Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / NoHier / Kleptocracy /
Societies manage information.
That’s their essence.
Laws regarding censorship are just posturings,
Evidence of how little we know ourselves.
I’ll add comments expanding the foregoing marginalia, but not now. Today I want to get straight to a particular example of censorship and a single (binary) point about it:
When I was a kid in school, Mark Twain was an author read right in the class: Tom Sawyer. We were told about Huckleberry Finn and one or two others. When I was in college (Columbia, English major), upper-class English majors agreed (led by Professor Lionel Trilling and his famous book on Huck (which I wouldn’t read for another decade yet)) that Huckleberry Finn was THE great America novel. Sure The Scarlet Letter was essential. Certainly Moby Dick was as great as anything (from music, painting, literature, drama …). (And Henry James … Be serious.) But Huck was THE American novel. For one thing, look at it geographically. The Scarlet Letter has the New England Puritans down pat, but New England and the Puritans are merely a part of early America: a major part, but still just a part. Moby Dick spans the globe, but doesn’t span America; just some typical obsessions. Huck uses the Mississippi to bisect “America”: double bisect, west from east, north from south … Just the phrase selling one down the river speaks volumes about our character. Hawthorne has the Puritans to an A; Twain has America, as a whole, … to a T.
Faulkner waxes geographic in his symbolism (as certainly had Cooper); but his span is 90% within the deep south: the pregnant gal walks from Alabama to Mississippi (following the babe’s father: one of the deforesters!)
There’s no limit on how great last or next year’s novels may be, but what Twain did can never be repeated: not for our early history, not with Twain’s genuine, contemporary, perfect-pitch. As much as I admire Catch-22, The Shinning, Holy Fire … they’re not Huck.
So how come we’ve been subjected for the last couple of decades to schools and libraries effectively censoring Huckleberry Finn? The buzzword is Twain’s regular use of his time’s routine term for Black: the word offensive then as now (the offense routine), n-word (Bowdlerizing K. 2016 07 31).
You come to Chicago. You come to my house.
I’ll let you walk around in it.
Then you come home and walk around your own house.
You’ll see who’s the n-.
(to a cracker sheriff who had a shotgun pressed into his belly)
I hasten to point out: if ever the term was used with classic literary irony prior to Dick Gregory, it was by Twain. I cite Huck from memory, but if I looked it up, I bet I wouldn’t have to change a word:
Huck floats down the Mississippi to some farm. He realizes that “he” seems to be expected. He realizes that it’s his old pal Tom Sawyer who’s expected. Ever the improviser, Huck says he’s Tom. So how come he’s so late, another one of Twain’s fictional “aunts” wants to know? Huck invents on the spot: he took the steamboat, the steamboat was delayed … by an explosion.
|Oh, gracious! …
Was anyone hurt?
No, Ma’am. Killed a n-.
Now, do the illiterate schools and libraries really expect me to be indignant? To join some choreographed chorus that Twain was a racist? Everybody except Twain is a racist!
It’s as ridiculous as coming down on Shakespeare for anti-Semitism in A Merchant of Venice!
So here’s the binary question I have:
Who benefits from censoring Huckleberry Finn?
The poor, long-suffering, despised, put-down, uncompensated descendants of slaves? [note]
Or the racists? the majority? the normals?
The kleptocrats and bureaucrats who run the libraries and the schools whose portrait by Twain, without censorship, is so indelible?
I may add more about Huck, but first I add something about a “classic” movie I re-viewed recently having seen hide nor hair of it for decades: RKO’s 1939 Gunga Din.
The founder of the Free Learning Exchange believes (as he then believed) that if we’re going to digitize things for easy storage and accurate, cheap retrieval, we should start with the classics. Guttenberg built a press so the Bible could be reproduced faster, cheaper, better. In his wake Caxton printed books that he believed should be better known: easily, cheaply. (If those early books were “expensive,” the expense was relatively dirt cheap: compared to the cost of a hand-crafted manuscript copy. A whole temple could barely afford a hand-copied Torah; any independent merchant could afford a printed Bible: or, after Caxton, a printed Chaucer. If the poor clerk couldn’t afford the Chaucer, he could much less afford the “Bible” it took an entire monastery maybe a year to crank out.)
