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We've had several questions come up about why certain books are censored or banned in certain regions of the world. While this is interesting, I don't see how it actually relates to the study of literature (the main topic of this site). Most of these questions can be answered with a quick Google search, and I don't see how they're solving any real problems a user may be having. Why, then, are they on-topic?

For example, here's one of the most upvoted censorship questions about Call of the Wild. The question mentions that the book was banned in Italy, Germany, and Yugoslavia. For me, after seaching Google for the exact phrase "why was call of the wild banned", this page is the first that appears. This is exactly what the site says:

London's story of a dog who lives the life of a pampered house pet until he gets a job pulling a sled was banned in Yugoslavia and Italy because of the author's socialist views. The book was also burned by the Nazis in 1933.

This is almost exactly what the accepted answer on that question says. Thus, that is essentially a question that could be answered with 3-5 minutes of research online. (I realize Google search results won't appear in the same order for everyone, but this website should still be in the first 5 results for the vast majority of us.) My problem isn't with censorship questions as a whole; it's with censorship questions that make it obvious that the asker of the question hasn't conducted basic research.

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    I'm genuinely curious as to why you don't consider censorship part of the study of literature. Censorship is a huge part of the history of writing and "literature" (whatever that happens to mean) as a whole, no matter where you look in worldwide history. Could you elaborate a little more on why you're not sure it counts, here? – user80 Jan 21 '17 at 3:10
  • @Emrakul Censorship questions feel like questions that take little effort to answer, and I feel like they're the type of questions that might lead to a demise similar to that of the old Literature site. I personally just don't see how these types of questions are adding value to the study of literature. If you have a reason as to why you consider this topic to be on-topic, please go ahead and answer this question because I'd like to hear the opinions of those who disagree. – fi12 Jan 21 '17 at 3:13
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    This question could improve its impact by listing current censorship questions on man site, together with Google search showing obvious answers. – DVK Jan 21 '17 at 3:17
  • @DVK I've done that. – fi12 Jan 21 '17 at 12:31
  • @Emrakul I've added some evidence to support my claims. – fi12 Jan 21 '17 at 12:31
  • @fi12 I think it's answerable now. I'm going to write up a preliminary answer, which I may come back and revise later. – user80 Jan 21 '17 at 12:35
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I apologize in advance for the long answer, but this actually turns out to be a relatively difficult issue to unpack.

If I understand what you're saying correctly, the issue is that, in your view, these questions are low-effort questions that can usually be answered by Google in a short period of time, and answers tend to reiterate what appears on Google. Please correct me if I'm misunderstanding this problem statement, but I think I have it reasonably on point.

If I'm right about the issue you're raising, I think the point is a valid concern worth thinking about. I also think there are two critically important issues with the frame of your question here.


The first one comes down to a pretty simple statement: readily-Googleable information about literature, especially about the banning and censorship of popular literature, tends to be woefully incomplete. When it comes to answers about censorship, the answers provided by Google, and especially the answers to that question about Call of the Wild in particular, tend to be very incomplete. Googling an answer tends to only scratch the surface of what's really going on. In the example you've highlighted, the answers seem to boil down to "because Nazis and socialism." That's not a complete answer to the question. Even the top answer (at the time of writing this question) just gives a well-referenced answer to sources that, themselves, don't bother going below the surface of why these books were banned. The second answer (again, at the time of writing) (now) hits the nail on the head.

A true answer to the question about why a book is banned needs to consider a lot of information that may not be readily available from a couple quick searches. A thorough answer should consider the sociopolitical climate that caused the banning, at a level deeper than "it's pro-socialist." It should consider what specific content of the books led to it being banned (because usually there's something in particular), and whether the reasons for its banning line up with what the author was trying to communicate at all. It needs to consider whether the message was correctly received, or whether there were ulterior motives for doing so.

The thing is, books aren't typically banned just because they espouse a political view. There are very few times in history when broad swaths of literature end up banned for what they represent (and even those demonstrate deeper cultural points worth discussing). Thinking about it in that way leaves a very problematic open question: why that book in particular?

In reference to the specific Call of the Wild example, existing answers are missing a lot of context about why, specifically, Call of the Wild was banned. What about that book led to it being banned? Why did they find it so objectionable? Why was it selected and categorized in a way that led to its banning? Why was it noticed at all? If you just Google the answer, you get something like this:

Not only have objections been raised here, the book was banned in Italy, Yugoslavia and burned in bonfires in Nazi Germany in the late 1920s and early 30s because it was considered “too radical.” (source)

That's a bad answer, and we both know it. (Who considered it "too radical"? Why did they think it was radical? Why is "too radical" in quotes, anyway - did someone actually write or say that?)


The second challenge to the frame of your question is more structural in a Stack Exchangeian way. It's not necessarily true that easily-Googleable questions are bad here. Should we embrace non-Googlers? is worth a read.

What it boils down to, though, is this: if we can reasonably give a better answer than Google can, we should accept the question, so that we can take advantage of the opportunity to do so. If we can't, then I agree, it's a waste of our time to try to answer. However, I hope I've shown above that, in the case of censored literature, we do indeed have the ability and opportunity to do so, if given the chance.


I hope I've been able to change your view about the actual complexity of questions about why literature ends up banned, and I hope that this answer helps situate these questions as squarely on-topic. However, if not, that's okay, too! At minimum, I hope I've given some food for thought.

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  • +1 and accepted great answer! You definitely make some valid points here, and made me consider some aspects of why the question is on-topic that I hadn't considered before. Like you said, it seems that there is more research involved when answering these questions than initially present. – fi12 Jan 21 '17 at 12:58
  • @fi12 Thanks! :] I've actually changed to an upvote on your question, too, because I think it's absolutely valuable to think about. Especially with your edit in mind. – user80 Jan 21 '17 at 13:00
  • I appreciate your change in opinion! – fi12 Jan 21 '17 at 13:02
  • @fi12 Here's an example of a great answer to a censorship/banning question. Note the absence of quotes from and links to online sources; this answer is based on a thoughtful analysis of the issues involved. You wouldn't get that from just a random Google result. – Rand al'Thor Jan 21 '17 at 13:04
  • I was the author of the second answer to the example question, and I've since heavily reworked my answer. I do agree with everything you've said here; it's often tremendously difficult to go beyond the top layer of information out there. – HDE 226868 Jan 21 '17 at 15:02
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    +1. In the Call of the Wild example in particular, it's not at all obvious why the book would be objectionable to authoritarian governments. Making that clear requires a lot of background knowledge about the time period and what political movements were going on, as well as enough knowledge of the book itself to read past the surface story to the deeper themes and ideas that would make it seem threatening to some people. That's definitely a literary question that is not easily Googled. – Torisuda Jan 21 '17 at 17:24
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    @HDE226868 Wow, I really like the way you edited that answer. – user80 Jan 21 '17 at 21:48

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