Friday, 25 July 2014

Archie And The NLB Books Ban Saga

Update 1 Aug 2014: The Alternative View

MDA directs bookstores to pull edition of Archie comics off shelves because it depicts "same sex marriage"

It said this came after public complaints.

So if Lawrence Khong has a gang of servants going around Singapore inspecting books and sending requests to MDA to have them pulled off shelves, can we still call this country a secular and inclusive society?

No ban on X-Men comic due to ‘balanced treatment of gay marriage’
In Astonishing X-Men Issue 51, gay superhero character Northstar marries his partner Kyle Jinadu

An Archie comic book which featured a gay marriage was removed from local bookstores earlier this year — but another comic with a similar theme — Astonishing X-Men Issue 51 — can still be found on the shelves.

This is because the X-Men comic, published by Marvel Comics in 2012, offered a balanced treatment of the issue, the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) told TODAY.

In the X-Men comic, gay superhero character Northstar marries his partner Kyle Jinadu — a plotline similar to Archie: The Married Life Volume Three, which was removed from bookstore chain Kinokuniya in March. Archie: The Married Life features the marriage of Kevin Keller, the popular series’ first openly gay character.

No Sex Please, We're Singaporeans

Referring specifically to Astonishing X-Men Issue No. 51, the Media Development Authority statutory board spokesman said: “The MDA takes a holistic view in assessing content and considers all factors, including the context, presentation and language.” The presentation on the cover of the comic is a graphic illustration of two full grown men, not penguins, about to suck face. MDA had had actually assessed the particular X-Men issue way back in 2012, two whole years before raising hell about “And Tango Makes Three”, “The White Swan Express” and “Who is in my Family?”

The Kinokuniya Singapore main store at Ngee Ann City had the presence of mind to have it wrapped in plastic and labelled “Unsuitable for the young”. After all, we hardly want young impressionable minds to be misled into thinking that it is perfectly a-okay to smooch passionately in full view of a conservative public. Even when Jack Neo was carrying on with his couch casting extra curricular activities, he had curtains installed in his vehicle. Whatever happened to "Go get a room"?

What boys and girls, boys and boys, and girls and girls do in private is their personal affair. Even the cops have promised not to barge into bedrooms to enforce section 377A of the law. But you really have to draw a line when amorous couples embrace so openly and explicitly that your kid will start to doubt the stock-brings-babies version of procreation.


MDA has explained its decision to ban the Archie comic issue featuring a gay marriage while retaining an Astonishing X-Men issue with the same theme.

According to it, the X-Men issue depicted opposition to the marriage and provided a "balanced treatment on the issue of gay marriage.”

“The MDA takes a holistic view in assessing content and considers all factors, including the context, presentation and language," it says. What is wrong with the MDA?

Archie ban: It is sad, it is stupid

The Media Development Authority’s decision to remove Archie: The Married Life Volume 3 from sale has come under fire from more groups – including the American publisher of Archie Comics, who said they disagree with it.

“Obviously, we do not agree with Singapore’s decision to ban such a key book in our publishing catalog.

“Archie: The Married Life V3 is a milestone issue featuring the first gay marriage in comic book history. We stand by that story now as we did when we published it,” said Alex Segura, Senior Vice President of Publicity and Marketing at Archie Comics.

Archie comic breached content guidelines: MDA
Selected copies of Archie: The Married Life on sale at Kinokuniya, Takashimaya. Volume three, which features a gay wedding has been left out from the shelves. Photo: Don Wong

The Media Development Authority (MDA) has confirmed that it has barred from sale one volume of the Archie: The Married Life series because of its depiction of same-sex marriage between two characters in the comic.

In a statement, the MDA said it had received a complaint about the comic – Book Three in a series of five – in March. After an assessment, it found that the content breached MDA guidelines. “We thus informed the local distributor not to import or distribute the comic in retail outlets,” an MDA spokesperson said.

The MDA also consulted the Publications Consultative Panel in the process. “Its members advised that the theme of the comic was not in line with social normal and is in breach of content guidelines,” the spokesperson said

Archie comic barred from sale in Singapore due to same-sex marriage depiction
An image from an issue of Life With Archie is pictured courtesy of Archie Comics Publications. An Archie comic book depicting a same-sex marriage has been barred from sale in Singapore after a complaint from a member of the public, and the National Library Board (NLB) is reviewing its four currently available copies. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

An Archie comic book depicting a same-sex marriage has been barred from sale in Singapore after a complaint from a member of the public, and the National Library Board (NLB) is reviewing its currently available copies.

