her reader in the opening story, “A Temporary Matter,” through the ins-and-outs of an Indian-American couple’s courtship, marriage and the inevitable challenges the union brings. In the final story, The Third and Final Continent, she intimately plugs her reader into the budding life of a newly immigrated academic in America.

Lahiri’s unique subjects and distinctive perspectives quickly brought rewards: The Interpreter of Maladies received numerous critical accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize and the 1999 O. Henry Award for her story “The Interpreter of Maladies.”

Lahiri’s highly-anticipated second book was her first novel. Appropriately titled The Namesake, it explores cultural identity, social adaptation and the tension between tradition and youth. The reader witnesses the maturation of Gogol, an American-born Bengali, and his struggle with his familial history and the exciting, luring American culture. Filled with the symbolic disgust of Gogol’s own name and the subtle, but present moments of confinement, Lahiri again has granted her audience an entertaining, culturally relevant and artistically-written and structured piece of writing. The Namesake recently was adapted into a screenplay, opening in theatres by November 2006.

With two best-selling works, Lahiri clearly has emerged as an up-and-coming talent and a young, authoritative voice of the multicultural American. In a March 6, 2006, Newsweek article, Lahiri admittedly professes “like many immigrant offspring I felt intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent in the new, approved of on either side of the hyphen.”

While Lahiri proclaims she often feels torn between the modern and traditional world, the literary world has shown absolutely no signs of being torn about the young talent who continues to provide readers with a significant glimpse into the personal development of a diversifying America.