Are our favourite, iconic stories being rewritten for our over-sensitive times?
By Rolene Marks
Are we too sensitive? I ask this question because in the last couple of years it seems that everything seems to be offensive to some people all of the time. In my opinion if you engage in offence fracking, there is a good chance you will find something offensive. Right now, the fun police seem to be working overtime on some of our favourite iconic fictional characters and their creators.
One of the latest victims of the fun succubus is author, Roald Dahl. Now I am no great fan of Dahl, he being a raging antisemite; but vile comments aside, the man could write a helluva children’s book. Who does not love a visit to WillyWonka’s Chocolate Factory or shuddered at the thought of The Witches? His books have delighted children for decades.
I do get some kind of perverse satisfaction in knowing how many Jews read his books just as much as I get a kick out of listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” because I know it probably irritates the comfortably dumb, Roger Waters.
There is now a profession called “sensitive reading” i.e. people who comb through beloved written works looking for “offensive” language. By “offensive language”, I am not referring to f-bombs and reasonable facsimiles; but rather language that could be seen as racist, fat shaming and more. In the revised “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, for instance, published by Puffin, the gluttonous Augustus Gloop is not “enormously fat” but merely “enormous”. In “The Witches”, a sorceress no longer hides among humankind posing as “a cashier in a supermarket or typing letters for a businessman”. Instead, she is “working as a top scientist or running a business”. Many, many corrections are more “sensitive”. If I roll my eyes any more, I may detach my corneas!!
British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak “we shouldn’t gobblefunk around with words“. Gobblefunk. What a fantastic word. Queen Consort Camilla also waded into the controversy. Speaking at a reception to mark the second anniversary of her popular online book club, The Queen’s Reading Room, Camilla told assembled writers:
“Please remain true to your calling, unimpeded by those who may wish to curb the freedom of your expression or impose limits on your imagination.”
She looked up with a mischievous smile as she added: “Enough said.” Indeed.
Dahl is dead and therefore cannot defend his work. He is not the only casualty of the sensitivity police. James Bond seems to have caused offense as well. The martini drinking, womanizing, tuxedo wearing super spy is being edited – and not in a way that would bring a devilish smile to his face. As 007 approaches his 70th anniversary, significant changes have been made.
As reported by The Telegraph, it reads:
“This book was written at a time when terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers were commonplace. A number of updates have been made in this edition, while keeping as close as possible to the original text and the period in which it is set.”
Some contentious phrases include “sweet tang of rape” and the idea that “blithering women” cannot do a “man’s work.” Originally published in 1954, the original version of Live and Let Die, author Ian Fleming describes black people at a nightclub in New York as “panting and grunting like pigs.”
The amended passage now reads: “Bond could sense the electric tension in the room.” A racist word has been replaced with “black person” and “black man.” In the same novel, the secret agent comments on would-be African criminal in the gold and diamond trades, saying they are “pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought, except when they’ve drunk too much.”
Now, it simply reads: “pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought”. Ian Fleming Publications have said that the changes to Live and Let Die were authorised by Ian Fleming himself, who died in 1964.
The publisher said: “Following Ian’s approach, we looked at the instances of several racial terms across the books and removed a number of individual words or else swapped them for terms that are more accepted today but in keeping with the period in which the books were written. We encourage people to read the books for themselves when the new paperbacks are published in April.”
These writers were products of their times. Maybe some of their terminology does not fit in with today’s standards; but it is censorship and interfering with the works of authors no longer here to speak for themselves. It is also extremely patronizing to the readers to infer that they cannot form opinions for themselves.
It leaves me shaken and stirred and is enough for me to give the goldfinger!
J.K. Rowling has come under fire for comments some see as transphobic. On June 6, 2020, Rowling retweeted an op-ed piece that discussed “people who menstruate,” apparently taking issue with the fact that the story did not use the word women. “‘People who menstruate.’ I am sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” she wrote. Many are hell bent on trying to cancel the fiery Rowling who created the Harry Potter phenomenon but she is standing firm in her position as a woman’s rights activist. Some of the messages that Rowling has received would make the most discerning Death Eater cringe.
Paddington Bear (yes, the beloved marmalade sandwich-eating bear who famously took tea with Her Majesty, the Queen and shared what she kept in her handbag) is offensive to some hypersensitive offence frackers. The fictional bear, created by Michael Bond and largely seen as a symbol of children, who fled to Britain as refugees during World War II, many of them who were Jewish has faced opprobrium for “representing white ideals of assimilationist migrant behaviour, evident in his prior knowledge of English and obsession with respectability. He even abandons his original name because it is too hard for Britons to pronounce”. It does not matter that he delights everyone from wide-eyed children of all races to the late, nonagenarian Monarch.
Dr. Seuss, Enid Blyton, John Steinbeck’s classic “Of Mice and Men” , George Orwell’s “1984” (oh the irony!) and so many classics many of us grew up with have all felt the wrath of the permanently offended. The Diary of Anne Frank and Maus, both seminal works that help educate about the Holocaust were also pulled from school libraries in Fort Worth, Texas but were reinstated following a widespread outcry.
If anyone needs me, I will be banging my head against a wall. How long is this going to go on?
The beauty about books is that they open up our creative minds and transport us to different worlds where our imaginations paint vivid pictures of the words on the pages. If we took offence at every author’s personal background or the contents of every book, well, we would be left with nothing to read. That would be the greatest shame.
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