Mr Sonny Liew, 39, a graphic novelist based in Singapore, uncovered the restriction after writing to bookseller Kinokuniya on July 10. When asked, the Media Development Authority (MDA) said it had assessed the comic in March after receiving a complaint and found it breached the guidelines with "its depiction of the same-sex marriage of two characters".

The MDA added: "The Publications Consultative Panel, which comprises a cross-section of (28 members from) Singapore society, was consulted. Its members advised that the theme of the comic was not in line with social norms and is in breach of existing content guidelines."

Decision to pull Archie comic incongruous with Singapore’s market economy
The report Archie comic removed due to ‘breach of content guidelines’ (July 17) stated that the Media Development Authority (MDA) reviewed the comic following a complaint

The MDA consulted its Publications Consultative Panel, the comic was judged to have breached content guidelines and the decision was made to pull the offending book from the shelves.

I have few quibbles with the review process except that the MDA should publish the minutes and decisions of its consultations to keep the public informed of how its guidelines are interpreted and enforced.

Archie comic banned by MDA for depicting gay marriage
Bad Bromance

Archie used to be goofball entertainment for me in my teens, but he has all grown up since. In 2009, the series courted controversy by having the main character marryBOTH Betty and Veronica in consecutive issues, prompting conservatives to accuse everyone’s favourite freckled redhead of being a ‘ bigamist’. Not sure if polygamy is in breach of MDA’s guidelines because it’s an ‘alternative lifestyle’ that sure as hell isn’t in line with ‘community norms’.

It’s not just narrow-minded Singaporeans making a fuss about a comic about gay marriage. In the US, the Christian group One Million Moms protested the sale of the comic, to little success. Why didn’t MDA completely ban the movie ‘I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry’ instead of giving it a lax M18 rating then? Didn’t you spare a thought for OUR own 1 million mommies and their precious norms?

The gay character in question is military stud Kevin Keller, and in the banned comic he marries Dr Clay Walker, a black man. Keller first came out in a Veronica #202 (2010), when he told Jughead that he was not interested in Veronica because he was gay. Archie never dealt with such ‘sensitive’ topics in the past. He was flirting with either the brunette or the blonde, messing around with Jughead, or watching the resident jock Reggie getting beat up by Moose. Things became edgier when he gave his first ‘interracial kiss’ to Valerie from the all-girl band Josie and the Pussycats (whom he also married). You damn philanderer you.

What will MDA do to this comic?
Archie: The Married Life Volume 3 may be the first comic to depict a gay wedding, but it is not the only one

In Marvel Comics’ Astonishing X-Men #51, Northstar marries his partner Kyle Jinadu.

Unlike the Archie comic though, this publication is sold in Singapore’s bookstores.

search on Kinokuniya Singapore’s web catalogue showed that the Astonishing X-Men #51 issue is on the shelf.

Singapore halts pulping of gay-themed children's books
And Tango Makes Three is a true story about two male penguins in a zoo that raise a chick. AP Photograph

Singapore has stopped its national library from destroying two children's books with gay themes, after an outcry over literary censorship in the tightly regulated city-state.

The information minister, Yaacob Ibrahim, ordered that the books be moved to the adult section, where parents can borrow them for their children, after another title was pulped by the National Library Board (NLB).

"We stand by NLB's decision to remove the three books from the children's section," Yaacob said on his Facebook page, adding that the board would "continue to ensure that books in the children's section are age-appropriate".

NLB and the Erosion of our Secular Morality
Two of the three children's titles - And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, recently removed by the National Library Board (NLB). Minister Yaacob Ibrahim has instructed the NLB to place the two books in its adult section, instead of pulping them. -- ST FILE PHOTO

The National Library Board’s (NLB) decision to remove and pulp the three children’s books deemed to offend Singapore’s “pro-family” norms has reignited the age-old contest between Church and State, and more specifically in Singapore’s context, the role of private morality in public policy and how the state should adjudicate between competing conceptions of morality in society.

Many view the current debate in starkly binary terms - a contest between a religious or conservative majority and a liberal minority that represents a small but vocal segment of society. According to this binary view, those who claim to be pro-family are naturally assumed to support the withdrawal of the offending children’s books.

Yet in all my conversations in the last few days with former and current civil servants (many of whom held or are holding senior positions), I was surprised to find that not a single one of them supported NLB’s decision. None of them, as far as I know, are enthusiastic supporters of the Pink Dot movement or view the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community as an important issue for the government to address. Many of the civil servants I spoke to were also Christians who would readily say that they subscribed to “family values”. But all of them were deeply disturbed (even offended) by NLB’s decision, not just by the decision to remove the books, but also by its underlying rationale and what it says about the kind of public service we’re becoming.

