The McMinn County, Tennessee, School Board on January 10 removed Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus” from an eighth-grade language arts curriculum, citing concerns about profanity and female nudity in depicting Holocaust survivors, The Tennessee Holler reported (McMinn County Bans Maus Pulitzer Prize Winning Holocaust Book).
The news of the McMinn County board voting to ban a book about the Holocaust broke only one day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday, Jan. 27.
Serialized between 1980 and 1991, “Maus” depicts Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. The comic book-style series represents Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs, Americans as dogs, the English as fish, the French as frogs, and the Swedish as deer. In 1992, “Maus” became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.
Maus received high praise (and some criticism) as both a comic book and literature. The Comics Journal called it the fourth greatest comics work of the 20th century. Wizard placed it first on their list of 100 Greatest Graphic Novels. Entertainment Weekly listed it in seventh place on its list of The New Classics: Books – The 100 best reads from 1983 to 2008. Time put it in seventh place on its list of best non-fiction books between 1923 and 2005, and in fourth place on its list of top graphic novels. Jules Feiffer and Umberto Eco both gave their high praise to the book. Spiegelman has refused countless offers to adapt “Maus” adapted for film or TV.
According to The Tennessee Holler, the McMinn County School board voted 10-0 to ban “Maus” from all of its schools, citing the book’s use of a few mild curse words, and its “naked pictures” of women. Reportedly, the school board discussed redacting offensive words and images but finally chose to ban the entire work. The board told The Tennessee Holler that the fact that “Maus” is about the Holocaust had nothing to do with the decision to ban it.
One board member reportedly asked: “Why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff, it is not wise or healthy… I am not denying it was horrible, brutal, and cruel. It’s like when you’re watching TV and a cuss word or nude scene comes on it would be the same movie without it. Well, this would be the same book without it… If I had a child in the eighth grade, this ain’t happening. If I had to move him out and homeschool him or put him somewhere else, this is not happening.”
This is not the first time “Maus” faces harsh criticism. According to writer Arie Kaplan, some Holocaust survivors objected to Spiegelman turning their tragedy into a comic book. Literary critic Hillel Halkin suggested the animal metaphor was “doubly dehumanizing,” reinforcing the Nazi belief that the atrocities were perpetrated by one species on another when in reality it was humans murdering other humans. Comics writer and critic Harvey Pekar saw Spiegelman’s use of animals as reinforcing stereotypes. Pekar was also critical of Spiegelman’s negative portrayal of his father Comics critic R. C. Harvey argued that Spiegelman’s animal metaphor erodes the book’s moral underpinnings, playing directly into the Nazis’ racist vision.”
Many objected in particular to Spiegelman’s depiction of Poles as pigs.
Art Spiegelman, 73, told CNBC on Wednesday: “I’m kind of baffled by this.” He added: “It’s leaving me with my jaw open, like, ‘What?’” He called the school board “Orwellian.” He then punched back: “I also understand that Tennessee is obviously demented. There’s something going on very, very haywire there.”
Jewish Science Fiction author Neil Gaiman tweeted: “There’s only one kind of people who would vote to ban Maus, whatever they are calling themselves these days.”
“The Atlantic” writer Yair Rosenberg stated the obvious problem with the ban: “A Tennessee school board voted to drop the Pulitzer prize-winning graphic novel ‘Maus,’ which tells the story of the Holocaust with cartoon mice because it contained inappropriate words and imagery. I wish them luck in their quest for wholesome, family-friendly Holocaust content.”
Therein lies the left’s deep misunderstanding of the school board’s issues with the book. They didn’t have a problem with the depiction of people as animals; and they didn’t try to stop their children from learning about the Holocaust. They just wanted a PG-13 version of the book for their kids who are 13. Saying they wanted a wholesome presentation of genocide is unfair and, frankly, needlessly nasty.
On the other hand, the McMinn County school board could have just recommended “Maus” for older students – eleventh or twelfth graders. No one would have criticized them for that.