For about 24 hours, my hat was off to the seven members of the board governing the Jackson-George Regional Library System in southern Mississippi. They had decided, officially, not to make room on the shelf in any of their eight libraries in Jackson and George Counties for one of the best-selling books in America today, the book that Publishers Weekly named best book of 2004: "America (The Book)," a mock-textbook in mock-civics by mock-anchorman Jon Stewart and the writers of "The Daily Show."
Or maybe I should write: a "textbook" in "civics" by "anchorman" Jon Stewart and the writers of "The Daily Show." All of those quotation marks, of course, convey the nudge-nudge nihilism that is comedian-cum-author Stewart's stock-in-trade. Not that it was Stewart's brand of "comedy" (see, I can do it, too) that brought on the ban, briefly, but a visual aid in the pages of the book. On page 99, the book features a photograph of the nine justices of the Supreme Court posed to reveal what the skin mags not all that long ago taught us to call "full-frontal nudity." USA Today elaborated on the phrase to describe the poses as "full-frontal, sagging nudity." Which could be further amended to "full-frontal, sagging, puckered, spreading nudity."
The photos are fakes, of course, with naked bodies culled from a nudist Web site superimposed to match the familiar faces of the court. Cutouts of the justice's black robes hang nearby, with a caption instructing readers to "restore their dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe." It was all too much for Wal-Mart, which decided not to sell the book in its stores (although it is available at Wal-Mart online). And it was too much for the Jackson-George librarians.
"We're not an adult bookstore," said library system director Robert Willits. "Our entire collection is open to the public. If they had published the book without that one picture, that one page, we'd have the book."
Of course, they do have the book, now, after news of the ban triggered a wave of sentiment, local and national, in favor of circulating the book. The board has reversed itself, and "America (The Book)" has already been checked out in seven out of eight branches.