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Further Reading

Parting Shot

Forced Readings

A Twisted New View of Censorship on Campus

by Laurie Higgins

Article originally appeared in
Salvo 35

I read with amusement a recent Chicago Tribune article about writer Salman Rushdie's appearance at the Chicago Humanities Festival, at which he "railed against censorship." When asked about censorship, Rushdie waxed irritated about some Duke University students who chose not to read the book selected by the university for all incoming freshmen: Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. They refused to read it because of its graphic depictions of sex acts, the viewing of which they consider immoral.

It's remarkable that what popped into Rushdie's mind when asked about censorship was the decision of conservatives not to read a novel, when the preponderance of censorship found within academia (and secondary schools) is perpetrated by progressives who censor conservative resources.

Rushdie pontificated that the students who chose not to read Bechdel's memoir don't belong at elite universities: "Maybe you should just not be at Duke. Maybe you should just step down and make room for people who actually want to learn something."

To flesh things out a bit, Fun Home tells the true story of lesbian Bechdel's childhood and young adulthood. She was raised by a distant, abusive, and closeted (but active) homosexual father, who sometimes preyed on young boys, and a distant, unaffectionate mother. Her picture book includes cartoon drawings of the author/protagonist masturbating and engaging in lesbian sex. Rushdie risibly suggests that the refusal to read this book constitutes an absence of a desire to learn. It would be truer to say that those who believe Bechdel's ugly, unwise book even belongs in academia, a place that should be committed to fostering what is good, true, and beautiful, are lost in spiritual darkness.

Censorship Redefined

Rushdie has a novel understanding of "censorship." As commonly understood, censorship means prohibiting the publication of a text or not allowing it to be read. Censorship is not commonly understood as freely choosing not to read a text—especially when the choice is made judiciously. But Rushdie has recast judiciousness and free choice as censorship.

Once again, a liberal has redefined a term to serve the arrogant desire to impose leftist beliefs on others. Read whatever tripe your progressive professors assign, or they will mock you as a censor. Such condescension is the last refuge of presumptuous, dogmatic, moralistic scoundrels.

Perhaps one of the reasons it's easier in academia to find examples of texts that conservatives refuse to read than it is to find examples of texts liberal students refuse to read is that the latter are not assigned by professors in the first place. The real censorship occurs during the text-selection process.

And if professors did choose conservative resources, they would be obliged to provide censorious trigger warnings in advance, in order to avoid giving the vapors to their delicate progressive students. And then those students would engage in Rushdie's form of censorship in order to avoid experiencing the trauma of microaggression.

High schools now routinely teach Rent, The Laramie Project, The Book of Mormon, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, yet I have not heard of a single high school having students read, for example, essays or books by conservative scholars on the nature and morality of homosexuality or marriage. Could that be considered censorship?

Is the free choice not to immerse oneself in a book that presents perversion positively and that includes obscene images ever justifiable in the incoherent philosophical universe of progressives? In their mad, mad, mad, mad world, do ideas have consequences?

This is not to say that Fun Home, which was made into a Broadway musical and won a Tony award last May for Best New Musical, is utterly devoid of value. Through the depiction of her profoundly dysfunctional family, perhaps Bechdel has inadvertently offered insight into the environmental factors that may have contributed to her homoerotic attraction.

Even so, I say kudos to the Duke University students. Moral lives matter. 

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