Friday, March 02, 2007

Strike up the banned

In an email exchange with Richard Lopez provoked by the recent round of book memes, he mentioned sharing my regard for one of the books I'd listed. In my response I mentioned that it had been banned in New Zealand at the time I'd read it. The concept of banning books surprised him:
"strange for me to think that books can be banned from the reader, since growing up in 1970s california almost every decadence was on display and could be explored. was it always about sex, and violence was okay?"
& that in turn surprised me until I realised it was a part of the past — the U.S., the U.K., Australia & a lot of other countries as well as New Zealand; even France who printed in English but banned in French — that many people wouldn't now know about.

Yes, books were banned once. Mainly because of sex or more particularly the language of sex, the description of ordinary sex in sexual terms. I grew up in a culture where Henry Miller's Tropics, Black Spring, The Rosy Crucifixion — Plexus, Sexus & Nexus — & The World of Sex were all on the prohibited import list. Along with Lady Chatterley's Lover — English nobility never said fuck or would have sex with a gardener — Lolita, Lawrence Durrell's The Black Book, Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Trocchi's Cain's Book, the Southern / Hoffenberg Candy, Genet, a dull tome called The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall because it was about — blush — lesbianism, de Sade — the list goes on. Films were banned or cut. Steam radio had a list of professions — funeral directors, lawyers, doctors — & a list of products — condoms & sanitary napkins at the head of it — that could not be advertised. Many of the commercial planes in New Zealand were built by Fokker; they had to be referred to as Friendships, Fokker was verboten. The first time pubic hair ever appeared on a N.Z. commercial film screen was Antonioni's Blow Up in 1966-67, followed a week later by the first commercial filmic utterance of the word fuck in the movie version of Joyce's Ulysses (which book was also banned for quite a long time).

& violence? Wasn't really depicted anywhere in those times so banning never reared its head. It kind of snuck in under the radar until somebody realised that all those increasingly gory shots from the Vietnam War that were being shown on the evening news were the gateway to a new genre.

I'll close with an anecdotal story that is so unlikely it's probably true. The works of Anthony Trollope were banned in Australasia for years, not because of their content — no Customs official had ever read them — but because the author's name was given on the spine as A. Trollope, & that was enough.

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