Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home has been challenged once again, this time for it’s inclusion on a freshman recommended reading list at the College of Charleston (CofC) in Charleston, South Carolina. The conservative religious group opposed to the book has labeled it “pornographic.”
CofC participates in an annual program that selects a book and provides free copies of the book to all incoming students and fulltime faculty. Fun Home was selected as this year’s book. Students are encouraged to read the book and to participate in a discussion during orientation. However, students are not required to read it.
A Charleston-based ABC News affiliate reported on the challenge, brought by the Palmetto Family Council:
“If this book were a magazine it would be wrapped in brown paper,” said Oran Smith, director of Palmetto Family Council. “We reviewed every book assigned in SC this year. Many were provocative. This one is pornographic. Not a wise choice for 18-year-olds at a taxpayer-supported college.”
Upon learning of the book’s selection for the reading program, the Palmetto Family Council posted an inflammatory blog that compared CofC’s selection to those of other colleges. After a list of books that included several overtly religious titles, the Council asked, “Which one of these books is not like the others? And exactly how bad is it?” Commentary on the blog post further condemned Fun Home as having “nothing of literary value.”
Rather than take the Palmetto Family Council’s word that the book is pornographic, Paul Bowers with The Charleston City Paper conducted his own investigation. He took the time to actually buy and read the book:
The book does have some drawings of nudity, including a male body on a morgue table and a few panels that show a woman performing oral sex on another woman. There is also a section that describes Bechdel’s first period and first experiences with masturbation. For the most part, though, an initial scan of the book and a read of the first chapter make Fun Home seem more like a smartly written, deeply affecting memoir than a steamy porno — but hey, that’s just our assessment. Upon the book’s 2006 release, New York Times critic Sean Wilsey called it “Proustian” and “ingeniously compact,” with “panels that combine the detail and technical proficiency of R. Crumb with a seriousness, emotional complexity, and innovation completely its own.” The book was a bestseller, a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and No. 1 on Time‘s Best Books of the Year list.
So far, CofC appears to be standing behind their decision to select the book. Bowers writes:
CofC spokesman Mike Robertson says the college spent about $39,000 to buy 4,000 copies of the book and will also spend $13,000 to have the author visit the school in October. Robertson says he spoke with faculty in charge of freshman orientation and did not hear of any parents complaining about the book selection. “A lot of schools do this now. What it is, is they want to have all the freshmen come in with a shared experience,” Robertson says. “This is a way they can have a shared experience where they have that one thing in common they can talk about — and especially a book like this. If you read it, you find out it’s about a 17-year-old girl who doesn’t really know who she is and came from a kind of dysfunctional family, and so it’s one of those things where it can spark conversations, and that’s what they’re looking for.”
“We are pleased to see CofC standing behind their selection of Ms. Bechdel’s important work,” says CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein. “This incident is a classic example of how comics come under fire from groups with no understanding of the medium. The accusations that Fun Home is inappropriate for college readers, and that its content is pornographic are absurd, but accusations of that type derived from taking a work out of context are common in the history of graphic novel challenges. We’re still gathering information about the challenge, but it’s distressing that this group would attack any book, especially one as acclaimed as Fun Home. The book is not required reading, and its removal from a state-funded institution such as the College of Charleston would be a violation of the First Amendment.”
CBLDF will be following the situation closely. For more on the challenges that Fun Home has faced previously, visit our Case Study.
Please help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work and reporting on stories such as this by making a donation or becoming a member of the CBLDF!