Singapore halts destruction of gay-themed children's books
Parents and children stage their reading protest. Photo: Xinhua

Singapore has separately banned a volume of the long-running US comics series Archie because its depiction of a marriage between two men was deemed to breach local "social norms".

Government officials claim that most Singaporeans are conservative and do not accept homosexuality.

The two books to be moved to the adult section of public libraries are And Tango Makes Three - a true story about two male penguins in a New York zoo that raised a baby penguin - and The White Swan Express, which features children adopted by straight, gay, mixed-race and single parents.

Place banned children's books in adult section, don't pulp: Yaacob
Two online petitions have been launched, calling for the NLB to reinstate two children’s books, which had been removed earlier

Singapore's Minister of Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said on Friday that he instructed the National Library Board (NLB) to place two children's books it earlier banned in the adult section instead of pulping them as initially planned.

In a Facebook post on Friday morning, in which he shared his responses to queries from the Straits Times, he reiterated, "We stand by NLB’s decision to remove the three books from the children’s section. As I said earlier, NLB has to decide what books should be made readily available to children, who are usually unsupervised, in the children’s section of our public libraries. NLB will continue to ensure that books in the children’s section are age-appropriate. We have a much wider range of books in the adult section of public libraries."

Earlier, local media reported the NLB's refusal to reinstate the three banned children's books it had taken off the shelves - two banned recently and one some time ago.

Two removed children's books will go into adult section at library
Minister Yaacob Ibrahim has instructed the National Library Board to place two controversial children's books, And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express, in its adult section, instead of pulping them. -- ST FILE PHOTO

Three removed books were the subject of intense debate over the past week: 'And Tango Makes Three', 'The White Swan Express', and 'Who's In My Family?'. Their withdrawal from the library came to light last week when a Facebook user, Mr Teo Kai Loon, posted a note in an open Facebook group saying NLB had taken out the first two books following his complaint. The Straits Times found out that 'Who's In My Family' was also removed earlier.

'And Tango Makes Three' is based on the true story of a pair of male penguins who raise a chick together; 'The White Swan Express' features adoptive parents such as a lesbian couple; and 'Who's In My Family' highlights different family structures and includes same-sex parents.

The minister said the latter had already been disposed of as the title had been reviewed earlier.
"But I have instructed NLB not to pulp the two other titles, but instead to place them in the adult section of the public libraries."

Singapore Provokes Outrage by Pulping Kids’ Books About Gay Families
A toddler plays with bubbles during the Pink Dot parade at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore June 28, 2014

The Singapore government has ordered the National Library Board (NLB) to remove from library shelves and destroy three children’s books that portray gay, lesbian or unconventional families.

The multi-award winning And Tango Makes Three recounts the real life-inspired story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo. The other two banned titles are The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, which features a lesbian couple, and Who’s In My Family: All About Our Families, which describes unconventional parental set-ups.

The move has resulted in a torrent of opposition in mainstream and social media, the latter largely via the #FreeMyLibrary hashtag. An open letter criticizing the ban has also received more than 4,000 signatures.


In a (partial) victory for the international LGBT community and free speech-lovers everywhere, the Singapore National Public Library has backtracked on its prior decision to remove three pro-LGBT children’s books from its shelves. The books — And Tango Makes Three, The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, and Who’s In My Family: All About Our Families — were labelled as not “pro-family,” and were scheduled to be destroyed in accordance the library’s policy on withdrawn books. But, perhaps due to international public outcry, it seems that they won’t be following through with the decision after all. So, hooray!

Of course, the victory is not a total victory. One of the books, Who’s in My Family, had already been destroyed before the decision was reversed. And although Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express will be returning to the library’s shelves, they will not be in the children’s section. Instead, patrons can find them filed with the adult books. But at least they won’t be pulped.

Obviously, this decision is better than going ahead with the original plan, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. Children’s books don’t suddenly become too mature for children when a non-traditional family is involved. There’s nothing about non-traditional families that should upset children, and acting as though there would be is an insult to children raised in families that don’t fit society’s idea of normal. And yet there persists, it seems, this idea that the simple presence of a same-sex couple is somehow inherently sexual in a way that heterosexual couples aren’t.

Singapore withdraws gay penguin book from libraries

Singapore authorities have withdrawn from libraries two children's books featuring same-sex couples, sparking controversy amid a debate on gay rights in the conservative city-state.

And Tango Makes Three features a pair of gay penguins while The White Swan Express mentions a lesbian couple.

Petitions for the books to be put back have garnered thousands of signatures.

