The cats are running the show

You should be outraged at Tennessee schools banning Maus. I know I am.

A school district in Tennessee banned the use of “Maus,” a Pulitzer-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, in its middle school classes, citing the work’s profanity and nudity in a 10-to-0 vote.

As leaders in conservative areas across the country push for more control over the way history is taught, the McMinn County school board expressed concern that the expletives in “Maus” were inappropriate for eighth-graders. Members also said Art Spiegelman’s illustrations showing nudity — which depict Holocaust victims forced to strip during their internment in Nazi concentration camps — were improper.

How do you show the horror of the Holocaust in a “proper” way? You just have to sanitize out the “horror” part? That’s the whole point of educating kids about this event — you have to make it clear that this wasn’t a trivial, fun, amusing event. You can’t clean it up. It’s why Spiegelman has refused to turn it into a movie.

The school board’s objections are ludicrous. It’s got expletives in it — have they ever listened to eighth-graders? As a kid, I didn’t learn dirty words from a book, or my family, I got them from my peers. The naughty words in Maus are relatively tame against the magnitude of the nightmare going on around the characters. Nudity? Hah. People being forced to line up for mandatory showers (does the school district have communal showers in their PE building?) or piles of naked corpses are not images that will make the kids think of forbidden sexy times.

The most chilling part of the article, though, is the mention of the “10-to-0 vote”. No one on that school board was principled enough to speak out against the banning, the whole board was depressingly uniform in their views. That speaks to the effectiveness of the deranged Right in infiltrating our civic life to take control and further poison our communities with their oppressive ideas. We have seen the same phenomenon in the teaching of creationism — the teachers are dead set against it, many of the citizens don’t want it, the institutions of higher learning all reject it and say teaching it is a waste of time, but all you need is a bloc of churches voting to pack the board, and they can dominate.

Good luck, people of McMinn County, Tennessee. You’ve been fucked over.


  1. Akira MacKenzie says

    … citing the work’s profanity and nudity…

    I wish to cite bullshit. As much at the uptight, inbred, Christian shitkickers despise dirty words and naughty bits, they hate Jews even more.

    (Oh, and a pre-emptive “FUCK OFF” to anyone who wants to chastise me for ‘Classism” for denigrating a portion of your precious proletariat.)

  2. Matt G says

    Banning a book is a great way to get kids to go out and buy it. That’s the only silver lining I see, however.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    Matt G @ 2

    It only looks bright until the day the local chapter of the Proud Boys or Patriot Prayer start patrolling libraries and book stores for those defying the ban. At that point, your silver lining get’s tarnished really fast.

  4. says


    I don’t really trust a person’s analysis if they claim students enjoyed Maus. The graphic novel is many things. But to say you enjoy it is to either misunderstand the novel or what the word ‘enjoy’ means.

  5. Erp says

    @5 I think I would trust the teachers more than the school board to know what was appropriate for 8th graders (13/14 years old). I certainly recall some difficult books in my middle school; the idea is to stretch their minds.
    The county btw is heavily Republican (just shy of 80% of the voters voted for Trump in the last election).

  6. robro says

    @5 They are banning it from the curriculum, then. Having it in the library, but not in the curriculum, makes it invisible.

    I had the opportunity to meet Spiegelman in Toronto, Canada after the premier of the documentary Comic Book Confidential. Speigelman and Maus are featured in the film, which actually did animate clip art from the book. Spiegelman hated it. He couldn’t understand why the director (Ron Mann) felt the need to make the artwork move. Lots of integrity in that artist.

  7. says

    From the Guardian (I don’t know if the quote from Spiegelman is accurate, but it made me laugh) – “Tennessee school board bans Pulitzer prize-winning Holocaust novel, Maus”:

    A Tennessee school board has banned a Pulitzer prize-winning novel from its classrooms over eight curse words and an illustration of a naked cartoon mouse.

    Board member Tony Allman supported the move to remove the “vulgar and inappropriate” content, arguing: “We don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.”

    “I am not denying it was horrible, brutal, and cruel,” Allman said in reference to the genocide and murder of six million European Jews during the second world war.

    “It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy,” he added.

    Allman also took aim at Spiegelman himself, alleging: “I may be wrong, but this guy that created the artwork used to do the graphics for Playboy.”

    “You can look at his history, and we’re letting him do graphics in books for students in elementary school. 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.”

    Mike Cochran, another school board member, described parts of the book as “completely unnecessary”.

    Cochran proposed revisiting the entire curriculum over concerns it was developed to “normalise sexuality, normalise nudity and normalise vulgar language.”

    “If I was trying to indoctrinate somebody’s kids, this is how I would do it,” he added. “You put this stuff just enough on the edges, so the parents don’t catch it but the kids, they soak it in. I think we need to relook at the entire curriculum.”

