Tennessee County Bans ‘Maus,’ Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust Comic | Culture


The McMinn County School Board in the southern state of Tennessee has unanimously agreed to remove Maus, graphic novel on the Holocaust by Art Spiegelman, from the reading list of the subject of Artistic Language of the eighth students (corresponding course to the 13 years). The educational governing council, which in the US system has power over the pedagogical content of a certain region, vetoed the comic at a meeting on January 10, alleging that it contains the “representation of the naked body of a woman” and profanity. The decision has transcended this Wednesday in the local media.

Maus it won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and is unanimously considered one of the pinnacles of the genre, because it gave the ninth art a status of intellectual recognition that had never been seen before. In it, Spiegelman, born in Stockholm in 1948, a veteran living in New York and a descendant of Polish Jewish victims of the Holocaust, recounts the Shoah in drawings. Spiegelman recalls the experiences of his father Vladek, prisoner number 175113 of Auschwitz, and uses characters that are mice (Jews) and cats (Nazis) to narrate the unspeakable. His mother, another survivor, committed suicide when the author was 20 years old. The nude that has bothered McMinn so much is actually a representation of her.

The meeting in Tennessee ended with 10 votes in favor and zero against. The law requires in the United States to record deliberations of these boards and make their transcripts public, so anyone here can get a full idea of ​​the arguments that have led to the ban. The discussion about Maus focused on eight swear words.

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Art Spiegelman at the Pompidou Center in Paris in 2012.
Art Spiegelman at the Pompidou Center in Paris in 2012.BERTRAND LANGLOIS (AFP)

“There is clearly objectionable language in the book,” explains Lee Parkison, the school’s principal and the one who raised alarms in McMinn County about the content of the book. Maus. Parkison, summoned by the board to expose the case, explains in the minutes that, after consulting with “the lawyers”, they concluded “that the best way to solve the problem” was to “get rid of those eight oaths and the image of the woman ”.

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One of the board members then admits that the genocide of six million Jews in Europe during World War II was “horrible, brutal and cruel”, but that Maus “shows people hanged and children killed.” “Why should our educational system promote such content?” she asks. “I think it’s not a good idea, nor does it seem healthy to me.” Another of those present is also against this “vulgar and inappropriate material”, before adding: “I may be wrong, but this guy [Art Spiegelman] used to work for [la revista] Playboy”.

The author, who started publishing Maus in installments in the early eighties, when he felt he was ready to face the terrible events of his family’s past, he told NBC after learning of the school board’s decision: “My jaw dropped. I am baffled.” The writer has defined the situation as “Orwellian”. “Many young people have told me that they have learned valuable things [sobre el Holocausto, leyendo Maus]. I also understand that Tennessee is obviously a very crazy place. And that what is happening there is something that can only be described as insane.”

Tennessee is a state that has voted Republican in every presidential election since 2000. In the last election, Donald Trump won McMinn County with almost 80% of the votes cast.

The United States Holocaust Museum has lamented the decision on Twitter: “[El cómic] has played an essential role in disseminating the detailed experiences of victims and survivors.” It so happens that this Thursday marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

School boards have become during the pandemic one of the privileged scenarios of the enormous polarization that this country is experiencing, in matters such as the obligation to wear a mask to class or the vaccination of children. The confinement, much longer than in Europe (some public schools have been closed for a year and a half) has also forced parents to become more involved with their children’s education. This has allowed them to know the content of school programs without intermediaries, which has sparked criticism from conservative sectors for alleged indoctrination on issues such as race or sexual diversity.

Vignette from the comic 'Maus' by Art Spiegelman.
Vignette from the comic ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman.

One of the Tennessee board members said at one point in the discussion, “If I wanted to indoctrinate other people’s children, I would use this method. It would place messages off the radar of parents, that the children would simply swallow. I think it’s time we reviewed the entire curriculum,” he added.

This episode comes to add to a trend of recent months. Schools and educational districts across the country, from Florida to Pennsylvania, are vetoing books from curricula and removing books from public library shelves for their anti-racist or LGBTI theme. One of the most eloquent summaries of the current situation was put loved (1987), a classic by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, who became a throwing weapon during the Virginia election campaign last November.

The Republicans, whose candidate, Glenn Youngkin, ended up winning, were betting on reviving a legislative initiative known as the Beloved Law, Laura Murphy’s personal crusade. This white woman has been trying since 2013, when her son was finishing high school, to get Morrison’s anti-slavery novel, with its “brutal sex scenes,” off the state’s required reading list.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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