Great news, everyone! “Maus,” Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel about the Holocaust, is a bestseller 30 years after it was first published! In the book, Spiegelman, the son of a Holocaust survivor, depicts Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. It is one of the best and most important graphic novels ever created and something everyone should read.
Everyone except kids in Tennessee’s McMinn County, whose school board voted unanimously to ban the book, just in time for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Hence the surge in demand for the book (there are actually two books, “Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History” and “Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began”) as Americans respond to outrage in the best way we know how: by shopping!
Look, it’s not a bad thing that people are buying this book. But the “bright side” spin in the media is hard to take considering we’re living in a time where a not insignificant number of Americans are on Team Fascism.
Take NPR’s Jan. 31 headline: “Why a school board’s ban on ‘Maus’ may put the book in the hands of more readers.” According to the story, not only have online sales of the book exploded, but bookstores and comic shops are selling or even giving away plenty of copies, and Nirvana Comics in Knoxville has raised over $83,000 in a fundraising campaign to buy the book for students across the country.
Look, bad publicity is still publicity, and the more people who buy and read this book the merrier, but this ban, as well as bans of books about LGBTQ+ people being yanked from school and library shelves across the country, is, uh, very concerning!
NPR reports that the “school board reportedly objected to eight curse words and nude imagery of a woman, used in the depiction of the author’s mother’s suicide,” which sounds like straight up bullshit to me. A group of adults voting to keep a book that teaches that the Holocaust was a horrible thing out of the hands of students isn’t concerned about some swear words. And as much outrage as this has stirred up, the fact remains that a school board in the U.S. in the year 2022 successfully voted to ban “Maus.”
As writer and historian David M. Perry points out on Twitter, “In a Tennessee country, ‘Maus’ will no longer be in 8th grade classrooms, presented by expert teachers with well-curated supporting materials. The ban worked.”
The media can frame this story as an unintentional backlash resulting in the opposite of what that school board intended, but that’s not accurate.
Banning a book isn’t just about trying to keep that book from being read, it’s an ominous message about power and control. It plants a seed that “Hey, maybe there is something controversial about ‘Maus.’ Maybe the Holocaust is too intense for kids to learn about. Maybe the Holocaust is ancient history. Maybe the Holocaust wasn’t that bad after all…”
We see this play out when anti-vaxxers compare showing a vaccine card for entry into a restaurant to Jews being forced to show their papers in Nazi Germany, when white nationalists are given implicit and explicit support by the Republican Party, when conspiracy theorists with wild claims about George Soros and the Illuminati are amplified by the right-wing media.
And, sadly, too often mainstream media, instead of shouting from the rooftops with the necessary intensity, tries to find a middle ground and manages to “both sides” fascism. Which only helps fascism succeed.
So if you want to buy and read “Maus,” do it. But also run for school board. Support candidates for local, state, and national office who aren’t running on a platform that the biggest problem our nation faces is the fact that students are learning about the Holocaust and that American history classes teach about slavery.
Don’t elect yahoos like Ridgeland Mississippi mayor Gene McGee who is illegally withholding funds from the library until they purge their collection of LGBTQ+ books.
“I explained that we are a public library and we serve the entire community. I told him our collection reflects the diversity of our community,” Tonja Johnson, the executive director for the Madison County Library System, told the Mississippi Free Press. “He told me that the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above.”
Serving the Lord is literally not what he was elected to do, but apparently he’s incapable of balancing his job and his religious practices. Bottom line: LOCAL ELECTIONS MATTER.
Fighting fascism starts at home, folks.