Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Censoring ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and other art, if necessary, should be as light as possible

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“Money get back, I’m all right Jack, Keep your hands off my stack. Money, it’s a hit, Don’t give me that Do goody good bullshit.”

— “Money,” Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973

Depending on which company owns your terrestrial radio station, you might not hear the lyrics as they were intended. If your favorite radio station is owned by a large company (e.g., CBS, Clear Channel), one of the words above will be edited out of the song. We think we can guess which word that would be.

Never mind that the song has been a hit off the record that has spent more time on the charts than any rock and roll record, or that critics consider Dark Side of the Moon to be one of the best rock albums ever, or that the song played uncensored for three decades.

The word in the song was one of many other hit songs in the 1970s that contain profanities: Steve Miller Band’s “Jet Airliner,” Eagles “Life in the Fast Lane.” Those songs get less airplay than “Money” but are subject to similar censorship.

But even in the 30 years that radio played these songs uncensored, censorship was selective. Songs from African-American artists would get censored while songs from white, classic rock artists went uncensored.

This isn’t just in the United States: this most recent story shows how a certain f-word has been deleted from the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing” for Canadian radio.

Censorship of a different kind is prevalent in the literary world. Adults who read “Huckleberry Finn” can usually deal with the “n-word,” but schools have been reluctant to teach the classic book because of that word. There was a historical context to the word at the time of the story, but obviously, there are different perspectives today than 1885.

NewSouth Books is planning to release a new version of the book that substitutes the “n-word” with “slave.”

When radio stations do censor the word “bullshit,” they usually have a moment of silence to substitute the word. But the word “slave” doesn’t really constitute the meaning. After all, Jim wasn’t a slave in Huckleberry Finn.

In the press, there is some attempt to soothe people who are easily frazzled by “bad language” by substituting dashes or symbols for vowels in a word. So why can’t the “new and improved” Huckleberry Finn be along the lines of “n—-r”?

Large companies started to censor songs from white, classic rock artists not because of some moral issue, but their corporate decisions came down to money.  Oh and one black nipple.

The Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident increased the skittishness of large companies, so art suffered indirectly as a result. The FCC raised fines to ungodly amounts, scaring TV and radio into censorship that would have been allowed in years past. Never mind that the FCC hasn’t punished a single station for playing Pink Floyd’s “Money” as the artists intended it; censorship still reigns.

Book companies aren’t being threatened with financial penalties for publishing Huckleberry Finn. In fact, the word — far more offensive than “bullsh*t” — can be found in books across the country. But using books in the classroom — financial incentives — is why NewSouth is using the adjusted version.

Companies that decide in favor of censorship should be inspired by the doctor’s motto: “First, do no harm.”

Only censor when absolutely necessary, and if doing so, do so in a way that keeps the original intent of the art.

In the case of “Money,” leave the song as is. The word is not sufficiently harmful to the society, especially when no one has really objected to the word in the song. Suddenly censoring it 37 years later because you are afraid of possible being fined, when there is no danger of that actually happening — this does not qualify for censorship.

In the case of “Huckleberry Finn,” leave the word but do so in a way that does not offend — such as n—-r or n*gg*r — to give the reader the impact of the language Twain used at the time, but reflect modern sensibilities.

In a perfect world, we could all but mature enough to handle “delicate” material. But since that won’t happen, less is as good as it will get.


Written by democracysoup

January 14, 2011 at 7:59 am

One Response

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  1. this is a great excellent write-up. My organization is seriously looking toward the subsequent post.

    Jeanne Ricard

    January 25, 2011 at 11:24 am

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