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  • Writer's pictureAaron Fonseca

Art Spiegelman's Maus Banned by Tennessee School Board

UPDATE: Art Spiegelman himself has addressed the McMinn County School board's decision to remove Maus from its curriculum in an interview with CNBC. "I'm kind of baffled by this," Spiegelman said. "It's leaving me with my jaw open, like, 'What?'" he continued, going on to describe the board as "Orwellian."

The McMinn County School board in Tennessee has voted to ban cartoonist Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus from its curriculum.

Originally serialized in Raw from 1980 to 1991, Spiegelman's Maus depicts the cartoonist -- who was born in 1948, shortly after the end of World War II -- interviewing his father, a Polish Jew, about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. The acclaimed postmodernist graphic novel famously depicts Jews as mice and Germans as cats.

As reported by The Tennessee Holler and The Guardian, the McMinn County School board voted 10-0 to ban Maus from all of its schools, citing the book's inclusion of words like "God damn" and "naked pictures" of women. Apparently, the school board discussed the possibility of simply redacting words and images it found inappropriate, though ultimately opted to ban the book outright. When reached for comment by The Tennessee Holler, the board claimed that the book being about the Holocaust had nothing to do with why it was banned.

"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," one board member said. "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."

That said, while the board itself voted unanimously to ban Maus, others leapt to the book's defense. Said one instructional supervisor, "I can talk of the history, I was a history teacher and there is nothing pretty about the Holocaust and for me this was a great way to depict a horrific time in history. Mr. Spiegelman did his very best to depict his mother passing away and we are almost 80 years away... Are the words objectionable? Yes, there is no one that thinks they aren't but by taking away the first part, it's not changing the meaning of what he is trying to portray and copyright… Are we going to be teaching these words outside of this book as vocabulary words? No, you know me better than that..."

Regardless of the reason, the decision to ban a landmark graphic novel like Maus is sure to raise eyebrows, given the recent trend of conservative book-banning efforts. On top of that, news of the McMinn County board voting to ban Spiegelman's book from its schools comes just one day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.

To that point, numerous journalists and literary industry professionals have offered their own takes on the board's decision, with most condemning it. "There's only one kind of people who would vote to ban Maus, whatever they are calling themselves these days," wrote Neil Gaiman. "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," added Yair Rosenberg.

Additionally, Ryan Higgins has pledged to donate 100 copies of The Complete Maus to "any family in the McMinn County area in Tennessee." Gary Whitta has pledged to match Higgins' donation.

Source: The Guardian, via Twitter

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