When videos came out, this film addict believes that the publishers should have translated representatives from some quorum of critics’ Ten Best lists: Potemkin, Intolerance, Modern Times, The Gold Rush, La Strada, Cabiria, Through a Glass Darkly, Roshomon … Such gems should have come long long before anyone got around to doing Gone with the Wind, Dances with Wolves … There will always be disagreement over details — after we get past the first great couple of dozen. I might vote for The Terminator before you do; you might vote for Casablanca before I do (long, long before I do) … I might want to add Pather Panchali high up while another viewer with some quorum of experience might want to exclude it altogether. But in this world we have walls full of the latest bimbo and no availability for Ikiru at all: not in your average Podunk: possibly not in major markets either. (In order to qualify for Bantam’s best wholesale rates, K-Mart (any book retailer) has to first purchase $10,000 net worth of Louis L’Amour! That’s how this world works!)
Anyway, ever since bk blessed my 60th birthday with a VCR, I’ve been catching up on some of the movies I missed by founding FLEX (can’t go broke trying to save humanity and still hang out in theaters). (I doubt that St. Paul saw quite so many gladiatorial combats once he started scribbling to the Ephesians.) So I’ve now been in Sebring’s Blockbuster at least a dozen times and in the Movie Gallery a similar number. (Once I actually saw an Ikiru in the Blockbuster, but I sure haven’t seen it since.) (And I’ve never seen any Birth of a Nation, Seven Samurai, or Seventh Seal.)
When a was a kid, maybe the late ’40s, my friend Rudy would describe Mad comics to me panel by panel, detail by detail, line by line. I could quote it, (could I have drawn,) I could have drawn it, before actually seeing it in my own hands for the first time. I got Bomba and Tarzan and Hardy Boys novels the same way: first I had to hear Rudy’s repeat: always very very right it always turned out. Well, one movie I got detail by detail before ever seeing it was Gunga Din. I can’t have been very old before I got the poem read aloud in school, but I’d already heard it quoted and repeated by Rudy: … You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. And there, the other day in the Movie Gallery, it was before me. I couldn’t think of when I’d last seen it — maybe the early ’50s — so I grabbed it.
As I watched, now from the vantage point of spring 2003 and six plus decades of experience, I rapidly began to speculate that my not having tripped over it sooner was no accident. It’s not just that I’d OD’d on Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. a very long time ago and OD’d even on Cary Grant a much greater time later; the movie was embarrassing in a number of ways. The British class system, British imperialism, British racism, British hubris … stick out of this movie a mile higher at the beginning of the Twenty-First Century than it did toward the middle of the Twentieth Century: at least for this founder of FLEX, this author of Race. I’ll content myself here with two examples before tying back to my censorship point.
When we watch the three sergeants punching out kilt-wearing Brits, we’re supposed to think it’s great, healthy, boyish fun. When we watch their company throw dynamite at barefoot men armed only with tools that look better suited to farming than for combat, we behold the juggernaut of civilization and, like the old Quakers before God, tremble: and (knee-jerk) approve. When we see the barefoot guys with nothing but a little white linen wrapped around their loins, strangle a dynamiter with a little length of white linen, we loath the uncivilized wog vermin: especially once we’ve heard them identified as Thugees. See? Cary Grant, with the dynamite, is the scion of civilization; the poor bastard with the bit of cloth is a Thug.
Anyway, we soon meet the chief Thugee. And by God, RKO has done him in blackface! he’s a fucking minstrel! Christ Jesus, how pathetic: on RKO’s part!
Now DW Griffith did “Blacks” in blackface in Birth of a Nation, and that too is pathetic, for DW Griffith (and his audience). But forget it, it was ninety-some years ago, he was a southerner, that harm has been done … Now look at his movie! Age has made the racist part rotten: ah, but what a golden kernel is left behind anyway! Subtract the class contempt, the racism, the sexism (homo-camaraderie allied with misogyny), the kleptocratic hubris … (you know: good family entertainment!) from Gunga Din, and, … is there anything left? Not that I noticed.
