SMUTMOBILE Banned Books Party
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1. The band. 2. Mike Edison on stage, reading Roald Dahl’s version of “The Three Little Pigs” (from Revolting Rhymes), which was a challenged book.
It’s Banned Books Week (Sept. 27-Oct. 4), so Housing Works Bookstore & Café hosted a party last night to celebrate. The party was Mike Edison’s personal baby, but Edison is no n00b when it comes to potentially (or blatantly) offensive writing: he has written and worked for the controversial likes of High Times, Hustler, and Screw, and has also written twenty-eight pornographic novels.
The evening started off with Edison reading Roald Dahl’s version of “The Three Little Pigs”, which was backed by a jazz-type two-piece of drums and keyboards. Next, Edison gave us a brief history of banned books, during which we learned the difference between banned and challenged books (banned books are backed by law, which is rare in the good ole U.S. of A. today), and the various reasons books were banned/challenged. For example, The Color Purple was described as “smut,” and, hilariously, people had a bone to pick with Brave New World because it made “promiscuous sex look like fun” (God forbid!).
1. Christine Martin & Fiona Buckland. Fiona had this to say about censorship: “Wherever there is a struggle — that’s where the heat is.” (When I googled FB I came up with this) 2. The Joe DiMaggio of the First Amendment: Herald Price Fahringer
Next up was Herald Price Fahringer, a lawyer who has famously and prolifically defended free speech in the courts. His best anecdote was about taking the entire court room to a pornographic movie on the Bowery as a part of the trial proceedings.
Richard Nash, formerly of Soft Skull Press, was the third act. He introduced himself as the “pedestrian” part of the night because he wasn’t an amendment all-star and wouldn’t be backed by jazz — but I found his talk to be anything but. Censorship by our government has become outsourced, he explained. The first amendment has become “too effective,” and a “hybrid of legal, economic and commercial” censorship has emerged. When small presses (or otherwise) attempt to publish controversial content, larger corporations can sue for libel or slap on a cease and desist order; the smaller press often doesn’t have sufficient legal defense funds. No money equals censorship by default. Fortunately, Nash happened to marry a copyright and trademark lawyer, but as he mentioned, this is not a sustainable strategy for small presses in general.
1. Lori Greenberg, Richard Nash, and Fiction Daily’s David Backer. Lori wore a bracelet that featured the likenesses of banned book covers for the event. 2. The aftermath of Mike Edison.
Next, he explained “walled gardens” — the mega-internet institutions such as Facebook and the Apple App Store — discussed in the current issue of Wired in a provocatively-titled article “The Web is Dead.” Nash cautioned that content viewed through Facebook and Apps is subject to censorship. While not advocating a boycott, Nash advises that we consume our internet through various channels with “vigilance and awareness.”
Perhaps the most succinct warning that Nash had for the evening was this: We, our world and our country, are in a tremendous transitional period. In transitional periods, things get messy. When things get messy, the rich entities offer order. Preserve the mess, he said, because it’s the key to what or who we are in years to come.
–Julia Jackson is working on her MFA in fiction at Brooklyn College, and is a regular contributor for Electric Dish.
Anna Prushinskaya was an accomplice for this event.