OPINION: Ban the censor, not the book


Let's play a little game.  Remember those word association tests that once seemed like cutting edge psychology?

When presented with a word or phrase participants are invited to volunteer the first idea or image associated with it that comes into their mind.  

What do the words "book banning" immediately suggest to you?

"Democracy", perhaps, its robust legislation working to ensure fundamental freedoms of speech and the flow of ideas in a secular state formally separate from any religious or dogmatic belief?  

When I hear "book banning" the first mental image that flashes into my head is that of a large group of smugly satisfied Aryans with a huge pyre of bound material before them, demonstrating prejudice, ignorance and outright hatred of any concepts not their own,  throwing another volume on the fire.  

Beyond that, my thoughts wander to Bible belt America in the days after John Lennon had the temerity to suggest that The Beatles just might be "bigger than Jesus": fat gutted crackers stomping on Fab Four records as the surest way into a whites-only Heaven.  

Continuing on the same theme, I could reflect on contemporary practice in New Zealand's second biggest trading partner, a country pathetically desperate to suppress any reference to the Dalai Lama and the notion of a free Tibet, the fact that Taiwan isn't too keen on reunification or that Falun Gong provides an excellent exercise regime with which to start the day.

The banning of a publication that one adventurous headline labelled a "racy teen novel" elevates this country to the same moral high ground occupied by Nazi Germany, segregationist American and Red(ish) China.

The work of Auckland author and teacher Ted Dawe has been singled out by Don Mathieson, QC, President of the Film and Literature Board of Review, for this unique honour.  

Dawe's book Into the River uses the language of the school yard and his narrative has fleeting instances of sex and violence.  

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There are indications that the scribe has grasped that the Victorian era is over and wishes to engage with and even educate a 21st century readership.   

Admittedly,  the banning of Into the River is an interim measure, the latest move by Mathieson in an on-going classification battle.  

Originally released without restriction, the QC and his co-horts on the Board of Review invented a R14 rating to keep it out of the hands of prurient minded pubescents.  

When this ruling was in turn struck down by the deputy film censor - either because it was unenforcible or on the grounds of outright stupidity - Mathieson played his trump card.

In a grand leap backwards, pending yet another appraisal by the august moralists, Into the River joins the ranks of Fanny Hill and Lady Chatterley's Lover.  

It is currently a crime to supply, display or distribute the book.

It requires but a half second's thought to identify the double-standards involved in this tortured logic.  

Why is a local publication, one transparently pure of purpose and written in such a way that it might actually be read and enjoyed, subjected to a different criteria than almost everything else on the market?  

At my local Warehouse, a chain store which not so long ago made a fuss about no long stocking R18 DVDs or computer games, every single volume in that cutting edge series of erotica initiated by 50 Shades of Grey is available for public perusal.  

Bargain basement sadomasochism can be enjoyed by kiddies so why not Into the River?

To further state the obvious, what about that fancy thing called the internet?  

Are Mathieson and his oh so street wise colleagues aware of what happens when you type a few dirty words into Google?  

Happily, the anachronistic attitudes and rulings of his ilk have long been meaningless, especially to a techno savvy new generation.

Freedom is at hand and the god botherers are an irrelevancy.

Well, not quite. The law still gives the likes of Mathieson formal power and it should be a concern to us all that the man has in this instance patently abused the privilege.  

By giving disproportionate weight to the complaints of a group of fundamentalist extremists like Family First Mathieson demonstrates just how out of touch he is with contemporary life.  

Moreover, given the jurist's own Christian faith it is hard to believe that his rulings are free from bias or made in the best interests of society as a whole.  

Banning the censor makes a lot more sense than banning any book.

 - Stuff

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