This Book Of Kid-Lit "Satire" Is Not Being Reprinted After A Huge Public Outrage
The difference between satire and straight-up bigotry is something that many comedians still don't seem to have grasped — and the horribly offensive book Bad Little Children's Books by pseudonymous author Arthur C. Gackley is definitely on the wrong side of that line. The book is filled with a series of fake book covers, which are supposed to parody classic children's books with a dark twist. This type of edgy humor is very popular at the moment — but there's a massive difference between harmless comedy picture books for adults such as Do You Want to Play With My Balls? and Go The F*ck To Sleep, and the offensive stereotypes that have been perpetuated in Bad Little Children's Books.
The book, which was published in September by Abrams Books, is packed full of racist and xenophobic images, including a cartoon of a girl in a burka handing over a birthday present, in which there appears to be a ticking bomb, to a young white boy. The book is titled Happy Burkaday, Timmy! — a joke as unfunny as it is insulting.
Unsurprisingly, many people have been very upset by this book's content, and Abrams Books have finally decided to cease further printings of the book — but not before releasing a series of statements in which they label the book as "satire," and criticize the general public for taking the joke out of context. Is anyone else getting flashbacks of that fat-shaming Nicole Arbour video? That wasn't just "satire," and nor is this — or if it is, the target of the mockery appears to be the marginalized groups themselves, rather than the bigoted attitudes portrayed and perpetuated within the book. Notice how in every image below, there is an innocent white victim?
Initially, Abrams Books defended the publication of the book based on freedom of speech, and a statement from the National Coalition Against Censorship was released in defense of Abrams right to publish Bad Little Children's Books.
In a phone call with Bustle's Books Editor Cristina Arreola, NCAC Executive Director Joan E. Bertin emphasized the organization's mission to protect all speech — regardless of whether or not critics believe it to be offensive. She tells Bustle:
"This is an issue of what do we erase from our collective culture and consciousness. And how do we deal with contentious issues. By sort of wiping them out, pretending they don't exist, pretending that people don't have different views? You know, I'm sorry, I can't go there."
The problem with this statement is that fighting censorship means protecting people's rights to express themselves without being forcibly silenced, but it doesn't mean that you have to give offensive ideas a platform. Books like Bad Little Children's Books spread harmful stereotypes that can actively endanger the lives of people of color — so it's shocking to see an organization like the NCAC dismiss this. Throughout the interview, Bertin seemed reluctant to acknowledge the problems faced by POC within the publishing industry. When Arreola asked Bertin about what the NCAC does on a systemic level to ensure that marginalized voices aren't being prohibited from publication, Bertin said:
"Many of the books that we defend are what you're calling 'marginalized voices.' They're books that reflect the experiences and life stories of — for want of a better term — minority communities, or individuals in minority communities. Different ethnicities and races and religions. We find most of our work involves that, which is why it is so frustrating to have these kind of assaults on the principle that is essential to defend those books."
Bertin told Arreola that the National Coalition Against Censorship has one person of color on their board of 15 people (excluding Bertin, who serves by virtue of being Executive Director), which is perhaps to blame for the organization's lack of sensitivity towards the people of color who are affected by this book. When questioned on this, Bertin took it as an attempt to "impugn [the organization's] credibility," and refused to comment. Instead, she doubled down on Abrams' right to publish:
"All our statement did was support the right of the publisher to publish it, the author to write it, and readers who want to do so to buy it and read it. Nobody's taking away anybody else's rights here."
While it is important to stand against censorship, it is also important to acknowledge that free speech has the ability to offend and harm. Perpetuation of harmful stereotypes actually can contribute to taking away the rights of oppressed groups.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that Michael Jacobs, the CEO of Abrams Books is on the board of the NCAC. Bertin says the board members were co-signatories on the letter in defense of Bad Little Children's Books, but she said that Jacobs had no say in the content of the letter.
On December 4, Abrams Books finally backed down and ceased further printings of Bad Little Children's Books — but from the non-apologies issued both by the publishers and by the author, it doesn't seem like they have learned a thing from this experience. Abrams stick to their claim that the public have "taken elements of the book out of context," and accuses readers of "failing to recognize it as an artistic work of social satire." Oh, so it's our fault?
The author, who wrote under the pseudonym "Arthur C. Gackley," issued an equally disappointing response, in which he states that he was "clearly commenting on the ridiculousness of biases." By use of that patronizing word "clearly," he insinuates that the outrage is the fault of ignorant readers, who he suggests probably haven't even read the book — rather than taking any share of the blame himself.
Bustle reached out to Abrams Books to ask whether they are taking any measures to prevent future publications like Bad Little Children's Books. A publicist for Abrams
Additional reporting by Cristina Arreola.