Wednesday 14 September 2016

Censorship - Are We All Hypocrites...?

...and I mean that in the nicest possible way ;)

This post is going to be more questions than answers I'm afraid, but feel free to give your opinions in the comments - because I'm trying to sort out my own feelings on this!

Cee, what are you blathering on about?

Well, it's like this: I'm currently reading 'And Then There Were None' by Agatha Christie (UK - US) for Ely @ Tea & Titles' Mystery-a-thon.

I didn't realise that And Then There Were None wasn't actually the original title of this book. The original title was something extremely racist.

Would I have read this book with it's original title and racism? No. Will I read it now? Yes.

And therein lies the beginnings of my ethical problems.

I've always been completely against censorship, and for free speech. Yet changing the title is a form of censorship which I support... Help!

Does this make me a hypocrite? Very possibly. But can anybody honestly say they wouldn't feel the same?

If that book was published today with its original title, I would be appalled.

I'm seriously uncomfortable with the fact that it ever had that title. And, as I said, would not read it if the title hadn't been changed.

But would it be right - in this hypothetical scenario where this book was published today, with it's original title - to ban or censor it?

I would certainly complain to the author. I would not buy it, not read it, not support it. But would I ask for it to be banned or censored?

I honestly don't know. If it was in my library, would I ask for it to be removed? Would I ask the publishers to recall the copies? Would I take my pen to copies and eliminate the racist words?

Part of me says yes. Part of me says that I should get rid of those words by any means possible. Because, and let's make no excuses here, that kind of language is wrong.

But part of me also says no. That's the part that says that people have a right to say what they want - even if you don't like what they have to say.

Because it's only when you let people speak that you can defend your own position.

It's only by hearing opposing opinions - no matter how vile they may be - that we can shape our own attitudes... But there's also the danger that those vile ideas will take hold, and that's the last thing we want.

In the first chapter of 'And Then There Were None,' there is anti-Semitism.

If it was straightforward, then I would've stopped reading. As it is, it's hugely uncomfortable, but it's in the POV of a dodgy character (although, literally all of these characters are highly morally suspect,) so I don't know what to make of it.

It's not right. But does that make it wrong, in this context? I don't know.

Would I support that part being removed, given that this book has already been censored by changing the 'n' word throughout? Again, I have no easy answer.

And that's without even touching on the rights-and-wrongs of Huck Finn.

Because I read Huck Finn with the 'n' word intact.

Just like Agatha Christie, Mark Twain was writing in a time where that word was (unfortunately) socially acceptable.

But I think - and I may very well be wrong - that there's a difference between the 'n' word in the original version of And Then There Were None, and the 'n' word in Huck Finn.

Because, whatever your feelings on Huck Finn, slavery, and Jim's role as an escaped slave, is main theme of the story.

There aren't any black people in And Then There Were None - the 'n' word is used purely as a gratuitous metaphor, in the form of a racist nursery rhyme. The story makes perfect sense without it.

You remove the 'n' word from Huck Finn, though, and you change the entire dynamic and meaning of huge sections of the story. I'm not saying it's right - I have mixed feelings about it at best, but I'm saying that it's a different situation to And Then There Were None.

Should censorship depend on context then?

Again, I have absolutely no idea.

Would I be less disgusted with Donald Trump if his language was gentler? Possibly a little, but his vile outlook on life would remain.

So, am I a hypocrite? Possibly. I am human, after all.

What about you? Does anyone have an answer for these questions?

Like this post? Try these:


  1. OmG, I had no idea it had that title. I understand complitely why it's changed now!
    I don't know... I am against that title for the obvious reasons, but in the time it was published I guess many people were using N word as something normal. Was it okay. Absolutely not, but it was a different time. Good thing is that time change and people are more aware of the impact words have on people.

    1. I'm definitely happier with the current title! It just makes me feel slightly conflicted, because changing the title *is* a form of censorship - but is one I'm happy with... Too many intricacies in this discussion!

  2. I'm not sure how I would feel in a situation like this. Obviously I would feel so uncomfortable reading this book with the original title, ESPECIALLY in public, but is it just because back then what was politically and morally correct is different? I guess you just have to read it with an open mind.

    1. I know! I'm happy that I don't have to read that title - but I don't know how to feel about the fact that it's been censored.

  3. You bring up an interesting dilemma. I don't even know how to think about it. Hrmmmm...

    1. I honestly have no idea what to think about it either!

  4. As usual, you'e made me completely question everything. I've never really thought of censorship. I guess it's because I was never banned from reading anything by my parents. If something wasn't available in my school library and I wanted to read it, they'd get it for me. I know that's different from blocking words out, but it's still a type of censorship. Anyway, I learnt about what was right and wrong by reading, so I guess I don't want things censored? I don't know. Agh!!

    1. Haha, I've now completely confused you and pretty much everyone else ;) (evil plan is totally working ;P )

  5. I know what you mean. I don't think we need to change things from the past because we already know they were wrong in doing so, we have accepted that and it's part of our history, so we shouldn't change it! Especially as it's things like that that they are lessons we can learn from. Nowadays, we are more aware and more careful, so then we shouldn't be making those same mistakes. Censorship is perfectly fine to a certain extent in my opinion. Maybe the changing of this title is a little far - but I have to be honest I do love this new title too.

    1. I much prefer the new title to the old title! I honestly wouldn't have read it with the old title.

      Changing things which are historical is always a tricky one - I have no easy answers, which was kind of the reason for this post. I think we need to not be afraid to say 'I don't know what to think about this' - that's the only way we're going to learn.

      Thanks for the comment Liv, very insightful - as always! :)

  6. yup this is a hard one. I think that when racist people "express" their opinions they mostly do it in a way that generalizes [they hate ALL people of that group] and for reasons that are usually beyond the control of the group they hate [they hate entire groups of people because of their features, color, economic means, etc etc ] and then they emit statements that, again, dump EVERYONE on one big sack like the nazis promoting antisemitism because ALL Jews were to blame for all the bad things that happened to Germany [insert here many of the items in Hitler's list] and they were all [insert insult: stupid, filthy, etc]
    When you call a racist person [or in this case an author] on their speech you are censoring or pointing at a specific person that did or said a specific thing. That's is very different in my mind.

    1. I don't think when you draw attention to and criticise someone's actions/words/work that it is censorship. I have the freedom to say 'this is racist' - that's not censorship.

      Where my issues with this book came in was how to balance the fact that the 'n' word isn't acceptable with the fact that censorship (e.g. deleting and changing words from the text,) is wrong. This is also, obv. also a symbol for a larger debate. Again, I don't have the answers!

      It's a difficult subject, and all we can really do is our best! :)


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