    Spiegelman said he was “baffled” by the outcome in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday. “It’s leaving me with my jaw open, like, ‘What?’” the 73-year-old author said, adding he thought the school board was “Orwellian” for approving the ban.

    Spiegelman’s Jewish parents were both sent to Nazi concentration camps and his mother took her own life when he was just 20.

    “I’ve met so many young people who … have learned things from my book,” Spiegelman said. “I also understand that Tennessee is obviously demented. There’s something going on very, very haywire there.”

  8. drew says

    When I was in high school, the sole Latin teacher retired and the administration decided not to hire a new one. Latin classes were removed from the curriculum. Latin was not banned. Any Latin books the school had in the library remained there.

    This is a school board deciding that bits of language in a graphic novel about the holocaust were just too much. The most charitable interpretation of this doesn’t make sense at all – those people must not understand what they’re doing. A slightly less charitable one says the board rotten, racist, and trying to politely erase part of history.

    But Maus was removed from the curriculum. It was not banned.

  9. pacal says

    No. 5 Mike Peterson’s logic would consider The Diary of Anne Frank not “age-appropriate for all 12 and 13 year-olds”.. Even though Anne was c. 12 years old when she started writing it.

    It’s rather obvious that what got the graphic novel removed was the “cuss” words and the nudity which is utterly pathetic. All the nonsense about eight graders minds being too “concrete” etc., is so much hand waving nonsense to excuse an exercise in silliness. It is obvious that we once again have an exercise in pearl clutching by people who are offended by trivial crap. I.e., “cuss” words and nudity of cartoon animals.

    No doubt these same people have no problem with 12 years old kids seeing graphic images of Jesus’ horrific death. No doubt the sight of Jesus nailed to a cross isn’t too much for a 12 year old to take. Whatever.

    When I was 12 I had a book of photos with captions and commentary called The Yellow Star. It was full of some of the most horrific imagery imaginable, my “concrete” mind had no problem understanding the images or what they meant, and by no means was I an unusually intelligent 12 year old. Peterson can stick his condescension up his ass.

  10. Akira MacKenzie says

    @ 13

    Let me guess, Coyne’s argument is that “Maybe if you SJW-cucks didn’t call white America–CITIZENS OF MOST FREE COUNTRY IN HUMAN HISTORY–racist, sexist, and bigoted, they wouldn’t feel compelled to defend their collective character by banning such books!”

  11. Hairhead, Still Learning at 59 says

    I read a while ago that Alfred Hitchcock was one of the Hollywood directors who worked on an unreleased film document of the liberation of the concentration camps, and what was found there. Though it has never been officially shown, as far as I know, I found it on Youtube.

    If you think you’ve seen Holocaust photos/film and are inured, the footage will change your mind. It is uncompromisingly brutal and dehumanizing and I think every goddamn high school student should see it so they know what unchallenged bigotry can lead to.

  12. klatu says

    @Autobot Silverwynde #7

    Fascists don’t like being reminded just how awful fascism is, you know.

    Nail on head.

    @One Brow #5

    Is the book really age-appropriate for all 12 and 13 year-olds?

    Yes. Yes, it is. A 12 year old is very much capable of handling this kind of stuff. In fact, not confronting them with it is tantamount to lying.
    And leaving them unprepared only makes them suspectiptible to fascist rhetoric. Because guess what? The fascists have no such qualms. Naive, young men are exactly who they’re vying for.

    I remember vividly a book my father has lying around somewhere, in which there are holocaust photographs from inside nazi concentration camps.

    Mountains of emaciated, naked bodies. Gas chambers. Human experimentation. Page after page after page of pure horror.
    (The book was simply called “Fascism” or something equally terse.)

    I was… ten, maybe, when I first saw that. It was not the lack of modesty that was traumatizing, let me tell you.

    As psychologically scarring as those images are, I almost wish every child was obligated to see them at least once in their life. Because that is always the end goal of fascism: A mountain of corpses. Former human beings, completely stripped of their dignity.

    Hiding the horrors of fascism only ever serves the fascists.

    Basically: It is appropriate to be traumatized by traumatizing truths. If a few pictures can engender some modicum of empathy in people, especially if it can immunize them against hate-mongering, then that’s worth a few nightmares.

  13. hemidactylus says

    @14- Akira MacKenzie

    I would say Coyne is either confused or operating under a delusion. There are parts where he’s apparently painting the school board as Elect (he’s now parroting John McWhorter’s term over offensive “woke”).

    “Today we’ll have two posts on how the “Elect”—et’s use that instead of “woke”, so as to conform to John McWhorter’s supposedly non-pejorative word—are changing or banning art to both confirm virtue and prevent others from enjoying good painting, dance, and writing. One source will be the liberal media; the other the conservative media… Let’s start with the liberal media, which of course reports Elect shenanigans less often than does the liberal “MSM”. In this case, however, the Guardian is the source. This concerns Art Spiegelman’s “graphic novel” Maus, which won the Pulitzer Prize for literature (the “Special Awards and Letters” category) in 1986.”

