Friday, 7 January 2011

To censor or not to censor?

Last night on the way home from work I was sat on the train talking to a couple of ladies who commute from the same place at the same time as me. We often have a good old gossip and set the world to rights as a way of passing the time. I'd been reading my kindle on the platform when they arrived so inevitably the conversation started with reading and went from there. One of the ladies then mentioned that she'd heard the publishers of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were now going to publish it changing the "n" word to slave and changing the word "injun" with something deemed to be less offensive.

I'm not particularly comfortable with this sort of censorship and dislike the idea that by changing a few words we sanitize the past, or worse still pretend it never happened. I haven't read any Mark Twain (is this a heinous ommission on my part?) so I can't comment on the use of the offending words in the particular books causing the row, but is it really so unreasonable to use certain words where they suit the context? I would certainly never use the "n" word but historically it was widely used.

The book I am reading at the  (review coming soon) is an account of life in Nigeria in the 1960s, and parts detailing the relationship between the Europeans and the Nigerians may make for uncomfortable reading but it is a factual piece and pretending things were different would be re-writing history. 

The consensus on the train (after a couple of others who overhead what we were chatting about joined in) was that you should look at when the book was written, accept that it is of it's time and maybe put a page in at the front to indicate some of the language is no longer considered acceptable but that it has been left as was to maintain authenticity. The general feeling was that in an attempt to make sure nobody could ever be offended by anything we are losing something, and becoming overly concerned with words, when what actually really matters is the feeling being expressed. Personally I have friends of all faiths, and I don't know any of them who are offended by being wished a Happy Christmas, and I've definitely never come across anyone who has a problem with Hot Cross buns.

So, are we becoming too sensitive and should  we rein it in, or am I ,and the people I was chatting to, racist and anti-other religions?


Chelle said...

Censoring a book is an attempt to alter history. And that's dangerous. We should leave the "n" word there because that's the truth - that's how Twain wrote and how people talked. If if offends us then good - it should. And it should make us thankful for the changes we've made and make us aware of why those words aren't polite or right.

TC said...

Chelle, I agree with you, sanitizing history is changing it. Hopefully parents and schools are providing sufficient education for younger readers to realise that certain words and phrases are now considered taboo.