Primum non nocere

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Neutering Mark Twain

I find it funny that schools seem to think that two of the greatest novels of all time are in need of banning or editing.  What I also find funny is that schools should give kids a reason not to read. 

School: Kids don't read this book it has swear words and provocative ideas about race.

Kids: Okay I'm just going to go play some more Grand Theft Auto.

Have you ever read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and/or the Adventures of Tom Sawyer?  No.
You fucking should.  They're great books, and yep they've got the dreaded N work in them and derogatory statements toward people of race.  Although when read in context it makes sense and for the time period apt. 

Now there talking about editing out the words nigger and injun and replace them with slave and Native American.
So now instead of nigger Jim we have slave Jim and instead of Injun Joe we have Native American Joe.  The pussifing of America continues.  I must have a disconnect with younger people today.  I'm not that old but I can remember a time before cell phones, ipods, xboxes, and the internet. 
 I looked up the word nigger online at to see if I could get a sense of the origin of the word.  Pretty much all it told me was how bad a word it is and how it's probably one of the most offensive words in the English language, I would assume Cunt would be up there too, although that would be in the American English language, because the Brits and Aussies drop the C bomb like skittles.

But English is a bastard language.  We steal words from everywhere for our own.  The word nigger comes from the French and Spanish words for black, and we see the word niggardly, meaning stingy, used around the 1300's.  How or why it eventually became used as a derogatory term for black people is I'm sure someones Master's dissertation but not mine.  I find it funny that calls the use of the word as a slight against blacks as slang.  It's not.  It has officially become the definition of the word.  The slang form for nigger now is in it's usage as a positive when black people refer to each other.  Language evolution.  It reminds me of another word in flux right now, gay.  Gay meant happy, jubilant.  Then it was used to describe a homosexual, and now it's used as a derogatory term for something stupid or silly and as a slight against homosexuals.

I'm getting way off topic, sorry.  My point being that when we start taking works of art and changing them to fit into today's mind set we lose.  When Twain wrote the words to his novels he used period appropriate slurs and descriptions.  At the time racial tensions were high, the civil war wasn't that long over.  Lets not forget Twain was a staunch supporter of abolition and emancipation, he didn't write the words in his books for derogatory purposes but rather to reflect the times.  To destroy that would be an injustice for history.  Now I realize that the issue here is that the abridged version would actually be for school use so as not to offend the black children having to read it.  Yet I find it hypocritical to think that way when popular black culture has no problem throwing the n-word around in songs or when referring to each other.  I don't understand this need to insulate our youth from controversial ideas.  This is why 30 year olds are still living in their parents basements.  I understand a parents want to protect there offspring from danger and to help them succeed but mollycoddling them isn't the answer. 

You may find this extreme but I liken censorship of this nature to the denial of the holocaust or that slavery was a driving factor in the Civil War.  We are slowly trying to change history or the worse.  I believe you have to move on, which I think we have to varying degrees, but you shouldn't forget.  Pretending something bad didn't happen doesn't make us better. It makes us poorer.  It starts when you take a few ideas and change them around and next thing you know that kid that read the watered down version of Huck Finn only remembers the watered down version, kinda forgets that one of the major factors leading up to the Civil War was slavery, and that the Nazi's killed millions of Jews. 

But that's just my 2 cents.

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