    But then he takes a swipe at The Guardian too: “Click on the screenshot below to read the piece. You know it’s gotta be egregious censorship if the woke Guardian reports it!”

    To their credit several WEIT commenters have pointed out the action by the McMinn County School Board isn’t an example of alleged Elect Wokeness.

    And sanity check:

    “The district – located in a politically conservative region of southeastern Tennessee – had already agreed to redact the profanities and obscure the nude image. But Cochran continued to raise concerns during the meeting, and other board members joined in, some raising more substantive objections about the book’s content before the board voted unanimously to pull the book out of the district’s classrooms.”

    I have a hard time believing this school board is making decisions based on social justice activism, Coyne’s perennial bugbear, haunting him beneath his bed at night. Given he’s already entertaining right wing tropes why doesn’t just he join the GOP already?

  14. wzrd1 says

    Well, the genocide obviously never happened, because the Nazis were so respectful and never used or allowed profanity to be used in their unemployment camps (I wish I was using hyperbole on that last, but they were merely work camps and not death camps, ignore the mass graves and cyanide impregnated “showers”).

    And of course they hate Jews, after all, the teachings of Jesus cramps their style and he was a Jew…

  15. says

    It is uncompromisingly brutal and dehumanizing and I think every goddamn high school student should see it so they know what unchallenged bigotry can lead to.

    But then how can their parents compare vaccine mandates to the Holocaust? Won’t somebody please think of the memes?!

  16. brightmoon says

    I read Maus decades ago. It was shocking . Considering all these kids have seen worse on the internet and considering that real 4th graders cuss like the fictional characters on South Park , this censorship is a bit stupid

  17. says

    pacal@12 and klatu@17,

    I don’t question that the two of you were ready. I was reading more detailed stuff at a younger age, as well. However, teachers need to teach to the 20th percentile as well as the above average. So, you narratives about how ready you were doesn’t say about whether the book itself is age-appropriate.

  18. JustaTech says

    @One Brow #5
    Yes, it is appropriate for 8th graders. In my 8th grade class we read “Night” by Eli Wiesel. No distancing metaphors, just a raw memoir. Did I enjoy it? Hell no, it was miserable. Was it good and am I glad I read it? Yes.
    I also read The Diary of Anne Frank for summer reading for 6th grade. I read “Number the Stars” about the evacuation of Danish Jews to Sweden in school (though I don’t remember what grade).
    Heck, for a 4th grade book report my friend read “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit”, which is child’s eye view of evacuation and the loss of a beloved toy.

    There are plenty of age-appropriate books about WWII and the Holocaust, for many ages. That the school board chose these specific objections makes it clear it isn’t about “age appropriate” but about ever teaching anything “hard” about history.

  19. says

    What does “not ready” mean? If a kid is old enough to participate in social dominance behavior like their parents (racism, sexism, xenophobia…) they are old enough to see the consequences of it on a larger scale. I can only see the connections in retrospect, but the tourette tic related harassment was very early.

    This fragility os because they don’t want to think their politics is harassment and bigotry on some level.

  20. kome says

    This isn’t the first time that conservatives have thought of the horrors of the Holocaust as sexually arousing. Tom Coburn – a Republican senator from 2005 to 2015 – spent some time in 1997 railing against television studios broadcasting Schlinder’s List because he thought the nudity of the shower scenes was sexually provocative.

    We should really be looking into why right-wingers get aroused as the actions of the Nazis.

  21. unclefrogy says

    the people who banned that book from the classroom would also vote to punish the “enemy’s of society” in the most server ways..they would vote to imprison atheists who dared to speak about the none existence of god they would imprison socialists and communists at the drop of a hat, they would arrest any minority race they felt was not behaving in the way they thought they should.
    the events pictured in that comic make them feel uncomfortable because the events are shown in a very blunt and unsympathetic way for the disgusting and barbaric and pointlessly cruel thing that they are because they feel the same about their enemys
    it is a completely defensive reaction in an attempt to make the interior conflict go away by adding more lies on top. it will not work but they don’t care they will just get more angry and more defensive as a result

  22. says

    It’s being removed from the curriculum, but not the library.

    How many school kids have time to look for a book in a school library, if it’s not part of any curriculum? Making a book pretty much invisible is pretty close to “banning” it.

  23. vucodlak says

    @ One Brow, #5

    We weren’t allowed to take books out of the school library in my junior high/high school. I don’t even know 99% of what was on the shelves, because the librarian would run you out if she caught you browsing the stacks. Basically, you could come and look at a specific book or use a computer under the direct supervision of a teacher and the librarian, and that was it.

