Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Huckleberry Finn

Tawainese man sues neighbors
for teaching their Myna bird
to call him “clueless big-mouthed idiot.”

Now that Sarah Palin has exposed herself for all to see what a petulant, egocentric, ignorant, uncaring, airhead she clearly is, perhaps she will slowly disappear from sight (no doubt a false hope as her supporters seem to think she walks on water) and leave us in peace (no more reloading, targets, death panels, and such).

Anyway, I have been thinking of some recent developments I would like to consider. First, the question of publishing a new version of Huckleberry Finn without the “N” word. This strikes me as a particularly silly thing to do, if for no other reason that it might establish a precedent we will regret. Actually, there already is a precedent. When Joseph Conrad published his novella, The Nigger of the Narcissus, in England, the American edition was called, Children of the Sea: A Tale of the Forecastle. This was because the American publisher (Dodd, Mead and Co.) said no one in America would read a book with the word “Nigger” in the title. I guess that wonderful comedian, W.C. Fields, was also concerned about the delicacy of the American public when he offered “There must be an Ethiopian in the Fuel Supply” to replace the more common expression, “There’s a Nigger in the woodpile.” There is also the fate of the children’s book, Little Black Sambo that was eventually changed in various ways because it was deemed offensive to Blacks. The original book was about a little Tamil boy but eventually the boy became an African. A particularly offensive version was published in Japan and sold more than a million copies before it was changed (I think it was changed to “Brave Little Sambo”).

Huckleberry Finn is not an exception to this problem, but should we consider the “N” word taboo wherever it appears? We could of course search the English language literature for the past two or three hundred years and strike the offending word wherever found. It would be of course very time consuming and expensive but with the internet perhaps it could even be eventually accomplished. Of course there are other offending aspects of our history that probably would require somewhat similar treatment. For example, how about that scene in Casablanca where Ingrid Bergman asks the waiter to ask the “boy” to come to her table? Everyone knows that “boy” is as offensive as Nigger. The scene could be changed and she could ask for the piano player, or even “Sam.” Then there would be the problem of Stepin Fetchit (Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry), the first Black movie star, who became internationally famous and very wealthy playing the stereotypical role of a shiftless, lazy, no account “Coon” (Negro). Although he was very successful, the role was terribly controversial as it portrayed Blacks in such an awful prejudiced way. His movies are rarely played anymore and most people may not even be aware he existed (he was incredibly famous at the time). I suggest, however, that we refer to him henceforth as a romantic lead.

There are other offensive words that should probably be dealt with as well. Cannibal, for example, is very derogatory to those whose ancestors were cannibals. I bet “savages” is similar. Let’s get rid of these too. Of course we should get rid of words like “Jap,” “Hun,” “Kraut,” “Coolie,” “Chink,” and so on, as they are clearly offensive to those who used to be called by those terms. No doubt “towel-head,” “Jungle Bunny,” “Gook,” and many more should go, we wouldn’t want to offend anyone.

The word “Slave” itself has become an issue of late. When one of the Southern States (South Carolina?) recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Civil War they attempted to ignore the issue of slavery, some even insisting (falsely) that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War. At this very moment the new Republican House has stricken “Civil Rights” and “Labor” from certain committee titles. There seems to be a surge of interest in rewriting history, especially the history of the recent Bush/Cheney years. I don’t know if the issue of Huckleberry Finn is related to the rest of revisionist history or not, but lumping all these together I suggest we start all over from the very beginning. What the hell, let’s do away with colonialism, slavery, genocides, wars, plagues, Hiroshima, the Holocaust, and what-have-you, and pretend that none of it ever happened. The history of the human species has just been one groovy party after another. This shouldn’t be as difficult as you might think, as the history we recognize now and teach our children is pretty much just as fictionalized as not. Until The “People’s History” appeared how many people knew (or knew but wouldn’t tell) that Christopher Columbus was a brutal thief that murdered and robbed at will? How many people were aware of the genocide of the American Indians and the means that were used? I’m sure most of the history I was taught was false.

Mark Twain was very careful with the language he used and he used the language in Huckleberry Finn precisely as he wished it to be. If contemporary readers are too stupid to realize the book was written in an earlier period, and the word “Nigger” was in those days commonplace, they will surely not be enlightened by changing things now. Works of art are timeless and should not be desecrated by the whims of more recent generations.

Hegel was right when he said that we learn from history that man can never learn anything from history.
George Bernard Shaw

Hares less than one year old are called leverets.

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