Reverse Censorship? (an apolitical post…)

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cc Reverse Censorship?  (an apolitical post...) photo credit: alyssa snyder

So, a week after our lively discussion last week regarding whether or not Palin’s censorship question was hypothetical or taken out of context or a tempest in a teacup, one of my wonderful readers, Cynthia, sent me a very interesting tidbit on what I guess could be called reverse censorship

Reverse censorship?  What’s that you ask?  Well, instead of cleaning up the language in his novels, as we saw one author do last month, apparently Nelson DeMille has an individual in his publishing life who actually puts naughty language INTO his books!

If you remember, a few weeks ago I asked how comfortable we readers are when an author writes two versions of the same work — the original uncensored version and then a sanitized version for the use of schools.  Well, on the other extreme, DeMille recently responded to a reader’s irritation with his apparent love of the F-word: 

My Newsletter generates hundreds and hundreds of responses from you, and as I’ve said, I read each and every one of them, and I wish I could reply, and it’s frustrating that I don’t have the time to do so, but I appreciate all the emails and I thank you for taking the time to write. I get a much needed ego boost from the letters, but I also get taken to task by some readers for my use of profanity. As one lady wrote, “I read WILD FIRE three times and counted the F-word thirty-six times.”

I need to say here that my original manuscripts contain no profanity whatsoever. But Grand Central Publishing has an editor known as the “F-Guy,” who peppers my manuscripts with four-letter words. I would end this practice immediately, but it’s been brought to my attention that the publisher has this right, as per the small print in my contract.

Having said that, I will speak to the “F-Guy” about this and try to clean up the next John Corey book. In fact, at the beginning of Chapter One in THE LION’S GAME sequel, John Corey says to his boss, “I am going to find that dastardly blighter, Asad Khalil, and kick him in the shins.”

Now, I’m a bit surprised and maybe embarrassed that I haven’t noticed the 36 F-words in Wildfire, which is the novel my husband and I started on the way home from Colorado and are finishing bit by bit, in between Brewers’ games, when we drive to the cabin every other weekend.  I’m not sure if my inattention is because it isn’t surprising to imagine a hard-boiled NYC detective using salty language (how’s that for a stereotype?) or if I’m such a visual person that listening to language doesn’t register as vividly or memorably as reading it does.

Personally, I rarely curse and I certainly corrected my high school students if they ever slipped in my classroom.  However, I didn’t interfere when students swore in the halls, like many of my coworkers did — partly because I had to pick my battles and partly because I think adolescents go through — and hopefully grow through — this phase as one more attempt to push boundaries. 

On a side note, I recently watched the Dr. Phil show on the “n-word” and was fascinated, if not surprised, by how powerful — and painful — language can be whether directed at another, or said in jest, or to be funny…  But I love this topic (as evidenced by my rambling post) and would love to hear what you think! 

Language is “simply” an abstract symbol system that only has meaning once we assign — and agree upon — its meaning.  So, how comfortable are we with publishers manipulating the language of an original work — whether for the better or worse?

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4 Responses to Reverse Censorship? (an apolitical post…)

  1. Cynthia says:

    Wow – thank you!

    After I ranted and raved some more – I got to thinking…if John Corey was published as to saying “dastardly blighter” – would it have the same effect? Who talks like this outside of a period piece? Having said that – I feel very strongly about what is happening here: Whose creative genius is at risk here? Whose name is on the book? I wish the best of luck to Mr. DeMille in his battle with his publisher and I guess maybe the take-away to this would be for future writers: read the small print…
    As for the recipients of these great writers – this knowledge just strips away a little of my innocense here. Are the words I’m reading actually from the author or the publisher? What if I chose a line from the book to quote, paint on my walls and print in a card? Ack…

  2. Kristen says:

    Thank YOU! Such an interesting topic — the “F-word” does seem authentic, yet the author should always have the ‘last word’ so to speak ;) I wonder if some publishing houses are more intrusive than others — or if some authors are simply more accomodating?

  3. Dawn says:

    Very interesting post – it especially struck me that the publisher *inserted* the F-word (not that they were “cleaning it up”).

    I think the author’s work should stay as written, with whatever language he/she chooses to use … otherwise it’s not authenticly *their* work. Nothing should be cleaned up for use in schools. Present the book as the author intended, or not at all.

  4. Pingback: Celebrate Banned Books Week! | BOOK CLUB CLASSICS!

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