For well over two decades, ‘Little House on the Prairie’ had been one of the best loved, most watched shows on television. But little did we know that we were exposing the young and innocent to subversive material, sowing in their minds a set of values that, when we look back now, we should be thoroughly ashamed of.
Or so, at least, says the Association of Library Services to Children, which has voted unanimously to expunge the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder from the canon of approved children’s literature in the United States.
And what a comedown it has been. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award has been presented annually since 1954 – she herself was the first recipient – to outstanding children’s writers. But now, the association has decided her books are found to ‘reflect racist and anti-native sentiments no longer universally embraced’. She has left behind ‘a complex legacy of racist attitudes not consistent with our association’s values’. And so, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award will in future be renamed the Children’s Literary Award.
There has been an outcry since the decision became known, but it would appear that the opposition has already lost much ground to the revisionists. In Mississippi, the classic ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ has been removed from the school curriculum, and a permission slip signed by a parent is required before a student can get access to the book again. (The irony of the book being itself a powerful statement against racism seems to have been lost on the PC lobby, which had it condemned on the grounds that it was racist.)
And even our own Martin McDonagh, he of the Oscar nominated ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, has been excoriated for his ‘problematic’ depiction of race, and censured for a lack of sensitivity in addressing racism.
Not even the poor old Bard of Avon, the very icon of great literature, has escaped the revisionists’ attention. When the Sydney Opera House staged ‘The Merchant of Venice’ last year, the script was rewritten and a new ending was written where Portia predicts a bright new world without prejudice and where Gentile and Jew would bond together in peaceful brotherhood.
True enough, the drift to political correctness is meeting with growing opposition, but the trends are ominous. The traditionists hold that great literature is true of its time, and needs no revision. Art, they insist, should not have to bow to political correctness. They condemn what is happening as cultural insanity. There should be no silencing of great fiction, and to do so is no less than censorship.
What they might say of the situation in the school in Seattle, where the term ‘Spring Spheres’ have replaced ‘Easter Eggs’, lest it might offend people who do not observe Easter, should be interesting.
Or, even more bizarrely, the directive from Westaff, Australia’s biggest recruiter of Yuletide Santas, banning the use of ‘Ho, Ho, Ho!’, as offensive to women, since it could be misheard as a reference to what used to be politely called the oldest profession.
And yet they wait anxiously for the next onslaught when Mark Twain and John Steinbeck will be banished to obscurity, in case young readers be contaminated.
Maybe Orwell was right in ‘1984’. “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture repainted, every statue and street building renamed, every date has been altered. And the process continues day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which Party is always right.”