Censorship came a while ago

My childhood reading includes many books by Jules Verne, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by mark twain, The Iliad, The odysseythe One thousand and One Nights, among many others. He mostly read books published in the Billiken Red Collection. Many years later I found out that he had not really read those books but abridged and edited versions of those works. Not only were they shorter versions, but they had also lost the sex scenes along the way (Arabian Nights), those of explicit violence (those of Homer), harsh language (Mark Twain), etc. I must admit that when I found out I felt cheated and that to this day I still have a bit of resentment against the publishers who adapted and censored at the same time.

It is very likely that many assume that this is fine. There is no reason to give a boy a book that does not conform to the education that his parents want to give him, who surely want to avoid strong scenes. When my kids were little I would skip ahead and skip the beginning of Finding Nemo so that they would not suffer with the death of their mother and her little brothers. I would have kept doing it until I was twenty, but they learned how to use the DVD player much earlier and left me out of the movies they watched or their video games (I tried to delay the arrival of GTA as long as I could).

Perhaps because of all this, I was not surprised by the announcement that Roald Dahl’s work was going to be “softened” to keep it in the children’s book market. Expressions that did not concern us or our parents today are annoying, they make noise for young parents. Negative reactions to this censorship came from readers who were analyzing the situation from adulthood: “how are we going to censor Roald Dahl”. Perhaps if these same people were asked what they give their children to read or watch, we would know that in other cases censorship does not worry them as much as they think.

It is not my intention to defend the changes to Roald Dahl’s children’s books. On the contrary, it seems stupid to me that an author is edited to add him to current childhood. If parents don’t like the way Dahl writes, don’t be lazy and look for other writers more in line with your interests. Don’t ruin literature, even for a good cause.

More worrisome is the ridiculous proposal to remove references that might be annoying to contemporary crystal souls in the work of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Let’s see if you understand: in these spy novels, what is disturbing or disruptive is some racist expression, but not that the protagonist has a license to kill the enemies of the British empire. The proposal is not that now James Bond resorts to the Court of The Hague to solve his little problems with other spies, but that before killing he is not going to call his victim black. This world of turkeys is the one that proposes the culture of correction. The road to hell is paved with editorial good intentions.

Dahl’s beautiful stories and the very moderately erotic adventures of the versatile James Bond, about to be censored by his publishers, made a lot of noise. But it would be very naive to think that these are two isolated cases. We live in a world where censorship is the norm, like in the days of Torquemada and his friendly team of inquisitors. It is true, before the artists were subjected to physical torment and burned, today they are harassed by social networks, they are canceled, they are taken away from the possibility of continuing to show and disseminate their works. Nothing else. Undoubtedly, there is an improvement in the humanism of millennials and centennials with respect to medieval society.

In a field where censorship and the overprotection of the adult public have been assumed and accepted quite naturally, it is in translations. Enter a Netflix movie, or Amazon. Not only will they be notified if there are scenes of “smoking” so that they prepare their anti-smoking spirit, but the subtitles will take care not to offend them. If a character insults strongly in his language, they will find that the subtitles soften his words with an effort that would have moved Miguel Paulino Tato. The platforms protect us from foul language.

But this occurs even in the translation of contemporary literature. Let us take one example, among many other possible ones: the novel the country of others (Le pays des autres), by the Franco-Moroccan LeÏla Slimani (I take advantage and tell you: read everything you can by Slimani, a brilliant and very lucid young author). “In a way, she was like a daughter”, the narrator says about a female character, but the translator decides to remove the next line (she doesn’t even translate it, she makes it fly), which simply said “because I had seen her come out of the vagina of the mother” (elle l´avait vue sortir du vagin de sa mère). Apparently, the translator Malika Embarek López wanted us to avoid such an eloquent image. Further on, a male guide in front of a group of girls has his hands “crossed over his lower abdomen.” It would be necessary to discuss how far the lower abdomen reaches because Slimani wrote that he had his hands “in front of his sex” (devant son sexe). The translator could lighten the work of Roald Dahl. He would do the job well.

An article by Ernesto Hernández Busto in free letters tells in detail how the expressions and sexual scenes of lolita by Vladimir Nabokov in the translation by Enrique Pezzoni. The book and its translation are indisputable classics.

Who do we think we are caring for when the publishing or audiovisual world makes these disasters? Why do we think that the adult audience should be treated like boys? Does anyone really think that you have to stop playing songs that are aggressive against some collective or social group? Do we have to stop reading books that tell stories that butt with political correctness, both on the right and on the left?

The most serious thing is not that they change the words to Dahl’s children’s work, or mess with Fleming’s stories. They already wrote the books as they wanted and they will survive the censorship attempts. The serious thing is that with this they feed (publishers and readers) a world of prior censorship. They tell writers “be careful what you write, because we are going to fall if you don’t share our thoughts”. We get angry about Dahl because it’s the right thing to do, but we keep quiet when those censored are unpleasant guys, who write books or songs that are indefensible from the penal code or make movies that are far from our ideology. And we intend to understand culture from our point of view, which we always consider to be the correct one. Writers are challenged to fly higher than the accusing finger of social media and the fear of publishers. But the reader/spectator has a more difficult challenge: stop being part of the censorship plot.

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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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