Before knee-jerking, please give this a moment to sink in. I got to interview Art Spiegelman back in the day, thanks to Fred Greenberg. So, let’s get this out of the way: The content of MAUS is incredible—Pulitzer worthy. It’s gotten awards, and is a holocaust masterpiece. Okay, we all settled?
It’s also rough. Art himself spoke to this at the time. It’s about the holocaust. If you don’t understand that there is ugly, hard-to-stomach content, then you’ve never read the book and shouldn’t bother going any further, because you’re unequipped to understand the debate.
Art knew why MAUS would wind up being a ‘Mature Readers’ selection via distribution networks. Same as Rolf Stark (another talented creator I had the chance to interview), who understood full well that his graphic novel concerning the same subject matter would rile folks up. Not everyone would be giving him a pat on the back for depicting hard truths in a graphic way.
In 1985, I was part of the ‘pull’ put on at Elmont Memorial High School, where the PTA had had a hissy-fit and demanded that One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest be pulled from the library and classrooms. That, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and Heart of Darkness—all destined for the dumpsters because of content concerns. (Yes, I filled my backpack with those titles and more slated for the ban-bin.)
Now, let’s return to today. We live in a world where Huck Finn hasn’t been able to go down river in most HS libraries for the better part of a decade. Why? Same thing: content concerns. Now, let’s go to Tennessee. Is this a case of anti-semitism, as knee-jerkers on FB and Twitter are claiming? No. Read the statements and the list of citations by the school board. Is it about bigotry? Holocaust denial? Again, the media is having a field day, but no, that’s not even part of it. Nudity, rape and profanity? Now, there’s the issue. Just like with Cuckoo’s Nest, which contains rape and violence and profanity, MAUS contains some of these elements, and…it’s a graphic novel. It isn’t prose. Thus? art/images of nudity and violence.
We’re talking about a middle school. They have rules concerning what gets into the library. If you’re so easily huckstered as to think that a book that’s over three decades old is suddenly being ‘targeted’, you’re naïvete is showing. There is no sex in Huckleberry Finn. There is no murder or rape. There is no mass-extermination based on the characters’ religion. And yet, it isn’t in most middle school libraries, and it’s removal from high schools nationwide has been the subject of countless articles. In other words, the amt of ‘objectionable content’ is minimal in comparison with a graphic novel with everything depicted visually.
I feel terrible for Art, and his book MAUS deserves better. First and foremost, though, what it deserves is for the media to report accurately on what actually happened, without trying to spin events to turn it into something it wasn’t. MAUS is a book I highly recommend and have for years. Would I give a copy to a 12-year-old, though? Would I find a better solution for kids in middle school who want to read it, such as having parents sign it out, same as I would for Cuckoo’s Nest, The Jungle and The Shining? (Another book that used to be in the Elmont Memorial HS library)? Yes. But the discussion should be about what actually occurred in TN, not what the media spin machine has tried to make it sound like. That’s the true crime here, not the ban and not the debate.