Sunday, January 23, 2011

Re-writing Twain: Adendum

The best thing about rants, at least among the civilized, is that someone smart always makes a valid point to the contrary. My fellow University of Alaska Anchorage classmate, Wendy, directed me to this column, written recently for the New York Times by a writer I admire, Lorrie Moore. She's on both sides of editing Twain issue, and for good reason, posing the notion that maybe Mark Twain was never intended to be children's literature and that that is the problem. Give it a read, then tell me what you think, if you're so inclined. It was Flannery O'Connor who said, "The fact is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information to last him the rest of his days."  No matter how idyllic one's childhood, no matter how hard grown ups try to protect their young charges, trauma happens, sometimes the likes of which no child should endure. Stories that reflect this are often the fodder for great literature, stories not necessarily suitable for young readers. I'm with Moore. Send Huck Finn to college, where it can be discussed critically, and where students are mature enough to understand its historical context.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sanitized for your protection

A few bits of recent news have got me riled and not just a little heartsick. Some jackass (I will not glorify him by inserting his name into this blog), in the interest of political correctness and to protect the delicate sensibilities of American children, has taken it upon himself to change one of the greatest, most important works of American literature ever written. He's published his own version of Huckleberry Finn, deleting all reference to the N-word and replacing it with the word slave. How can this happen? How is it legal? It's not his novel to change. The word was widely spoken in Mark Twain's time and was arguably more derogatory then than it is now, which is why Twain used it and why it's the right word for the story. God forbid our kids would be encouraged to think and to question, and that parents might provide some guidance, and that teachers might actually teach. Regardless of the educational implications, it's reprehensible that someone would and could change someone else's art. Will they re-write Junot Diaz next?  Will we wake up tomorrow to find Michelangelo's David re-chiseled to look like a Ken doll, or Picasso's nude women all wearing cubist sweaters? The whole world is now sanitized for our protection and I'm getting pretty sick of it.

Today, I heard that Canada has banned radio play of the original version of Dire Straights' "Money for Nothing." Somebody expressed offense to a line in the song as a gay slur. Never mind that "Money for Nothing" has been played on radios throughout North America for more than a quarter century and if you are paying attention to the lyrics, have seen the video and have a brain, it's clear that the language is a reflection of the clueless, character/singer/refrigerator-moving-guy, not the rock star to whom he refers. So, Canada, what about Green Day's "Holiday?" Can you say Eminem?  Again, sick of it.

Up with subversive, thought provoking literature! Long live sex, drugs, rock and roll!