Right-wing culture warriors pushing restrictions on classroom instruction sometimes defend these measures by insisting that they avoid targeting historically or intellectually significant material. In their telling, these laws restrict genuinely objectionable matter — such as pornography or "woke indoctrination” — while sparing material that kids truly need to learn, even if it’s controversial.
A new fracas involving a school board in Missouri will test this premise. The controversy revolves around Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel about the Holocaust, and it indicates that those seeking to censor books seem oddly unconstrained by the principle that they are supposed to avoid restricting important, challenging historical material.
“It’s one more book — just throw it on the bonfire,” Spiegelman told me ruefully, suggesting the impulse to target books seems to have a built-in tendency to expand, sweeping in even his Pulitzer-winning “Maus” under absurd pretenses.
“It’s a real warning sign of a country that’s yearning for a return of authoritarianism,” Spiegelman said.
The board in Nixa, a small city south of Springfield, will debate the fate of “Maus” this month. The Springfield News-Leader reports that board employees flagged it in a review in keeping with a Missouri law making it illegal to provide minors with sexually explicit material.
It’s not yet clear what the employees found objectionable. But “Maus” — which illustrates Spiegelman’s parents’ experience of the Holocaust and features Nazis as cats and Jews as mice — graphically depicts his mother naked in a bathtub after taking her own life.
“She was sitting in a pool of blood when my father found her,” Spiegelman said of his mother. It is a “rather unsexy image seen from above,” he noted, and “not something I think anybody could describe as a nude woman. She’s a naked corpse.”
The repeated targeting of “Maus” over alleged sexual content, Spiegelman lamented, is a mere pretext. “It was the other things making them uncomfortable, like genocide,” he said. “I just tried to make them clean and understandable, which is the purpose of storytelling with pictures.”