Making the Arts Safe: More Works That Need Censoring
As many of you probably already know, Alabama publisher NewSouth Inc. plans to release censored versions of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, replacing the words "nigger" and "Injun" with "slave" and "Indian," respectively. They're doing this because, as we all know, ideas, philosophies, and messages don't matter nearly as much as the specific words used to express them. Indeed, the dreaded n-word is much like the word "Voldemort" in the Harry Potter novels; if used enough times in any context, a huge black cloud will belch forth from the underworld and envelope the earth as we now know it, reverting us back to pre-Civil War days when slavery was legal. Words are magical like that, you know.
And that's why NewSouth Inc. is not only right in censoring Twain's great American novels, but we've also thought of some other art forms that could frankly use a little censoring, themselves. Hopefully one day we'll have erased all unpleasantness from our accounts of history both fictional and non-fictional, and our precious little snowflake children need never experience traumatic emotions like sadness, empathy, or a desire to make the world a better place, ever again.
Roots Roots was a mini-series based on Alex Haley's novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family . It was first released in 1977, and unlike most televised mini-series gained much critical acclaim and respect, becoming a nationwide event watched by more people than any other show at the time. It still lives on in reruns and DVD sales. All that's just fine and dandy, but have you ever actually watched any of it? It's awfully mean-spirited. It almost seems like white people in general are painted in an unfavorable light. There's constant n-bomb usage, a few whippings, and even a rape. All of this material is inappropriate for children. When our kids are watching generations of kidnapping, slavery, torture, racial harassment, lynchings, rape, and murder, we don't want them to feel uncomfortable, do we? No, better to soften the content in Roots by changing the n-word to something like "nipper" or "naughty-pants". We should also change the whippings to something more palatable like an unfairly one-sided pillow fight, and the rape scene should be changed to a consensual romance. Wouldn't it be so much nicer for kids to see Tom Moore take Kizzy out on a nice dinner-and-dancing date? We've also noticed how split-down-racial-lines the casting was; if ever there is a remake, we'd like to see some of the slaves played by white people and some of the slave owners played by African-Americans. Diversity is important, after all!
Saturn Devouring His Son Francisco Goya was one of Spain's greatest Romantic painters, but something funny happened to him in his later years: he got all depressed and started painting on the walls of his house. After a career of often bright, cheerful paintings, Goya took a turn for the dark and started painting images filled with menace and insanity. The worst of the lot depicts the Roman god Saturn devouring his own child. Legend tells that Saturn was afraid of a prophecy that stated he would be usurped by one of his sons, so he ate them shortly after they were born. Well, prophecy or no prophecy, that's no excuse! Saturn should be ashamed of himself for behaving in such a manner. And just look at him, all naked, disheveled and wild-eyed; he looks like some kind of crazy person! We'd like to add a nice pastel bathrobe to Saturn, not just to clothe him, but to cheer him up a little and add some color to this scene. And instead of chowing down on his offspring, could someone just paint in a nice veggie submarine sandwich? Sure, Goya may have intended the painting as a metaphor for the Spanish fatherland devouring its children through war and conflict, and that's fine, we just think he could have been nicer about it.
A Modest Proposal In 1729, a man named Jonathan Swift anonymously published an article with the full title A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public (or A Modest Proposal for short). Swift starts out in a very reasonable manner, highlighting some issues plaguing what was, at the time, a very poverty-stricken and exploited Ireland full of homeless and beggars. After such a great start, though, he suddenly takes a hard left by suggesting that the poor of Ireland sell their children to the rich ruling class of England - to be eaten! Hey, Mr. Swift, news flash: That proposal isn't very modest at all! Wouldn't it be better for the Irish poor to sell other things like their furniture or jewelry? In fact, it seems like the best thing would be for them to stop being lazy beggars and go out and get jobs. Then they could worry about what to feed their children, not who to feed their children to! It's nice that Swift was concerned with the plight of the poor, but we feel like he skipped over a lot of viable options when he jumped straight to the child-eating.
Les Miserables This whole book is just a mess of questionable content. Victor Hugo's sprawling epic set around the time of France's June Rebellion features prostitution, fighting, stealing, and suicide. Even kids get killed! We know war is heck, but surely there must have been some other way to show this than by having kids die, right? Maybe they could do a little song and dance about their zany wartime adventures scrounging for food and ammunition. We don't know, we're just brainstorming. Instead of Fantine resorting to prostitution to help pay for her daughter Cosette's upbringing, she should do something wholesome like open a bakery. Imagine how much more cheerful Les Miserables would have been if, instead of dying of tuberculosis, Fantine's life was saved by her own popular homemade hot chocolate recipe! Also, early on in the novel, the villain Jean Valjean steals some bread. We know he's hungry, but that's no excuse for breaking the law. It would have been better to have hero Inspector Javert bring Valjean to justice instead of allowing his escape and killing himself. It's immoral for our kids to read about a thief going unpunished.
Michaelangelo's David Let's face it, he's naked. And he's been naked for like 100 years. If we can't throw some Fruit of the Looms on this guy already, then maybe it's time to just retire the statue entirely and let it sit in some forgotten museum cellar where it can't offend anybody. Once people stop being offended, everything else will work itself out. Right?
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events