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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Be your own censor

The blog on has an interesting discussion today.  First, it gives a brief history of censoring -- naming, of course, the interfering Mr. Bowdler -- and they it conveys startling news.

You can do it yourself!  Inadvertently downloaded a novel with a lot of graphic sex?  Sickening violence?  You can clean it up, and create a sex-free, violence-free sanitized version, which may be the most boring book on your Kindle, but never mind.

There's an app for it.  It sounds just like a virus checker -- or that robot that spits back any rude messages on a chatter site.

As the Bibliocom blogger says:

As of January, readers needn’t rely on academics or clerics to clean up their literature–there’s an app for that. For free, consumers can download “Clean Reader” through the Apple Store or Google Play. Once installed, the app promises a sanitized version of any e-book available for purchase. Clean Reader’s press release explains the process: “Clean Reader delivers the opportunity of reading any book without being exposed to profanity. By selecting how clean they want their books to appear, readers are presented the content of a book without offensive words and phrases. To preserve the context of the book, an alternative word with the same general meaning is available for each instance where a word is blocked from display.”
Readers can even select just how devoid of profanity they want their book; levels are categorized as Clean, Cleaner, and Squeaky Clean. I spoke with Kirsten Maughan, co-developer of the application, who said that the product has already been downloaded about 1,000 times, in every state in America and eighty countries. “People seem to like it, but we’ve heard from both sides,” she said. After our brief chat, Maughan called back, wishing to make clear that the Clean Reader app does not violate copyright laws – it doesn’t actually change the text, it merely allows readers to self-sanitize as they wish. “We had a lot of lawyers look at it. They say we aren’t violating author copyrights, and we are not censoring books. Users can even turn off the Clean Reader if they want. It’s just a filter.”
But, as he or she adds:
Is Clean Reader any different than the act of excising text in a physical book? Perhaps not. Clean Reader doesn’t permanently change a text, but it does point to a larger trend at work, where readers of e-books stand on shifting sands of permanence in an ever-increasingly pixelated literary landscape. Should we be more troubled that readers are volunteering to avoid potentially squeamish material in the name of comfort? How much pleasure, inspiration, or cause for discussion (and education) is lost when a reader selects a Squeaky-Clean version of a text because of the potential to offend? I’m reminded of that oft-repeated phrase from Thomas Gray’s poem “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College” (1742): “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.”


Linda Collison said...

Ah, but it's not just individual words that can be profane. Some stories are profane in concept. One can express profanity without using foul language.

Joan Druett said...

How true. And words normally considered profane may not be profane at all in the right context, when penned by a skilled writer.

I like the word "earthy." Bowdler removed words from Shakespeare that were merely coarse, and illustrated the character of the speaker. Shakespeare meant to illuminate, not to offend.

I once had a look at the Bowdlerised Bible, which turned out to be amusing. In the St James version, when Daniel was in the lions' den he "covered his feet," which was a euphemism for relieving himself. Bowdler changed it to "went to the bathroom."