Home Historical art Art Spiegelman blames ‘political headwinds’ for scrapping ‘Maus’ program

Art Spiegelman blames ‘political headwinds’ for scrapping ‘Maus’ program


Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the iconic Holocaust book “Maus,” on Monday blamed authoritarian political leanings and petty parental grievances for removing the book from a Tennessee school’s curriculum the month before. last.

The McMinn County School Board’s decision unleashed a firestorm of criticism and sparked a national discussion about anti-Semitism and Jewish identity in the United States.

Spiegelman spoke Monday evening in a remote call with representatives of Jewish and Christian groups in Tennessee. Organizers said more than 10,000 viewers tuned in to the discussion.

He said he looked at the minutes of the school board meeting to discern their motive for removing the book from the school’s curriculum. He said he believed they did so because of politics, an overbearing bent and a desire to whitewash history, as well as petty grievances.

He pointed out that the school district had no problem with “Maus” until very recently.

“I’m heartbroken to see that this has changed amid strong political headwinds that are literally burning books,” he said. “They are trying to readjust our programs to terrify librarians, book readers and teachers.”

He said some of the parents on the council want to teach about the Holocaust in a way that makes the United States appealing, and said that ties in with other recent trends in education in the United States.

He said a board member commented, “What we need is a book that shows the patriotism we can feel with pride for freeing the Jews from the camps. Spiegelman pointed out that the United States was reluctant to join the war and end the persecution of Jews, and that it was the Russians who liberated Auschwitz, where his father was being held.

He said there have been recent moves to monitor teachers and curricula, and that teachers “need to be careful with your words so as not to offend anyone who might be upset that their grandfather is a member of the Klan, who might be unhappy and embarrassed about some of the things America has done in its history.

“Even though they say they’re willing to teach about the Holocaust, they want a fuzzier, warmer, softer Holocaust that shows how great Americans were,” he said.

“It’s a dangerous world. It’s getting more and more dangerous. Will you try to face it in a useful way, or hide your head in heart-warming myths and stories?” he said.

He also said that many parents at the school seemed to be trying to control their children by controlling the curriculum and had trouble with personal elements in Spiegelman’s story.

School board members in McMinn County, Tennessee objected to Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” because of its language and imagery. (Philissa Cramer/JTA)

“Maus” is very personal and describes Spiegelman’s strained relationship with his father. The two were divided by culture, history, and trauma, and the relationship was painful for both of them. His description in the book was no more grim than necessary, he said.

The McMinn County School Board focused on elements of “Maus”, including Spiegelman’s disrespect for his parents in the book. He calls his mother a “bitch” in one scene and discusses his father’s premarital affair in another. He said personal details like these were necessary to tell the story truthfully and credibly, calling his childhood home a “suburb of Auschwitz”.

“The taboo of not honoring my dad and mom, that’s where the school board was totally focused,” he said.

“It would have been impossible for me to do this book just as a historical text and pull myself out of it,” he said. “My contract is not with my father, my contract is with the reader, to do a story that is lucid, and that means my trust has to be earned.”

“I think it’s all about parents who want to control their children under the guise of protecting them,” he said. “It’s definitely Jews, but it’s not just Jews. It’s about “otherness,” and what’s happening now is about control. Controlling what kids can watch, what kids can read, what kids can see in a way that makes them less able to think, not more, and that takes the form of the critiques of this board where they say ” He shouldn’t be talking to his parents like that.

He didn’t intend “Maus” to be an educational tool, but the personal element made it a useful and engaging story, including for children, he said.

“If you talk to them honestly, they know it. They can make a difference. If I tried to create a tool to teach about the Holocaust, it would start to have a medicinal effect,” he said.

He warned that the trends reflected “perilous times”.

“The danger is that if you don’t know what happened and you don’t take it back, it’s not that history is repeating itself exactly, it’s just that you have to be instructed by what happened in the past to protect you,” he said. . “After there was genocide on the scale of the Holocaust, it’s now out of the bag. It can be done, it might even be an inspiration to some horrible, monstrous politician.

Cartoonist Art Spiegelman attends the Alliance Francaise French Institute’s ‘After Charlie: What’s Next for Art, Satire and Censorship’ exhibition at Florence Gould Hall on February 19, 2015 in New York City. (Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images via JTA)

Spiegelman’s “Maus” series of graphic novels chronicles his father’s experience during the Holocaust and the repercussions of the genocide within their family. Spiegelman ended the series in 1991.

It depicts Jews as mice and Germans as predatory cats, and is considered an iconic piece of Holocaust literature. It is the only graphic novel to have won a Pulitzer Prize.

Last month, the McMinn County School Board in Tennessee voted unanimously to drop “Maus” from its curriculum. Board members raised concerns about the series’ swear words, drawings of naked animals, and “unwise” or wholesome content.

The school board’s decision sparked a storm of controversy and garnered national media attention.

Then Whoopi Goldberg came into the firing line last week when discussing “Maus” on ABC’s “The View.” She said the Holocaust “isn’t about race,” it’s about “two groups of white people.”

The comments sparked outrage and prolonged the controversy. She apologized for the comments, but ABC suspended her from the show for two weeks.

In his writings and speeches that would eventually articulate his plans for mass extermination, Adolf Hitler repeatedly referred to the Jews as a race rather than a religious group. Secular Jews and Christians of Jewish grandparents were considered Jews by the Nazis.

Goldberg’s comments come amid a broader national reflection on the Holocaust and race education, as many conservative activists have fought to restrict the teaching of race-related topics in schools, while some American Jews have expressed discomfort with identifying as simply “white”.

In another related incident, this week in Tennessee, the mother of a middle school student said a Bible class included Christian proselytizing and offensive comments toward Jews.

The incidents also came amid racial reckoning in the United States over the past two years, including in schools, which have seen fierce fighting over topics such as critical race theory.