Nudity and bad language.
That’s a Tennessee school board’s excuse for banning Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel “Maus.”
Not Holocaust denial.
Not a hundred other things they don’t want to admit to themselves about themselves.
It was simply a dirty drawing and some curse words.
The graphic novel focuses on the cartoonist and his estranged father. Spiegelman slowly unravels the true story of how his dad survived the Holocaust. All the while, the son draws the narrative portraying Jewish people as mice and Germans as cats.
It’s a work of literature that looks directly into the unfathomable and recontextualizes it into something we can attempt to understand.
The committee at Columbia University awarded the story a Pulitzer Prize – the only graphic novel yet to win such a prestigious award.
But the Tennessee school board awarded it their walking papers.
Naughty words and risqué images.
In particular, the board objected to eight bad words and the drawing of a nude woman.
On its Website, district administrators posted the following explanation of their action:
“One of the most important roles of an elected board of education is to reflect the values of the community it serves. The McMinn County Board of Education voted to remove the graphic novel Maus from McMinn County Schools because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide. Taken as a whole the board felt this work was simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools.”
Can you imagine living in a community that values refraining from swear words and covering up the human body more than telling the truth about genocide?
Can you imagine putting a premium on decorum and propriety over an honest portrayal of events?
And who are the McMinn County Board of Education to say these words and this image are “unnecessary” to tell the story!?
It’s the Holocaust! It’s not a Disney theme park!
If you’re talking about the systematic murder of 6 million Jewish people and 5 million non-Jewish people, wouldn’t it be appropriate to use some bad language!?
To their credit, the image the school board objects to isn’t one of mice being tortured and murdered in a concentration camp. It’s not the genitals of naked mice – after all, aren’t mice always naked?
It’s the drawing of the author’s mother who couldn’t live with the atrocities she endured and committed suicide. His father discovers her naked body in the bathtub.
There’s nothing salacious about it.
It’s shocking. It’s disturbing. It’s deeply sad.
But that’s exactly what it’s meant to be.
To react – as this board has – is the height of callousness.
Here we have the story of so many deaths, so many murders, and all they can do is decry the way it is told.
As a person of Jewish ancestry, it hits me hard.
Imagine being told that the story of your family’s murder is only acceptable if it isn’t upsetting.
It’s only acceptable if it doesn’t provoke a reaction in your heart – only if it keeps your eyes dry and your throat unstopped.
But that’s the point! It SHOULD be upsetting! It should hurt your heart! It should make your eyes leak and your throat close up.
However, school director Tony Allman said something that disproved the fiction that the board’s action was limited to pure decorum.
In the meeting minutes he was quoted as saying, “It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy. Being in the schools, educators and stuff we don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.”
You’re wrong, Sir.
You DO need to promote this stuff.
Not encourage people to engage in future Holocausts but to promote that it DID happen so that it will not happen again.
Because on Oct 27, 2018, it happened again at the Tree of Life synagogue in my hometown of Pittsburgh when a gunman killed 11 and wounded six.
In August 2017, it happened at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when hundreds of marchers threw Nazi salutes and waved Swastika flags while shouting “Siege Heil” and “Jews will not replace us!”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recorded more than 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism and harassment against Jewish people in 2021 – an increase of 12 percent over the previous year. This is the highest level of antisemitic incidents since ADL’s tracking began in 1979. This includes five fatalities directly linked to antisemitic violence and another 91 individuals targeted in physical assaults.
Assault, harassment and vandalism against Jews remain at near-historic levels in the U.S.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2020 hate crime statistics showed not only that hate crimes were up for all minority groups, but crimes targeting Jewish people made up 54.9% of all religious bias crimes.
According to the American Jewish Committee, nearly one out of every four Jews in the U.S. has been the subject of antisemitism over the past year.
Seventeen percent of respondents in the committee’s survey said they had been the subject of an antisemitic remark in person, while 12% said they were the victim of an antisemitic remark online. Three percent of Jews who responded to the poll said they were the target of an antisemitic physical attack.
And this school board thinks the problem is a book that merely reports such events in the past.
Your children don’t need protection from the STORY of the Holocaust.
They need protection from the Holocaust, itself.
They need protection from it happening again – from the kind of violence and bigotry on the rise today.
They need protection from becoming the mice.
They need protection from becoming the cats.
They need adults brave enough to take a stand against these horrors.
It’s just too bad that you aren’t brave enough to do it, yourselves.
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