If you haven’t heard about ABRAMS’ BAD LITTLE CHILDREN’S BOOKS yet, I envy you. We’ve all seen books like this before: dark and twisted takes on innocent children’s stories. Sometimes they’re genuinely clever, sometimes they’re a little cringeworthy, and sometimes they just fall flat.
Then there’s stuff like…
This is one of the fake covers in BAD LITTLE CHILDREN’S BOOKS. It’s been billed as satire. It has sparked outrage among readers across the country.
The author and ABRAMS have repeatedly stated the book is intentionally offensive and entirely satirical.
I don’t pretend to be a decent satirist or have a masterful grasp on how to write or recognize it. All I really know is that satire is meant to expose stupidity through the use of exaggeration or irony. But I can’t help but ask: What is this image satirizing? What is the truth being exposed?
I would recognize this depiction as satire if you turned the page and the present turned out to be a new alarm clock, because then it would be exposing the reader’s Islamophobia by scolding us for assuming the gift is a bomb. But without that punchline, I feel like we’re expected to believe this is a bomb.
Without revealing the ticking is coming from something that doesn’t explode, does this really comment on the reader’s Islamophobia, or does it speak to something else?
Instead of satire, I would say this image is meant to play on the fears of the book’s target audience that all Muslims are terrorists.
This…isn’t funny and I don’t think it’s even satire. This seems more like a joke that someone afraid of Muslims and ignorant of the Muslim experience in the U.S. would find funny. It’s for the person who views themselves as the afflicted party and Muslims as the population in need of exposing.
What this image exposes is the desperate need for better understanding in this country. We are all the joke, here.
There are other fake covers that play upon racist tropes, another Islamophobic cover, and even more that you can find floating around the interwebs. There are over 120 images in the book but I’m sure you can find most of them online by now.
After an article from Kelly Jensen that discusses some of the images not readily available to people who didn’t actually buy and read the book, ABRAMS came under some heavy criticism about the content of that book. They received a statement of support from the Coalition Against Censorship, released two statements supporting the book, then ultimately decided to cease production when the author asked.
This… is a complicated issue for me.
On the one hand, I support the right of ABRAMS to publish shit, even racist shit. I am not ever in support of actual censorship–official examinations of content and the removal of “unacceptable” parts.
I speak from a place of privilege here. It’s easy for me to support the right of others to promote hateful things when those things don’t speak directly to me. I haven’t seen a single image from this book satirizing LGBTQ people, much less lesbians in particular. I’m sure they exist, but they aren’t being passed around.
But I feel the horror at the image above because I’m aware of the anti-Muslim hate in this country. I’m aware of how often this will not challenge or expose Islamophobia, only reinforce it. I’m also aware of some of the institutionalized challenges against people of color, marginalized religions, gender identities, and others.
I’m aware, but I don’t really experience them. That’s why I support the right of readers (myself included) to criticize the book, the author, and the publisher for supporting these messages, many of which punch down at some of the most marginalized groups in our country.
Criticism from readers is not censorship, something most commonly imposed by the government through official tests and standards. The misunderstanding may come from the calls to pull the book off the shelves–which, at first glance, may look like removing unacceptable content.
However, the only consequences ABRAMS faced was some bad PR and the risk of a small loss of business (because, let’s be honest, the people who would buy this book are not likely to be deterred by the content anyway). This isn’t the same thing as censorship.
The author has asked that ABRAMS stop publishing the book, described as an “equal opportunity offender,” because the book is not being read as intended. As satire.
This is not the first time and it won’t be the last time that an author will say, “You didn’t read it like I intended.” We’ve seen it several times this year with various books. Satire walks a fine line, but when I look at well-done satire like that of The Onion versus poorly-done satire, I can’t help but think that those BAD LITTLE images that have been shared are, at best, poorly-done satire. At worst, they are often cheap, tasteless jokes that perpetuate harmful stereotypes.
The thing is, you don’t get to publish a book and then get mad when people don’t read it “as intended.” You needed to be a better writer in the first place.
My personal thoughts on calling for a book to be pulled from the shelves with no attempt at resolving the underlying problem with the book and re-releasing it are…complicated. And incomplete. I was interested to see HarperTeen pull THE CONTINENT before its January release and work with the author to revise it after criticism about racist content. I would have liked to see something like that here.
Only ABRAMS can hold the author accountable, since the book was written under a fictitious name and bio. I would hope we can see better satire from ABRAMS and this author in the future.
So…yeah. It’s just scandal of the week in 2016.