The Eastern New Mexico University Department of Communication hosted its annual First Amendment Conference on Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. The event was planned and developed by upper-division public relations students.
“The conference focused on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the United States, and it emphasized censorship and banned books.” He added that these are important to the context of the First Amendment. According to the American Library Association, the Supreme Court has decided that Americans not only have the freedom of speech, but also the freedom to receive information. “Banning books is particularly important in the context of schools and school libraries,” he said.
He added that the Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that said school districts cannot ban books simply because they dislike the ideas contained. He also mentioned that many books today are silently banned. The conference covered three examples of banned books: “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (Mark Twain); “Green Eggs and Ham” (Dr. Seuss); and “1984” (George Orwell). Other examples that have been banned are “Catcher in the Rye,” “The Hunger Games,” “Captain Underpants,” and the Harry Potter series. The panelist of speakers included communication department chair Patricia Dobson, communication professor Darrell Roe, and communication instructor Edward Caffrey.
Dobson discussed “Green Eggs and Ham.” This book follows the story of an unnamed main character and Sam-I-Am, a character persuading the main character to try green eggs and ham.
Dobson said she believes no book should be banned. She spoke of how Seuss was once a political cartoonist for what she called a “left-wing, liberal-leaning daily newspaper in New York City,” which often discussed women's rights and anti-segregation views. “Seuss stirred up a lot of stuff because his viewpoints where quite controversial,” she said. Dobson also added that Seuss spent his time writing political propaganda pieces for the U.S. gov during World War II. She reported that China banned the book in 1965 due to its alleged displays of Marxism, and that the Chinese government believed Seuss “was trying to pollute the mind of all the good people of China.”
Dobson stated that the government officials in China never explained why they banned it. A 2016 article theorized that Sam I Am’s name is an acronym that stands for “Socialist American Militia.” Another thought was that Seuss was trying to get people to eat bad food, and even that the ham in the illustrations represents Russia.
After Seuss died, the book was removed from the “banned” list. “All the references to Marxism were made and that led scholars to say that China didn’t ban the book, but they banned [Seuss].” Dobson said that it wasn’t the book’s content, but what Seuss stood for. There were other thoughts that it could have been a language barrier.
Dobson also reported that a group in California banned the book because it felt that the green eggs and ham represented genitalia and that Sam I Am was a closet homosexual. Dobson concluded her presentation by pointing out that adults believed this, but not the children who were actually reading the book.
Darrel Roe spoke about “Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. “Banning and censorship are forms of repression that only succeed in shoving racism deeper into the shadows of our nation collective society,” he said. He added that open, honest discussion is important because it results in meaningful solutions and an overall reduction in hatred. “Many believe the book teaches bad grammar and language and to some seems to promote the ‘n’ word.”
He added that denying the nation’s children an opportunity to discuss these transformations and reversals is insulting to their intelligence. “It is insulting to their teachers who strive to do more than just tally up standardized test scores who instill in students critical thinking skills they need to navigate the larger world,” Roe said. “Perhaps books like [can challenge] how our culture engages in meaningful dialogue and what it all means and what was going on in that time frame and the mindset of the characters.”
The book was published in February of 1885, and by March of 1885, it was banned in Massachusetts libraries. This wasn’t the last time it was banned in U.S. history. Some said it conflicted with community standards; others said it teaches bad grammar. Roe added that in the 1950s, the book was challenged because of the use of the “n” word, and Roe stated that Twain allegedly used it to get the reader into the mindset of the character. Roe gave an example of how Jocelyn Chadwick, president of the National Council of Teachers of English and former professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, said that she is not in favor of banning this book. “It goes to places that Americans really don't want to go. It talks about race and racism,” she said. Roe added that Americans talk about these things but really don’t want to address them beyond the surface level.
Caffrey spoke about “1984” and how this book was banned in multiple countries for either sexual content or political controversy. The story follows the story of Winston Smith, a resident of dystopia Oceania, over which political symbol “Big Brother” watches. Residents’ thoughts and actions are monitored by the government, and sexual relationships are prohibited except in the case of procreation. Despite this, Smith begins a sexual relationship with a woman in the novel as an act of rebellion against Big Brother.
“If It seems to have an anti-authoritarian, anti-communist or anti-collectivist message, do you think it was banned in the U.S. for this?” he asked. “No, it was banned because it showed people having sex,” Caffrey continued.
He recalled a moment when he first bought the book: “There was a little bio on the front. This statement never made sense to me: it said, ‘Orwell at heart was a socialist but hated totalitarianism.’” At that time, Caffrey was growing up in the middle of the Cold War, so according to him, socialism was totalitarianism. “He’s more of what we call a democratic socialist,” Caffrey said about Orwell. “When I was a kid, I was not shocked by [the book’s content] … [all] Orwell did was put in a narrative of what we would see in a R-rated movie or on tv. He went into enough detail that it's obvious to me why they banned it,” he said.
He added the danger of banning books because of sex. “[‘1984’] goes into detail of the danger of totalitarianism, and as a 14-year-old kid, I got a good perspective on things like that,” said Caffrey. “What a travesty that would be to rob me of that. It’s realism…the novel helped you relate.”
“There's a political message that people need to see. Why was it banned? Oceana was a dystopia,” he said. Caffrey added that the main story of “1984” does not have a happy ending. “Things don’t turn out well for Winston but there’s an epilogue to “1984”…in that, it shows what happened ultimately: Oceania failed…because ultimately no matter how much power you want to have over people, you’ll never have power over thought and their language. Use language and be proud of your individual thought, because ultimately that’s the great power.”
The FAC was dedicated in memory of Charlie Broz for his many years dedicated to Eastern New Mexico.