Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Clean Reader: Your guide to book censorship!

Finally! There’s an app out there that people can buy to take out all of the profanity in books or change the language (ex. “bitch” to “witch”) so as not to offend people who don’t want to read curse words or racial slurs. AND it only kind of skates on copyright infringement!

Welcome to Clean Reader, an app that gives you all of the book with none of the swear words. No, seriously. Their tagline is “Read books. Not profanity.”

At this point, I pray that you all know that I’m being sarcastic, and that this idea offends almost as much as Memories Pizza, projections that 3D printers will be able to print out a human heart before women receive equal pay, or anything Ted Cruz. So where do I begin here?

First off, in an e-mail correspondence by author Joanna Harris,, representatives from the app address a blog post written by Harris about the product. Their words are eloquent and carefully written, but it is still clear that they’ve missed the point. Harris points out that, artistically, writers choose certain words to convey a meaning. Yes, there are some authors out there, like Mark Henshaw, who is featured on the Clean Reader blog which states: “Mark writes well enough that he doesn’t need to include profanity in his writing.”

Dude, get off your high horse. I should say, “Get off your fucking high horse,” but I have better use for the ‘F’ word in the next paragraph. The point it, Henshaw choosing to not use profanity doesn’t make him better than authors that do.

Yes, there are those that do overuse profanity and thus it may lose meaning. However, most of us—especially writers—use our language very carefully and very effectively. For example, in one of my novels I only use “fuck” once, but because I chose to use “fuck” and not “darn” or whatever the Clean Reader equivalent to “fuck” is, that passage conveys a lot more power. When I did a search for the word in my book, it only came up once and I knew exactly where, because the use of the word in that scene made it that much more memorable. I also use the word “whore” early on in a story to express how one character feels about his interaction with another character. It’s powerful, and it’s the last word in that passage. By people having the ability to take away those words or alter them, they are taking less from the stories that we write and are even sometimes missing vital points.

Let’s think about some of the most notable texts and passages of all time and see how they’d be altered. If you take out racially uncomfortable themes and slurs, you might as well not even bother reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Ma Joad won’t be breastfeeding a man in The Grapes of Wrath (would the Clean Reader alternative be her giving him a chicken breast? Would they take out the last chapter altogether?), and—I’m sorry, but who didn’t go “ohhhhh shit” when Viserys Targaryen tells his sister Daenerys in her first POV chapter, “I would let his [Khal Drogo] whole tribe fuck you - all forty thousand men - and their horses too if that's what it took.” He says that to his little sister. Damn, that’s cold! What’s the Clean Reader equivalent? It certain wouldn’t leave you feeling the same anger towards him and pity for her, much less the visual! Funny enough, on the Clean Reader Blog page, there’s an advertisement for their version of Game of Thrones. Who would want to read that?! The whole 5 book series would have to be shaved down to about 300 pages, and 200 of them would be say nothing but “Hodor.”

Harris also points out the “moral” wrong of this app. Given the word choices it makes, it appears to give books a Christian bias, which is offensive to non-Christians. If you change “bitch” to “witch” you go from insulting people who don’t want to see the word “bitch” to insulting pagans with regards to the negatively connotation of the word “witch.” Also, to jump back to my first point, I sometimes write fantasy. If the words “bitch” and “witch” are switched, there are going to be some potentially confused readers out there!

Lastly, Harris mentions the “pedagogical” wrongs with the app. For further understanding, here’s the story behind the app. The creators stated that, “One day our oldest child came home from school and she was a little sad.  We asked her what was wrong and she said she had been reading a book during library time and it had a few swear words in it.  She really liked the book but not the swear words.
Okay, I understand that. It seems like the initial concept behind the app are comparable to parental control settings on TV or the internet. This doesn’t mean that the same child won’t hear these words at school, or in music, potentially every other facet of media and social media.

Harris’ response to this is as follows: “I believe the toxic message it carries (that body parts are shameful and must not be mentioned by name; that sex is dirty and shameful) is likely to be extremely harmful to impressionable young people, and may result in serious psychological damage, with all the social consequences that may entail.

We can shelter our children all we want, but I’ve always been one to believe that when my hypothetical child approaches me after hearing something at school, or seeing or reading something that confuses them, it would be my obligation as a parent to be as honest as I can be with them. It is only with knowledge that children will understand and grow.

Chuck Wendig, another author with the popular blog, says that “Education isn’t about concealment of information. It isn’t about the eradication or modification of offensive language, or ideas, or information. It’s about presenting truth when a child or an adult are ready to hear it, and then talking about it. Anything else is how you get Jesus riding dinosaurs, or a loss of climate change, or the eradication of women or people of color from the pages of history, all because it doesn’t line up with preconceived notions and pre-existing comfort levels… Authors write the books they want to write, and you read them as they are written.” I personally couldn’t agree more.

We are brought up reading about contentious issues from a very young age. Some of them make us uncomfortable, but they also cause us to think. Yes, not every work will use racial themes as well as “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Huckleberry Finn,” or provide the same graphically effective profanity as Martin’s “Game of Thrones” series, but an author—every author—should have the right for their works to not be altered by an app for people who don’t want to read anything because it might offend them. And if this is a “Christian-bias” app, then the creators should have their children read the Bible. There’s no sex or violence AT ALL in that! 

No comments:

Post a Comment