    So, if a book were banned from the curriculum, as many of the ones I wanted to read for a class where we got to choose what we wanted to read from a list* were, it was banned period.

    *How it worked was that our new English teacher presented us with a list to pick from, was subsequently informed that he had to get approval for the books on the list, which resulted in the most interesting options being stricken from it.

  24. robro says

    Remember that Maus is based on Spiegelman’s interviews with his father, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. Spiegelman’s mother was also a survivor, but committed suicide when Art was about 20. Art was born in 1948 in Stockholm, and so himself a refugee of the holocaust. An important part of the story is the elder and younger Spiegelman coming to terms with each other in a difficult relationship…or perhaps Art coming to terms with that relationship. This is not some abstract historical horror tale but a story of two survivors (because Art Spiegelman is also a survivor) of an actual horror. What the idiots in Tennessee are trying to do is suppress that horror so they can ignore it or perhaps repeat it.

  25. says

    Raging Bee @27 and vucodlak @ 28,

    I spent quite a bit of time in the various school libraries, and browsing.

    However, not being in the curriculum does not prevent it from being optional additional reading material on a list, possibly with a warning on the content of the material. The committee did not vote to remove it from optional class lists, either.


    Perhaps you could quote the part in the school board minutes where you reached the conclusion it’s about not teaching hard truths of history? Because from what I read, the school board members agreed with the teachers that the murderous aspects of the Nazis needed to be taught, and were hoping to find a different book.

  26. charley says

    I still remember how they treated the Holocaust in my 8th grade in 1971. They brought us to an assembly room and showed us a b+w movie documentary including bodies being dumped into a mass grave. One kid, the future captain of the high school football team no less, fainted.

  27. gijoel says

    But don’t-cha know that the real victims of the Holocaust are god-fearing Republicans who are forced to wear masks. /s

    If they ban teaching about ethnic cleansing then who are they going to compare themselves to when their fee-fees get hurt.

  28. vucodlak says

    @ One Brow, #30

    I spent quite a bit of time in the various school libraries, and browsing.

    You wouldn’t have done if you’d attended the same schools I did.

    However, not being in the curriculum does not prevent it from being optional additional reading material on a list, possibly with a warning on the content of the material.

    I don’t know anyone who ever read anything off of an optional reading list in school because it was on such a list. I read for fun and to learn more about things that interested me, and I knew people who did the same, but any resemblance between our voluntary reading habits and any school list was purely coincidental.

  29. vucodlak says

    @ Hairhead, Still Learning at 59, #16

    I read a while ago that Alfred Hitchcock was one of the Hollywood directors who worked on an unreleased film document of the liberation of the concentration camps, and what was found there. Though it has never been officially shown, as far as I know, I found it on Youtube.

    Was it Night Will Fall that you saw? If not, it’s an excellent documentary on Hitchcock’s documentary, including much of the footage he intended to use, as well as discussing the (extremely destructive, in my opinion) reasons why the original documentary was never released.

  30. says


    The key to understanding the “Maus” thing—and I really do mean this—is that these are people for whom Jews mostly exist in theory, the same way that in third grade you learn there’s a thing called tectonic plates

    This is the same root cause as the appropriation of Holocaust tropes among antivaxxers. The lack of shame in the appropriation is because it is to them really nothing more than a historical abstraction.

  31. Walter Solomon says

    vucodlak @34

    as well as discussing the (extremely destructive, in my opinion) reasons why the original documentary was never released.

    IIRC, certain people in high places believed that completing the documentary would’ve just added insult to injury to the defeated and remorseful Germans. Furthermore, the enemy had already switched from the vanquished fascists to the Commies and we needed Germans on our side in the good fight against the spread of Marxism.

  32. DLC says

    I never got to read Maus in school. But I have seen the unexpurgated films from the camps. Dachau, Buchenvald, Auschwitz, and Treblinka, to name a few. I’m not a big fan of booze, but I needed a good stiff bourbon afterwards. The images are seared into my memory. I will not forget. Nor will I forget the two survivors I was privileged to meet. Every goddamn HS student should watch these films. People murdered in every manner conceivable, and at an industrial scale. Do not ever forget. This is what comes as the ultimate goal of teaching people to de-humanize and hate “others.”

  33. says

    When I was a kid growing up, the church we attended had four families who were death camp survivors. I’ll never forget some of their stories and seeing a numbered tattoo on one of their arms. Then on television you had the movie “Holocaust” which was a six part mini-series. My father watched it with me and it was very sad and painful to watch. In one scene two escaped prisoners saw a long line of naked prisoners being executed. This was the first time I saw nudity on TV, which I believe was on NBC. I remember asking my father how could people do such horrible things. Yes it was raw and disturbing but it was very realistic and I don’t know who you could show it any other way. These people wanting to ban this book (and others) really are doing a disservice to young students who should be educated on what happened in those despicable concentration camps.