24 May 2023

Moms Get Mad (and Get Lawyers)

Back in February, I wrote a piece about publishers cleaning up writers who’d fallen out of fashion, or more to the point, whose work would sound offensive to the contemporary ear – specific examples being Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, and Agatha Christie.  This is a practice commonly known as bowdlerization, after Dr. Thomas Bowdler, who published a 19th-century edition of Shakespeare with the naughty bits eliminated.  Aside from the insult to the authors, my chief complaint is that it irons out context.

Mencken once remarked that a Puritan is someone who’s afraid that somebody, somewhere, is having fun.

The latest iteration of book-banning has dragged in Satan worship and the predatory sexual grooming of children, so plainly, calmer heads haven’t prevailed.  It’s belaboring the obvious to say that the fight against Woke is consciously a fight to marginalize the ‘other,’ and personally, I think the rest of us would be better off if these mouth-breathers were out of the gene pool, but far be it from me.

Which brings us to Ron DeSantis.

  DeSantis is fighting above his weight class, going after the Mouse.  Disney is going to wipe the canvas with him.  And instead of being a savvy, calculating political animal, triangulating his every advantage, he’s advertising himself as a vindictive little shit, who simply isn’t ready for prime time.  Are we meant to take any of it seriously?

Here’s the next wrinkle.

  A group of Florida moms have taken aim at book-banning by filing a lawsuit in federal court.  This is a direct response to a national right-wing organization known as Moms for Liberty, which spearheads the effort to remove titles from school curricula and public libraries.  (565 books were targeted in Florida, during the 2021-2022 school year.)  This lawsuit has been joined by PEN America, by some of the writers whose work has been censored, and by Penguin Random House – Penguin of course a division of Bertelsmann, the biggest publisher in the world.  Stop and think about that for a minute.  Does the state of Florida really want to take on Bertelsmann, in the wake of the Disney mess?

Bertelsmann has a dog in this fight.  The way to wrap your head around it is to realize the big money isn’t in James Paterson or Diana Gabaldon, no disrespect.  The big money’s in textbooks.  And a state like Texas, or Florida, has an oversize influence, because they buy a lot of schoolbooks.  In practice, this means that what passes muster in Texas or Florida, then winds up in Massachusetts and California.  The tail wags the dog.  You can’t produce different editions of a schoolbook for different states and political persuasions.  It defeats any economy of scale.  What just might be happening in this case, though, is that a major publisher is putting Florida on notice.  You may recall the DeSantis administration, or more specifically, the Florida department of education, recently rejected a very large percentage of textbooks, complaining they were tainted with Critical Race Theory, among other transgressions.

The most interesting thing about this new lawsuit is that it doesn’t challenge Florida statute, head-on. We might acknowledge that school boards or library trustees have the authority to pull books, under established process.  But the suit considers First Amendment issues.  The official – governmental – suppression of disfavored ideas is clearly a violation.  This could have legs.

See you in court.


  1. Elizabeth Dearborn24 May, 2023 13:26

    "Objection to sexual, LGBTQ content propels spike in book challenges"
    "An analysis of book challenges from across the nation shows the majority were filed by just 11 people" - today's Washington Post, article at https://tinyurl.com/45zc6afr

    (I have a subscription, if the paywall stops you, let me know.)

    Just as an aside, regarding censorship, when my daughter was in middle school I showed her on my own computer at home how to find pages relating to all kinds of things that some might want to censor, because I didn't want her to get in trouble looking for such things at the school library or on the school computers.

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. I subscribe. Moms for Liberty promotes a list of books they disfavor, and in more than a few cases, the local complainants simply forward the MfL list.

  2. It apparently is too great a liberty - according to Moms for Liberty - to give school libraries a list of books to be kept in a separate shelving unit, along with a list their children, whom they don't want exposed to these horrible evil ideas like slavery was bad, gay people exist, gay people have a right to exist, minorities have a right to exist, teenagers are interested in sex, etc. Noooo. Everyone has to be kept from seeing anything and everything that they think should be banned. Even if (as in one case I remember) that Mom hasn't actually read the book. Grrrr....

    1. Judy Blume remarked, t'other day, that she was fine with it if you don't want your kids to read her books, but she wasn't okay with your saying NOBODY's kids get to read her books. Also, the young poet who read at Joe Biden's inaugural just had her book pulled from the shelf, somewhere, except the author was named as Oprah Winfrey.

    2. When I student taught in Royal Oak, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, back in 1969, the high schools had a form parents could fill out if they objected to their child reading a particular book. The first question was: Have you read this book in its entirety? The second question was Are you aware of the critical views of this book ( In 1969, that meant mostly scholarly reviews or serious journalism)? And the third was Cite specific page numbers with the scene or ideas you find objectionable. If any of those questions was answered "No" or left blank, the form was photocopied for the school's records and filed. No further action was taken. If some of today's yahoos had to do more than make a lot of noise to be taken seriously, much of this bullshit would stop.

      During my time as an English teacher, I assigned seven or eight of the most frequently attacked books in the country...repeatedly. I still don't even understand what people find offensive in The Catcher in the Rye.

      It's amazing and pathetic how many bigots have so little faith in their beliefs that they can't bear to have them challenged, isn't it?

    3. I'm not really anonymous. I'm Steve Liskow

  3. I do have a pony in this paddock. I've consulted for Disney and Orange County, and I'm horrified. I know one doctor, Jewish, who along with her husband are liquidating assets in preparation for fleeing… and possibly not merely Florida but the US.

    One of the pathetic aspects is that the DeSantis wrote the law so that only ONE (1) person needs to complain and a book is gone from the entire county. It's clear the vast majority books haven't been glanced at. It reminds me of the old South Africa government banning, wait for ot, Black Beauty.


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