When I start this rant in real life, I'm generally put down with a retort
of "do you want to see a return of Little Black Sambo?" This precludes
filling in the details of my actual complaint; my audience has already
closed their minds and turned elsewhere. I could care less about
Little Black Sambo; I never read that book, although when I was a small
boy I did see a copy in my dentists office, and while waiting for mummy
read the first few chapters. I've been assured that the "horrifying
racism" in that book starts after those first few chapters I read, so
one can excuse my ignorance of the work. No, Little Black Sambo can be
safely removed to the dustbins of obsolete and rejected childrens literature
without complaint from me.
In 1984, the protagonists day job was the endless rewriting of history,
forging and reforging public documents to fit in with whatever the
current party line was. The government paid him handsomely for it.
But 1984 was just a novel; reality is scarier: beloved childrens classics
are being bowdlerized and modified to fit with current political
correctness, starting in the late 70's and continuing to the present.
It's not a big evil conspiracy; its an irritating combination of group think among publishing houses and excessive
political correctness. It almost makes me think that the writer of
a certain manifesto was right. I
will give two examples in the paragraphs following; perhaps readers could
write in and supply more.
The Adventures of Dr. Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting, is loved by
children everywhere, with its intelligent, talking animals and gentle
English humor. For context, these books were written ~90 years ago,
and set in the 1830's.
The good doctor travelled to many places. In his first adventure, he
went to Africa. While there, one of his many adventures involved the
African chief asking Dr. Dolittle to whip him up a skin whitener so he
could add a white settler woman he'd seen to his already bulging harem.
The doctor did so, of course, but the chemical solution only lasted a
week. That was ok though, because the chief had by then made his move
on the Boer woman. The chief had thought she was Sleeping Beauty because
he saw her sleeping under a coconut tree, and conceived the notion of
waking her up with a kiss.
Guess what the bowdlerized version changed that incident into? That's right,
Dr. Dolittle was now called upon to turn the chief into a lion. Completely
different episode, patched in by cretinous hands long after the author's
death. What was wrong with the skin whitener episode? More to the point,
is it very far from reality? Two popular entertainment stars, known all
over the world, have quite obviously used skin whiteners to go from very
black, to almost white. I am referring of course, to Mariah Carey and
Michael Jackson. In America, in the Philippines, and many more places
whitening products are sold to a vast market. I would say based on that,
that there was nothing wrong with the episode that got bowdlerized. It was
perfectly natural, and realistic. It's something a child can believe. It
matches the world around him. The lion episode is just plain silly. It
lacks the realistic resonance of its forebearer.
Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was apparently
made into an execrable movie. I don't know; I haven't seen it.
The book, however, was fantastic. Little kids love it.
Not-so-little kids love it. Adults remember it fondly.
In this book, Willy Wonka's vast chocolate factory is run by the
Oompah-Loompas, a sort of cheerful, singing little dwarfs with wicked
senses of humor. Approximately. In the original, the Oompah-Loompas
were a tribe of Pygmies in a remote part of Africa who were starving
to death, being pushed out of their terrain by their larger neighbors.
Willy Wonka promised them as much food as they wanted and safe housing
if they came to work in his chocolate factory. They agreed, avoided
starving to death, and found the Chocolate Factory to their liking.
In the current, bowdlerized version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,
the Oompah Loompas are a (strictly male) tribe of dwarfish, long golden
haired hippies. Eh? What gives? Any child who has watched National Geographic on television would expect that Roald Dahls Pygmy scenario is
somewhat realistic. The realism helps them enjoy the story. The dwarfish
blonde hippies though? Where did THOSE come from? It shakes one bolt loose
from the mooring belt that made the story somewhat believable. (for kids)
And the Pygmy tribal chants that Roald Dahl came up with... they don't
seem in character coming from the peace loving little hippies. It just
doesn't make sense anymore. The humor and realism is killed.
Ben saw the movie as a child, and mentioned that it is much darker than
the book; the
Oompah-Loompas play little devils to Willy Wonkas satan for the first part
of the movie. Satanism is somehow more politically correct than little
pygmies running around? Oy vey.
Lars from Holland tells me they celebrate St. Nicolas birthday for children.
Its like a pre-christmas holiday. Saint Nic's helpers are invariably Negros.
Thats the tradition, thats how its been for hundreds of years. Recently in
a few towns they turned the Negros blue instead. The children of those
towns en masse decided they didn't believe in Saint Nic anymore. You muck
with childrens traditions at peril.
I'm hesitant to put this as an example, but here goes: Aesop's Fables have
been altered and bowdlerized for the last 300 years; so I'm not sure any
modern tampering can do much harm. But they are finally available in full
for those that want them. The Grim Brothers' Fairy Tales have been extensively
bowdlerized for children since publication as well, but again, since its
been going on so long I don't think I can really rant about it. They too,
are finally available in the original these days. The originals did
definately have a lot of sex and blood; that's for sure :-)
Somehow being true to reality is held to be racist in the context of children's
books. How about adult books? No doubt King Solomon's Mines would fall
under similar censorship, if it were still widely read. It was a rip-roaring
good adventure though. One book that has actually received such censorship
is the last book in the world one would expect to receive it; I refer of
course to Uncle Toms Cabin, by Harriett Beecher Stowe. I haven't read
the book myself; it is absent from all bookstores here in Canada. A copy
I ordered from the United States silently vanished going through customs.
Another copy is supposed to be on the way. That said, what is Uncle Tom's
Cabin best known for? For being a racist book supporting white supremacy?
No... it is reputed to be the book that triggered the American Civil War,
the abolishment of slavery in that country, and to have garnered to that
book's authoress the personal thanks of President Abraham Lincoln for having
aroused the sympathies of the North to oppose slavery in the South. As
far as I can tell, without having read it, this is a major work of literature,
very important in the history of civil liberties, human rights, and the whole
enchilada. Its one of those books that Had A Big Impact On History. Yet
I've seen many reflexively use the term "like Uncle Tom's Cabin" when
calling something racist, jingoistic, or just plain offensive. I find
that offensive. Blind ignorance, if it puts on a face of political
correctness, seems to drive out honest reality every day. I find that
offensive. Never in my house.
Why would one get worked up about this? Because what children read does
have an effect on them. And the more they enjoy a book, the better they
will remember it. Bowdlerization hinders their enjoyment and turns them
away from the classics that their parents and grandparents grew up loving.
How many generations enjoyed Peter Pan or Alice In Wonderland? A lot,
thats how many. Books that are so good they are enjoyed by multiple
generations form a cultural touchstone, a point of commonality that
breaks down so called "generation gaps". In short, they become the
property of the community, and form a type of community memory. It is
a high crime to brainwash a person into believing things that didn't happen
did; why should a publishing house that tampers with a communities memory
be held any less liable?
What is next? Is Shakespeare's Othello going to become a white man to protect
some imaginary peoples sensitivities?