A couple of months ago, I was reading random opinion articles on the internet when I stumbled across two articles by Lionel Shriver and Joanne Harris about a downloadable program for some E-book readers called “Clean Reader”.
This was a program developed by some rather conservative people in America, which replaces “profane” words in e-books with more “wholesome” equivalents.
To quote part of Joanne Harris’ article, some of these replacements are absolutely laughable: ” ‘Oh my God!’ becomes ‘oh my goodness!’ ‘Jesus Christ’ becomes ‘geez’ and so on. ‘Bitch’ becomes ‘witch’,” she wrote, adding that body parts also face the axe on Clean Reader. “‘Vagina’, ‘anus’, ‘buttocks’ and ‘clitoris’ all become ‘bottom’,”.
Although this program thankfully didn’t last very long before, ironically, it got censored itself. It raises a lot of interesting questions:
Having randomly seen the free e-books section of Amazon the day before and being pleasantly surprised by the plethora of imaginatively-titled *ahem* risque novels on there, my first thought was how hilarious most of these books would probably look if they were run through this “Clean Reader” program (hence the small cartoon at the beginning of this article).
But, after I’d had a good laugh about all of this, I started to think about it more seriously.
First of all, I realised that I had no real opposition to people choosing to use this program. If people are so uptight and puritanical that they want to ruin their own book collections, then who am I to judge? It’s only when people try to ruin things for other people that I start objecting to censorship.
Then I remembered when I was a teenager and how books provided a much-needed refuge from censorship for me. In Britain, we have mandatory film censorship, where the age ratings on films are actually enforced by law.
What this meant was, for example, at the age of fifteen – I couldn’t legally buy a copy of David Cronenburg’s “Crash” but I could thankfully still buy a copy of the (much more explicit) J.G. Ballard novel that the film was based on.
Because of this lack of censorship – books were cool, books were rebellious and books fired my imagination in ways that films couldn’t have done. It’s no coincidence that I read a lot more books when I was a teenager than I now do as an adult. If books had been censored in any way when I was a teenager, I’d have probably lost all interest in reading.
After a while, it also made me think about my own written works and how – now that I post stuff on the internet – I often self-censor way more than I should.
I guess that I probably self-censor excessively due to absurd worries about external censorship, but it has also meant that many great blog articles have either been ruined or – much more commonly- never even written because of my own writerly cowardice. I’d write more about this, but I already ended up self-censoring three paragraphs I’d previously written about it. Sorry about this.
Finally, one of the interesting things about the controversy surrounding this short-lived “Clean Reader” program was the fact that many authors were outraged at the idea of their books being altered.
I could agree with this sentiment if their publishers imposed censorship on literally every copy of their books – but to get outraged at the electronic equivalent of someone (in the privacy of their own home) crossing out words with a marker pen in a paper book that they’ve legally bought just seems a bit too controlling and anti-consumer for me.
Don’t get me wrong, people who censor their own libraries are idiots- but, once your book has been sold, it’s out of your control. If you start telling people what they can and can’t do in private with things that they have bought, then you’re (ironically) no better than the censors that you’re criticising.
I could understand this concern if people were re-selling the censored e-books but, if someone is altering their copy for their private use alone, then it should be no-one’s business but their own.
And, for the record, I know that I release most of my art under a “no derivatives” Creative Commons licence. But, to be honest, I’m not going to care if you alter or edit it in private and don’t post it online. I mean, how am I even going to know?
In conclusion, I’m glad that this “Clean Reader” program had bitten the dust. Censorship of literature (and censorship of profanity) is a ridiculous thing and it shouldn’t be encouraged. But, at the same time, if e-books are to become a good enough substitute for paper books then readers need to have the same freedom to damage their e-books as they do to damage their paper books.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