For the NLB to reinstate the books and take views of the wider population into consideration

On 8 July 2014, the National Library Borad (NLB) responded to an email complaint by a concerned member of the public, Teo Kai Loon.

A member of the anti-LGBTI Facebook group - We are Against Pinkdot in Singapore, Teo Kai Loon had found two children's books And Tango Makes Three and The White Swan Express to contain homosexual content that he felt would be a corrupting influence on the young in Singapore as it did not contain "pro-family" values.

The NLB withdrew these books from circulation upon receiving his feedback.

NLB to create 'more transparent review processes'
National Library Board CEO Elaine Ng. Photo: Kevin Kwang

The National Library Board (NLB) will move the children's titles that have been the subject of recent controversy to the adult's section, and plans to create "more transparent review processes" for its books, CEO Elaine Ng said on Friday (July 18). The announcement follows instructions from Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim to reinstate the books in a separate section.

On public outcry that the NLB had said the books - "And Tango Makes Three" and "The White Swan Express" - will be pulped, Mrs Ng said the library had no intention at all of denigrating books. "Pulping is a technical term used in the book industry to describe the recycling of printed materials. We do not want to be viewed as destroying books that are in good condition, as it was never our intention to denigrate books," said Ms Ng.

"Many objected to the idea that books will be pulped. As book lovers ourselves, we understand the reaction. We do not want to be viewed as destroying books."

NLB provokes mixed response by moving controversial children's books to adult section
A mother reading one of the three banned books, And Tango Makes Three, during the Let’s Read Together event, a reading event held in response to the National Library Board’s (NLB) decision to pulp the titles. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

The National Library Board's (NLB) decision to move two children's books with references to same-sex couples into the adult section - instead of pulping them - has drawn mixed reactions.

Architect and single mother Ms Jaxe Pan, 29, called it a "fair compromise", adding: "I am going to tell my daughter proudly that no matter how small you are, in size or numbers, you always have a voice in your country."

She had earlier attracted more than 7,000 Facebook 'shares' by posting a photo of herself and her daughter, along with a message to Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim. It said: "Single families are real, so are adopted families, blended families, gay men and lesbian women. It's okay that you do not like us, but please do not remove our stories and pretend we do not exist."

Latest move by NLB welcomed - and criticised
And Tango Makes Three is one of two titles the library will keep. A third title was pulped earlier. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Critics of an earlier decision by the National Library Board (NLB) to remove two controversial children's titles have generally welcomed its move to keep the books but shift them to the adult section instead.

Nanyang Technological University student Lim Jialiang, 23, who started an online petition last week with writer Ng Yi-sheng, 33, and PhD student Liyan Chen, 31, against the removal, called the latest NLB decision a "reasonable move of compromise". "It is a reaffirmation of our secular, shared space," he added.

NLB said yesterday that it would reinstate And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins raising a chick, as well as The White Swan Express, about two female partners adopting a baby, in the adult section. The NLB's withdrawal of the titles for not being "pro-family" had sparked a chorus of criticisms since it was first reported about a week ago.

A 'challenge' for NLB to balance various interests: Amy Khor
More than 200 children at the Hong Kah North Reading Carnival read stories from the Mustard Seed series by award-winning local writer Emily Lim (with her back to the camera), setting a Singapore record. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

It will be "challenging" for the National Library Board (NLB) to review its handling of controversial children's books given the "many different views", said Dr Amy Khor, chairman of the Government's feedback unit Reach, yesterday.

She told reporters on the sidelines of the Hong Kah North Reading Carnival: "It will be challenging... You need to come up with fair and reasonable guidelines that will strike a balance among the different interests."

Her comments came a day after the NLB had promised to review its internal processes following a public outcry over its decision to dispose of three children's titles on complaints that these were not "pro-family".

Three judges for Singapore Literature Prize resign over NLB's move to destroy books

Three judges - T. Sasitharan, Romen Bose and Robin Hemley - of this year's Singapore Literature Prize (Non-fiction Category), have resigned, following the National Library Board's (NLB) decision to remove and destroy several children's books in its collection because they contain homosexual themes.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the three said they could not, in good conscience, continue as judges, given the close links and associations between the National Book Development Council, which awards the prizes, and the library board.

The statement said: "We condemn in the strongest terms NLB's decision to remove and destroy these books, given that it is responsible for the dissemination of information rather than its destruction. The fact that the board has not even considered restricting access to the publications but has moved directly to pulping them is very disconcerting."

read more

NLB 'saddened by' reaction over its removal of three books with homosexuality themes, says chief executive
National Library Board chief Elaine Ng said the information about the withdrawals could have been communicated better. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The National Library Board did not anticipate the widespread dismay that greeted news that it had removed three children's books following complaints about their homosexual themes, chief executive Elaine Ng said yesterday.

