Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Day They Came To Sanitize The Book

Growing up, the afterschool special "The Day They Came To Arrest The Book" was one of mine and my sister's favorite things to watch. We taped it and watched it repeatedly. If you're not a devotee, the plot unfolds at a modern high school when the students are assigned to read "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" in English class. A black student takes offense at the copious use of the workd 'nigger' and walks out of class. He returns later with his father to meet with the principal and ask that the book be removed from the classroom. This ignites a firestorm within the school and tears him and his best friend apart.

The climactic, heroic, scene belongs to the school's librarian. who attends a hearing on the matter and announces to the crowded room that she's found an even more vile, disturbing book and goes on to re-tell a scene laced with graphic sexual violence contained in it. When everyone's jaw is on the floor, she announces the chapter and verse of the Bible in which that scene can be found and sits back down.
"Huck Finn" lives to be taught another day.

But as you've no doubt heard by now, it's not safe from sanitization. An 'n-word free' version will be released in February. There's a lot of reaction to it on the Web, but very little information, except a very vague quote from the Mark Twain scholar and Auburn professor behind the project, stating that the change is 'to meet the needs of a mondern audience'. That, coupled with the $24.95 price point, make this read as a giant publicity stunt.

And, in a way, that's even more disgusting to me. The student in the after-school special was genuinely offended. There are many scenes where his anger is palpable as he talks about the challenges he faces at a majority-white school. I must say that I never thought I'd see 'to make a buck' listed as the reason to censor anything. I hope this tanks.


chris said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you. I do not support censorship or bowdlerization of books for students. How else can they confront important issues (such as why the "n-word" is so bad) when they don't encounter them in schools? They need to learn how to respect language, because I hear that word and many other offensive words bandied about in the halls of a middle school.

kittens not kids said...

I recently referenced that excellent afterschool special on my listserv, where the cleaned-up Huckleberry has had a lot of discussion (interestingly, it's taken this stance: why remove/replace the n-word yet leave all of Twain's VERRRY problematic treatment of "Injuns"?)

In a discussion I had with a friend from the department, she made the very good point that: Whoever said that reading is supposed to be cozy and comfortable? Maybe you're supposed to be made uncomfortable and uneasy and angry and offended by the language of the book. Maybe that's a good/correct response, as much a part of the reading experience as is laughing at the funny parts.

[And speaking of the funny parts, do YOU have my copy of A Semester in the Life of a Garbage Bag? I've been looking and looking and looking, over several visits home, and I can't find it anywhere]