Prudes’ censorship app sparks outrage
Sick of seeing the words ‘Jesus’ and ‘God’ used in a sweary way in books on your Kindle?
Well, thanks to a Christian couple in Idaho – Jared and Kirsten Maughan – such profane words can now be swept off the pages with The Clean Reader Andoid and iOS app, which replaces them with terms much more acceptable to sensitive souls.
“Jesus” becomes “gee”, for example and “Oh my God” becomes “Oh my goodness” and “goddamn” becomes “dang”.
According to this report, the Maughans developed the app (sales pitch: “Read books, not profanity”) after their teenage daughter:
Expressed dismay over some cuss words she saw in a book.
How it works is that you load your ebook into the app via iTunes; you can then select one of three filter levels, from mild censorship to the full monty; and the app does a find-and-replace using a database of “offensive” words selected by the Maughans, replacing them with “clean” versions.
For instance, body parts in the genital region of women are all turned into “bottom”; “fuck” becomes “freak”; “breast” becomes “chest”, “whore” becomes “hussy”; and “bitch” becomes “witch” (which could get somewhat confusing if the book actually discusses dogs). “Sex” is changed to “love”, “penis” to “groin” and “blowjob” to “pleasure”. (See a fuller list here).
The app, predictably, quickly ran into a firestorm. The Guardian reports that Page Foundry subsidiary Inktera, a bookstore system linked to the app, was rapidly unlinked this week, and Smashwords founder Mark Coker requested all of its titles be removed because:
Under the terms of our agreement with all retailers, retailers don’t have permission to alter the words of our books.
The developers bowed to the pressure and stopped selling books, which prompted Chocolat author Joanne Harris, below, to claim a “small victory for the world of dirt”.
Harris had led the charge against the app, with a blogpost entitled “Why I’m saying ‘fuck you’ to Clean Reader”, explaining why she felt the filter was “censorship, not by the state, but by a religious minority”, and that it “misunderstand[s] the nature of fiction writing” and gives a “toxic message” to young people.
Harris was joined by a host of authors in attacking the premise of Clean Reader. The science fiction novelist Charlie Stross described himself on his blog as a writer who:
Deeply resents the idea of his books being mutilated to fit the prejudices of a curious reader’s blue-nosed and over-protective parents
The Booker prize-winner Margaret Atwood asked on Twitter:
Could you take the kettledrums out of Beethoven because you don’t like loud noises and still call it Beethoven?
Harris said that the removal of books from the app by the developers was:
A wise move on their behalf. I think somebody would have proved how fundamentally illegal it is, and would have taken them to court … it’s interesting to see how pressure from the Internet has done it, and how widespread support is for the integrity of books. A lot of people don’t want to see books tampered with.
The Society of Authors said it was concerned:
That the app contradicts two aspects of the author’s moral rights, namely the right of integrity and the right of false attribution.
Harris also raised the issue of the psychological damage resulting from representing to a child that “bodies are dirty”. She said:
There’s clearly a religious agenda here. And it has a sinister implication to it … it needed nipping in the bud. I’d rather my books were not read at all than they were used as part of some religious agenda to indoctrinate children into thinking body parts are bad, and sex is wicked.
A statement issued by the Clean Reader team said that any books already purchased would still be available to users, and that it was planning to make several changes to the app with an update to be released in the near future. It said:
These changes will also be in response to the feedback we have received from many authors and users.
Harris is sceptical:
I don’t see what changes they can make to stop it being an offensive app. But there is nothing which stops them from starting again quietly once things have died down. It’s a question of watching.
One supporter of the app wrote:
The fact is that we readers would love to hear some of your creative stories without the icky unnecessary junk language.
Harris replied in a blogpost:
Shakespeare wrote icky unnecessary junk language. So did Chaucer, D H Lawrence, Philip Larkin, James Joyce.
If a reader chooses to avoid reading my books, that’s fine. She has that right. If she hates it, that’s also fine. If she has opinions on how it could have been done better, that’s also fine, because she’s entitled to her opinion, whether I agree or not. BUT – her opinion does not extend to changing my work in any way. My book, my rules, and that includes my words. ALL of them.
I should point out that “icky unnecessary junk language” is not confined to literature. I laughed out loud a few days ago when I read in a very serious report about human evolution that scientist Kári Stefánsson described an argument used in a genetic study as:
A crock of shit.
She may well be right. I really don’t know. I am not an evolutionary biologist, and confess that I did not understand a single word of the argument she dismissed, nor indeed the contents of a study entitled “The Y-chromosome point mutation rate in humans” that Stefánsson co-authored.