Saturday, January 08, 2011

I Think What The Author Meant To Say Was

Memo to Michael Tomasky - yes, cultures change.  History doesn't and literature definitely shouldn't. 

Tomasky is talking about a recent edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in which the words "nigger" and "Injun" have been excised, ostensibly because the book is banned in a number of schools on account of their use.  

To which I can only say that perhaps what is needed, rather than more selective editing, are some slaps around the head and some stiff kicks judiciously delivered to teachers' backsides.  It's certainly possible that a single academic knows better what Mark Twain meant to say than the man himself did, but I have my doubts. 

I've discussed the way we in the UK teach history before - hours and hours on the vicious crimes of safely foreign monsters like Hitler and Stalin, with a curious silence on any events in, say, Ireland or India.  What I've seen of American schools doesn't inspire confidence in their history and English lit classes, given the constant political pressure to keep the curriculum stuffed with relentless progress to the modern day and the glory of American exceptionalism. 

What I will say is this - while it's bordering on miraculous that the Americans have managed to create a viable state out of millions of immigrants from more or less all corners of the Earth, slavery was and remains one of the all-time blots on that nation's record.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans, including one of the country's greatest Presidents, died so that its effects could be mitigated.  That's mitigated, and not even nearly erased, since official segregation continued for over a hundred years thereafter. 

Combine this squeamishness over the way that actual human beings were owned and described with the Republicans' hilarious omission of the three-fifths compromise in their ridiculous reading of the Constitution this week, and you're looking at signs of a country that doesn't want to look its own past in the eye, for fear of its implications.  This isn't political correctness - it's cowardice.

P.S. @Michael Tomasky - Blazing Saddles is still hilarious, you oaf.  It's supposed to make you feel uncomfortable.  If you don't like it, chuck out all your Richard Pryor DVDs right now, because almost all of the bits that upset you came from him. 

P.P.S.  If Huckleberry Finn needs to be chopped and changed, then you can kiss goodbye to Joseph Conrad, whose output was a good deal more suspect, and he's not the only one.

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