Thursday, December 11, 2008

I hate Thomas Bowdler, and this is ridiculous!

I hate Thomas Bowdler. From the moment he came into a Victorian Lit class, I realized this man was- um, well, I will let you be the judged. Changing "Out out damned spot", to "Out, out, crimson spot", just does not work for me. Taking objectionable words or scenes from books- it reminds me in this day and age, of Holden Caulfield. Holden is the protagonist of J.D. Salinger's epic "Catcher in the Rye". In one scene towards the end of the novel, Holden goes to the school bathroom where his sister Phoebe is a student. He sees the "F-bomb" written on the wall, and tries to erase it. And then he realizes that it was one of the children he wishes to protect who scrawled it in the first place.

Robert Cox has an interesting article about a book being sensored, that was picked up by "Gothamist" this morning.
It's a good article, reprinted below- but it's Angelina Jolie!

New Rochelle School District Censors Pages from Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen's harrowing memoir that inspired Academy Award-Winning Film starring Winona Ryder and Angela Jolie.

Students at New Rochelle School High School are going to find it difficult to complete their next assignment: comparing the film adaptation of "Girl, Interrupted" to the best-selling book. In the book, Kaysen recounts her confinement at a Massachussets mental hospital in the 1960's.

Pages from the middle of the book have been torn out by the school district after having been deemed "inappropriate" by school officials due to sexual content and strong language. Removed is a scene where the rebellious Lisa (played by Angela ((SIC) Jolie in the movie) encourages Susanna (played by Winona Ryder) to circumvent hospital rules against sexual intercourse by engaging in oral sex instead.

"The material was of a sexual nature that we deemed inappropriate for teachers to present to their students," said English Department Chariperson Leslie Altschul, "since the book has other redeeming features, we took the liberty of bowdlerizing."

Sources at the school says that after receiving complaints from an as yet-to-be-identified person or group, the school district ordered students to return the book to the chairperson of the English department who then personally tore out pages 64 through 70 before returning the books to students. Ironically, news of the school censorship first broke during the same week as the school district's annual Literary Festival.

"Bowdlerizing is a particularly disturbing form of censorship since it not only suppresses specific content deemed 'objectionable,' but also does violence to the work by removing material that the author thought integral," said Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. "It is a kind of literary fraud perpetrated on an unsuspecting audience."

The ultimate decision on whether to ban books rests with Cindy Babcock-Deutsch, the President of the School Board. Babcock-Deutsch has a well-documented history of practicing censorship in her role as chairperson of board of education meetings. She has repeatedly asserted that "privacy laws" bar criticism of senior school administrators at school board meetings. More recently she has resorted to threats, interruptions and physical intimidation to silence critics at what are public meetings in public buildings.

Ms. Babcock-Deutsch did not respond to repeated requests to explain the actions of the District in censoring the book by tearing out pages. Don Conetta, principal of the school, and Richard Organisciak, schools superintendent, did not respond to requests for comment.

Sources at the District who declined to be identified confirmed that the district does have a book selection and book challenge process but those same sources claim the district failed to follow those policies in this case.

"We should either teach a book or not teach book," said one New Rochelle teacher who disagreed with the District's decision. "What sort of message do we send our students when we vandalize books?" While agreeing the content is not be suitable for all students, the teacher pointed out that the student involved were mostly 12th graders including some who were over 18 years of age. "Does someone in the school think these kids don't know about sex?"

The book was originally added to the curriculum at the request of a teacher no longer employed by the district. It was taught without incident at least one year prior to the complaint. The chairperson has admitted she did not read the book before approving it for use and only acted after receiving a complaint.

"The most shocking part of this story," said Chris Finan, President of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, "is that an English teacher in the 21st century would consciously emulate the example of Thomas Bowdler, a 19th century man who is infamous for his expurgations of Shakespeare!"

For her performance as Lisa in the film "Girl, Interrupted", Angela (SIC) Jolie won an Oscar for best supporting actress. Jolie also won a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actor's Guild Award for the role.

If you would like to share your thoughts on the decision of the school district to censor Girl, Interrupted you can reach school district officials here:
Cindy Babcock Deutsch
Board of Education
City School District of New Rochelle

Richard Organisciak
Superintendent of Schools
City School District of New Rochelle

Don Conetta
New Rochelle High School

ETA: I want to thank Larry for mentioning this post in his blog today. I am going to miss having you here in my back yard bubbelah.


horsesforcourses said...

I would love the opportinity to compare the film and the book; both of which are very good.
Censor what - I can't possibly think of anything in the book that would be unsuitable. It is a memoir for gosh sakes!

Thank you for the opportunity to read the article - really interesting.

Love Rasp xXx

Robert Cox said...

ACK! I kept meaning to fix that error. Of course, I know it is Angelina Jolie but when I rush to type I make dumb errors like that. Every time I intended to fix it I got distracted. So, of course, my error has now shown up in 100 different places.

Thanks. You finally smacked me in the head hard enough that I sat down fixed the post today - three days too later. Doh!


Anonymous said...

As a New Rochelle resident (at least for a short time longer -- I'm moving), this particularly disgusts me.

New Rochelle USED to have a reputation of being fairly progressive educationally. But if they're so concerned about oral sex, I guess they haven't gotten the memo about how high schoolers have "dumbed sex down" by saying fellatio isn't really sex, following the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal.

And, um, that was a decade ago ...

susan said...

@Raspberry- thank you. My experience with books to movies, is with the possible excption of GWTT, the books are usually far better than the movie. I am interested to know what you think!

@Robert, thank you for the piece. I am a fast typist and great editor- but not with my own work, alas.

@Larry, New Rochelle's loss in two days is Miami's gain. Especially when we are due for snow!

I guess New Rochelle has come a long way since Dick Van Dyke based his old sitcom there and was married to Mary Tyler Moore, and worked with RoseMarie. (Is RoseMarie still alive? I am off to IMDB).

soulful sepulcher said...

I've given you an award on my blog Susan, have a good day today.

Nunya said...

hi susan - thinking of you today. dunno why, just am.

between reading this post, my son's post, and about ray's forced ect, i am just becoming so confused by people. it seems we are headed the wrong way. what the hell is going on here?

Amanda said...

Censorship disgusts me. The book is a memoir! If you're at the point where it's okay to censor a memoir, where does it stop?

Border Life said...


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