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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

An image from the graphic novel 'Maus'

Drawing by Art Spiegelman

As I write, the recently-inaugurated Republican governor of Virginia is engaged in a Twitter war with a mouthy high school kid.

And losing.

It’s like something out of Curb Your Enthusiasm, a TV program “Moms for Liberty” would surely ban if they could. Never mind that the whole thing started because the kid posted an inaccurate article about Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s closing down an educational exhibit about slavery -- which he didn’t do.

Any time you’re having a public spat with somebody seventeen, however, you’re in trouble. Youngkin blamed overzealous staffers for “an unauthorized tweet” taunting young Ethan Lynee for appearing in a photo with “a man that had a Blackface/KKK photo in his yearbook.”

That would be Youngkin’s immediate predecessor, former Gov. Ralph Northam, who once apologized for the Blackface photo but now says it wasn’t him. So, it’s a comedy of errors all around.

My own policy is to avoid Twitter altogether. Facebook is dangerous enough. Also, I’m not running for anything. Not never one time, as a backwoods friend likes to say. And if I ever did declare my candidacy, my wife would seek legal guardianship and have me put out to pasture.

Even so, the Youngkin episode had almost everything: a phony racial controversy, an inaccurate (and subsequently withdrawn) news story, and hotheads going off half-cocked all around.

Maybe Moms for Liberty should ban the lot. In case you don’t know, the “Moms” are a fake grassroots organization out of Florida dedicated to turning American public schools into fundamentalist Christian academies. Or getting rid of them altogether, which may be the ultimate goal.

“Karens for Christ” might be a more accurate moniker.

Bless their hearts.

Where I live in Arkansas, people like them are in the ascendancy. The newspapers are filled with tales of sexual violence and child pornography anyway. A prominent holy man was recently convicted in Federal court of molesting young girls. These are not practices people learn at school.

When liberals strike similarly righteous poses, it’s called “virtue signaling,” and most people think it’s kind of silly.

Consider, by way of example, the recent case of the McMinn County, Tennessee school board removing the graphic novel Maus from the eighth-grade curriculum. It’s a harrowing tale of cats in Nazi uniforms sending whole families of cartoon mice to concentration camps, torturing, and killing them. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman tells the story of his parents, who survived the Holocaust. The school board voted unanimously to remove the book “because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.”

The shocking profanity consisted of the word “damn.” As for a naked cartoon mouse, have the Tennessee censors never noticed that Donald Duck wears no pants? Although like an actual duck, Uncle Donald has nothing but feathers between his legs. (Among domestic fowl, you pretty much have to BE a duck to tell the boys from the girls.)

Almost needless to say, this preposterous decision succeeded in pushing Maus to the head of best-seller list and causing many thousands, if not millions—of young readers to seek it out. Like Orwell’s Animal Farm, the book’s sheer power resides precisely in its use of a children’s fable to teach a harrowing lesson. Once read, Maus will never be forgotten.

It follows that the sheer futility of book-banning in today’s United States almost cannot be exaggerated. Nor is it entirely a right-wing phenomenon. As Nashville writer Margaret Renkl points out in her New York Times column: “Last year, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, was on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged Books List ‘for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a ‘white savior’ character, and its perception of the Black experience.’”

Sigh.

Besides, while the little cherubs aren’t listening to their teacher drone on about Harper Lee, 1984, or some equally impenetrable text, what they’re listening to on their iPhones is Cardi B’s WAP, a coarse ditty about a boastful strumpet’s use of her… Well, there’s no polite word, and the clinical terms have come to sound dirtier than the unprintable ones. That thing Trump boasted about grabbing.

My point’s a simple one. The culture war’s over, and your side lost. So did mine. See, there’s this thing called the Internet out there, and it has changed everything about what children learn and how they learn it except the way school boards and old fools like you and me talk about it. For that matter, probably nothing so renders a once-incendiary book harmless as being required in a high school English or history class.

Make me education czar and students wouldn’t be permitted to bring their accursed phones to school at all—the contemporary equivalent of Hans Brinker sticking his finger in the dike to ward off a tsunami.

And if you recognize that allusion, you’re an old pedant too.

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