Writer's Life: On Being Banned
I suppose it was inevitable that someone would try to ban me. In the past year I've been writing about the New York Carriage Horses, the elephants in the circus and the sad story of Joshua Lockwood, a young farmer raided by the animal police. I've never had more response to anything I've ever written, or more praise or criticism.
Finally, the discussion we need to have about the future of animals in our world may be starting to get underway, and we can thank the horses for that, and I get to play a small role in it. It all began for me last year when they called out to me to help them as they made their last stand in New York in our greedy and unknowing world against a Superstorm of haters and know-nothings.
And the horses are prevailing, they are making their last stand a good one.
I am inspired by the role of manure in the lives of animals, and perhaps the lives of people. The sheep love our manure pile, we may have to keep it. It has given them a lookout to consider the world. We all live on a manure pile.
When I started writing about the carriage horses, no one bothered to ban me, which hurt my feelings a bit. A lot of other people in the struggle have been banned many times. What was wrong with me?
In our world, we are learning to hate the people we disagree with. It is not surprising that someone would get around to banning me, I have to confess I was a bit flattered and humbled. It is about time I got some recognition, and now I can claim – at least in my own mind – to join the ranks of some of the best writers in the world. Getting banned might seem an awful thing to some, but it has a special place in the life and imagination of writers.
Banning someone is quite different from disagreeing with them, as the New York Carriage Trade has learned. To be banned is to be dehumanized, to become something less than human, to become a non-person unworthy of respect, or even of survival. Dehumanization is the the first step towards destruction.
I'm not sure it will work. If you want to harm a writer, the best way to do it is to ignore them, it makes them crazy. I hate it more than anything. And I have been there, believe me. I like attention, just like a dog. There is no such thing as bad attention for a writer.
And my banners may not know that getting banned is a ticket to writer glory. Writers have always done well when they are banned, just consider this very partial list: David Guterson, Mark Twain, Alice Walker, Philip Roth, Judy Blume, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Irving, Laurie Halse Anderson, Toni Morrison. Madeleine L'Engle. In America, being controversial is much more important than being talented, and when you are banned, people come running to see what the sirens and crowds are all about.
Some of them even buy books.
Every writer who has ever been banned has sold more books and jacked up his or her speaking fees.
How proud I would be to get on this list, and have it written in my obituary that I was banned on Facebook. Mark Twain was banned in many places – he had a gift for provoking people, something I can relate to. When he was banned by a southern library he wrote that "nobody attaches weight to the freaks of the Charlton Library. But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me."
After he wrote that, he got banned from even more places. He was delighted, Huckleberry Finn became a best seller. Perhaps the people on this site would consider banning some of my books as well.
I love Alice Walker's wonderful response when The Color Purple got banned. "…literature," she wrote, "is help for humans. It is medicine of the highest order. In a more aware culture, writers would be considered priests." Or maybe devils, as one of my banners suggested on her new page. If men could be good witches, I would like to be one. Then they could burn me alive and they would build statues of me on college lawns. As it is, I am closer to being a deranged prophet, standing on the hilltop, yelling into the wind. But to be banned means someone is actually listening! Good Lord, it is about time.
If my banners asked me, I would have offered them some tips about the best ways to ban a writer, their effort is not entirely smart or modern. They put up a Facebook Page with this title: "Ban Jon Katz From Writing About Animals!" and they predicted I would try and shut it down. But why would I ever want to do that? I am happy to have a whole Facebook Page devoted to my ideas and to banning me, it is not the first and I hope it will not be the last.
But there were missteps. They should have asked me for help, I would have offered it.
Here are my own best tips for banning a writer:
1. Be specific and realistic. I mean, honestly, how could you ban a writer from writing about animals? You would have to get to everyone on Facebook or Twitter, every bookstore, library or reader in the nation. My blog alone gets nearly four million visits a year. It isn't a practical goal. Think smaller. You will do better with smaller targets. Politicians and bureaucrats hate controversy, try banning the writer the way they tried to ban Twain. General goals fail. Hitler and Stalin and Franco and Mao burned books, but that only made martyrs out of the writers, they became better known than ever.
One of my good friends gave a reading at a bookstore and they tried to ban him. The store was mobbed, he sold out.
Better to ban my books or my blog than to ban me, it isn't practical, except for creating manure piles, if you are into that.
2. Attention is oxygen. As I mentioned, the worst fate for a writer is to be ignored. Most writers are crazy, they would happily set themselves on fire rather than not be read or noticed. If you are banned, you matter.
3. Don't slur women or Native-American religions, as this banning effort does. We live in sensitive times, and there are mobs of people on Facebook and Twitter who might come after you when you ridicule indigenous peoples or women or call their beliefs "BS." Remember Facebook is overwhelmingly female, attacking my wife will only upset wives, sisters and feminists, as it should. My beliefs are not hers, don't trivialize women. Your movement is almost entirely female. I'd be careful about that. If you keep on slurring Native-Americans, Facebook will eventually ban you.
4. I'm sorry, I don't mean to further offend. But the title sort of sucks. I mean most people on Facebook don't even know who Jon Katz is, though I might loom large to you and your friends. You have to come up with something snappy like: "Stop Horse Abuse." Then, you will draw more visitors and perhaps even get a lot of money, maybe a mayor will sign up. Believe me, it works.
5. I do want to say one good word about the person who created the page. When she first e-mailed me more than a year ago, she called me a "liar and a whore." I wasn't sure what she was talking about, and am still not sure. But her writing has really improved, I am glad to see it. Whole paragraphs and fewer exclamation points, capital letters and nasty names. Well….fewer exclamation points.
So that's it, I'm trying to be helpful. Like Mark Twain, one of my heroes, I also appreciate the the deep and unconscious irony of banning me while thousands of factory farms within a few hundred miles from me torture and confine and slaughter tens of millions of chickens, pigs, cows and sheep in the most horrendous and cruel of circumstances, and the page doesn't even mention it. If you are banning me in the name of loving animals, you might at least mention one or try and save one in your page. Or urge people to do that, in between banning me. You are sure to get some people on your site, don't be discouraged, it is, in some ways, a perfect fit for some people on Facebook.
I wish you well. It is high time I experienced this rite of passage. Maybe I have finally joined the ranks of hallowed writers and martyrs. Maybe not. If you are successful and I do get banned from writing about animals, I will then be immortal and will be sure to come back and haunt you (in a good way). Perhaps I will stand on the manure pile and shout my ideas out to the people. We are thinking of putting grass on it (which would surely grow) and keeping it for the sheep.
I think that's it for now. I learned of this page banning me from a good friend who was upset by it – outraged actually – and wrote me to tell me about it early in the morning. She wanted to tell me that she had posted a message in defense of me. It didn't really work.
She was banned instantly.