She told The Sunday Times in an interview that she was saddened that several local writers have withdrawn from library-related events in protest. "I'm saddened by their disappointment in us. I would like to engage those who have worked with us for a long time and hope they will accept our outstretched hands in future," she said.

But the NLB is not changing its decision to keep the three books off the shelves. They will not be resold or donated as usually happens with discarded books, because of concern that they might be unsuitable for young children

MP Hri Kumar disagrees with NLB decision to withdraw children's titles
Books pulled from National Library shelves (Photo: Loke Kok Fai)

Mr Hri Kumar, Member of Parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, has weighed in on the debate over the National Library Board’s (NLB) decision to withdraw three children’s titles from its collection because they did not adhere to traditional notions of family, and community norms.

In a Facebook post titled "Pulp Friction" on Wednesday evening (July 16), he said he has no argument with NLB vetting books for public consumption, but says he does not believe homosexuality "falls in the category of issues which should be excluded". He says NLB's response could have been to place the books in a separate section, where children can access them under adult supervision.

"Excluding such books, or worse, destroying them, sends an altogether different and confusing message about the role of the NLB," he wrote.


JC student’s tongue-in-cheek letter to NLB

As a Singaporean youth, I applaud your momentous decision to remove three books from the children’s section to protect the delicate minds of young children. To this end, I would like to submit a few other suggestions of books to be pulled off the shelves to prevent them from further poisoning children’s minds.

Firstly, the countless classic fairy tales which generations upon generations of children have enjoyed. Notably: 1) Snow White, which promotes violence and superficial fixation on external beauty. 2) Sleeping Beauty, which pushes forth the idea of a typical damsel in distress where the heroine does absolutely nothing useful at all and has to wait for a handsome prince to rescue her. 3) The Three Little Pigs, which promotes destruction of property, as well as violent murder in the form of the wolf’s gruesome demise.

Secondly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes stories. In the same light as the already removed books, the Sherlock Holmes series has blatant LGBT undertones by actually having two male bachelors sharing a flat together, sending a signal to children that they are in a relationship. In line with the removed books, this is clearly not something children’s delicate minds are ready for and I wholeheartedly recommend their immediate removal.

Who’s in My Family?: All About Our Families

I saw this book at the public library in Lemon Grove on Thursday when I was there with my kindergartener. I flipped through it and knew I just had to read it to my daughter, Makenna. For as long as she can remember, Makenna has had two different homes. She lives with her mommy most of the time, but lives with her daddy every other weekend. She recently started asking why her mommy and daddy don’t live together.

This book, Who’s in My Family, does a wonderful job writing about how families can look many different ways. Some families have a mother and father and children, some have two mommies, some have two daddies, and some just have one mommy or daddy. It also talks about extended families, families of mixed race, and families with adopted and foster children.

The beautiful thing about this book is that it sends the strong message, that even though families can APPEAR different, they all have LOVE in common.

Who's In My Family?: All About Our Families

Trusted New York Times best-selling author Robie H. Harris continues her series for preschoolers with a look at the many kinds of families that make up our world.

Join Nellie and Gus and their family — plus all manner of other families — for a day at the zoo, where they see animal families galore! To top off their day, Nellie and Gus invite friends and relatives for a fun dinner at home.

Accessible, humorous, and full of charming illustrations depicting families of many configurations, this engaging story interweaves conversations between the siblings and a matter-of-fact text, making it clear to every child that whoever makes up your family, it is perfectly normal — and totally wonderful.

Who's in My Family?: All About Our Families

Investigating Different Views on Family. – Harris and Westcott do a commendable job including and honoring diverse definitions and understandings of what families are and what they do together. However, a substantial number of people believe in stricter definitions of families and may therefore disagree with the themes and representations in this picture book.

Rather than ignore or refute that dissent, engage your students in a thoughtful inquiry about why people hold different definitions and views on families. Where and from whom did they learn those definitions? Why are they held valuable? Could there be other acceptable definitions, or perhaps circumstances that would allow for different definitions to be accepted?

What happens when different people hold different values and definitions about families? What can be done to help us reach common ground and understanding? This is a tricky matter, but one that can be successfully explored in primary grades. For help learning how to carry on such conversations with young children, see the professional articles and books on critical literacy instruction by teacher educators including Jerome Harste, Vivian Vasquez, Stephanie Jones, and Maria Souto-Manning.