I Want To Be Banned: Genuine Art and Why The Ban Threat Can Be A Good Thing

Genuine art gets you banned.

Wait, what?  I know, you’re probably wondering if I’ve had too large a dose of Monday, but that’s not it at all.  Notice I didn’t say “real art.”  I said genuine art.

No, I’m not on something new – unless you count the excitement high of two new projects, one a collaboration that you all will see soon.  I’m just doing that strange thinking I usually do.  See, any art that is created is real art.  It exists in reality and the creator considers it art and created it as such, thus it is real art.  Genuine art, however, is the stuff that makes the world stop spinning, if only for a moment.

It’s the book that demands a reread because the universe just grew an inch.

It’s the painting that makes you forget to breathe because the world could not be expressed in a more eloquent way.

It’s the sculpture that forces your gaze back again and again, always looking for something new.

And last but not least, it’s the piece that gets your thoughts spinning, thoughts blossoming that you never dared think before, just because that art existed, and within it contained a story the mind grabbed onto and couldn’t let go of.

Story and the Human Creature

We Humans are funny, funny creatures.  Many of us claim a dedication to logic, reason, and rationality, not realizing that this, too, is a wonderful story to distance us from our nature as rationally emotional beings.  Even our rationality is swayed by emotion, or easily can be, and we may never be the wiser.

In fact, I told myself a story about this post back in May when I started the draft.  The story was that this piece would be an exploration of the differences in cinema franchises and comic books and why it’s easier to show controversy in comics.  Well, someone sort of already did that.  Why do I need to rehash the point?

Revisiting my draft, another direction emerged, reminding me of an earlier post of mine regarding the stories surrounding physical transition and mental health for transgender people.  Stories are everywhere, and nowhere are they more prominent than in art.

Of all kinds.

Those stories shape our beliefs, character, actions… Our. Very. Lives.

It’s been this way since the time of cave paintings and oral mythologies, and no matter how hard we try, all the neuroplasticity in the world won’t change the fact that it will continue to be this way.  So why do we ban them?

Art & Controversy: Sordid Affair

Before we continue, take a look at this list of banned books, which includes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird, Moby Dick, and (of all things) Where The Wild Things Are, which was my absolute favorite childrens’ book.  (Confession: I still have my stuffed one, the one with the orange hair and pointed teeth.)

That’s far from a comprehensive lists of all the books in history that have ever been questioned, censored, or outright banned in the history of the world.  And the three I mentioned were books I read as a high school student.  Oh, yeah, and we read Lord of the Flies, which comes in the top ten for banned and challenged books on the American Library Association list.  And that’s just books.  Here’s a handy list of paintings deemed controversial over the years.

Take a look at these lists and you’ll notice a theme, especially among the books.  They talk about things people don’t want to think about.  And they do it in a compelling way.

In fact, many of our beloved stories of today – Disney movies, I’m looking at you – started as controversial tales as likely to get banned as published.  Mulan.  Aladin.  Even Frozen, especially as it’s written now.  Take these stories back to the cultural context of the original tale, and you’ve got some heavy stuff going.

Can Non-Controversial Art Be Genuine?

I doubt it, and here’s why.

Genuine art comes from a place of authentic creation in the mind and soul of the artist.  It’s the unapologetic truth of the artist.

That’s not to say all genuine art is ban-worthy.  Some of it is only controversial enough to make you decide you don’t want to go see that movie, or don’t care to buy that book.  It disagrees with your particular view of the world, and so you choose not to indulge.

Other works, though?

We must always watch what goes on the shelves.  The cry goes up, Protect the children!  Protect the innocent!  Yet many of these books are not written for children, and today are barely understood in the context they were written in.  Take Lord of the Flies.  In high school, I hated that book.  A tale of a bunch of British choir boys trapped on an island that turned into depraved, animalistic little savages with no adults around to govern their behavior.

I didn’t understand til years lator it was a metaphor for the effects the horrors of WWII had on an entire generation of England’s young men.  Suddenly, the book made much more sense.  Context meant EVERYTHING.  Even today, though, it’s a controversial piece, in large part because of the savage brutality it portrays these young men being capable of.

Why Aspire to Being Banned?

First, let me assure you, I don’t actually want any of the fiction I put out in the future to be universally seen as unfit for public consumption.  I have no interest in being “edgy” or “hip” in that sense.

However, I’m under no illusions that my fiction strays into the exploration of topics that a variety of people consider “unsafe.”  What is gender and how does it really affect our daily lives?  How does sexual violence affect people, specifically men?  What is justice?  How do we decide whether an action is moral, immoral, or amoral?

I love these topics, and I could wax on in blog form about them for lengthy posts (and have), but the most effective communication method between Humans has always been, and will be until long after my generation, the story.

In the end, I don’t aspire to having my work banned.  I aim to produce work that will challenge assumptions held so deeply it threatens individual world views, and thus invites the threat of banning.

In that way, yes, I WANT people to try to ban my work.  That’s when I know it’s working.

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