I said two points: I’ve isolated the racism in the treatment of the chief Thugee. (The racism in the portrait of Gunga Din is more complex and I’ll ignore it here.) Now I wish merely to focus on one of the supposedly humorous motifs: Cary Grant’s kleptocratic longings. The sergeants’ first fight of the movie was over some bogus treasure map. Gunga Din soon tells Cary Grant’s sergeant that he knows of a temple all of gold. Cary Grant(‘s sergeant) immediately thinks, Ah, and all for me. (Would Din even get a tip?)
If you were visiting me in New York from Bristol, and I told you that I knew of some beautiful treasures at the Met, or the Frick, or the Cloisters, or at St. Patrick’s … would you think it was all yours, all for you? If I told you that the US kept gold at Fort Knox, would your hands itch to get hold of it?
(Indeed, if you were Cary Grant’s character, wouldn’t you think that some small part of the gold might be yours: but only after you’d given it all to your battalion commander who in turn gave it all to the Queen?) (The Queen might then have given 40%, 10% to the battalion commander, and the battalion commander might then have given 10% of the 10% to you.)
The three sergeants and wannabe Din find the temple, find the gold, and find that it’s fully occupied by armed and militant Thugees. They’re captured. In turn they take the chief Thugee captive. Right in front of Din and the Thugee, Cary Grant goes right on about the gold being his. Why it’s enough to buy a pub the size of the Crystal Palace! (I do love how Grant’s sergeant continues to imagine himself working: even rich, even separated from the service!)
Anyway, I started speculating about why it had been so long since I’d seen or even heard mention of Gunga Din: even on TV. Could that possibly reflect a kind of voluntary censorship on the part of the media and the ahem, free market? Again: who would be protected?
The filthy wogs? The Victorian Brits? Or the RKO America of 1939?
In the early 1950s Mad Comics published a couple of bits by TV’s Ernie Kovacs. One schtick was that Ernie did a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not column. My young eye was drawn to a graphic labeled VooDoo Death Mask. VooDoo, Haitian, Congo … It was attributed to some far-away culture. The blurb explained that one glance at the image caused death in all cases. PS: “Too bad if you looked!”
Now. Were there such an artifact, should it be censored?
Don’t waste your time looking for pros or cons; just see my point: the idea of censorship is like the Liar’s Paradox: “This sentence is a lie.” If the sentence is true, then the sentence is false. If the sentence is false, then the sentence is true. All such statements are nonsense. All such laws are nonsense.
Arsenic is poisonous. So try to avoid eating any. Don’t insult our intelligence by making it illegal.
Oh, but what about the children, the innocence, the stupid? Tough on them. The best you can do is try to avoid eating any. Don’t serve it to your friends.
Otherwise, mind your own business.
2005 08 10 Turning on the tube to accompany my linguini and clam sauce I just caught part of a collection of bits censored and not censored on TV. The implication was that we’ve been getting progressively more liberal and that now we’ve achieved it. Doesn’t nearly every propaganda organ give the same message to every public, every new generation? Gee, look what the censors allow now! We’re free! What tyranny can’t show its public something withheld from its parents but allowed the current public? Every generation is encouraged to dupe itself about its enlightenment.
One sequence started with Jeannie the witch not allowed to show her belly button and “progressed” on through Chevy Chase mooning some housewife with the top half of his buttocks as he bends to work on her refrigerator.
If you film the tide coming in, and edit to the tide coming in again, boobs might succumb to a belief that the tide is always coming in. Honesty requires representing the whole rhythm. If fashion suddenly shows the nipple expect it to cover the periphery of the breast. Our culture shows the face but conceals the vulva. Culture could come to show the vulva: put lipstick on it. But expect the same fashion to simultaneously cover the face.
I’ve jotted my Lex Lingus Elasticus: how I should work on an analogous law of allowable erotica: a whole set of analogous laws.
Meantime, back to censorship: ponder the comedy implicit in a government promising No Censorship. No public would ever allow it.
I wasn’t formally censored by this kleptocracy until Feb 2007. This module was written and posted long before then.
Descendants of Slaves:
Don’t forget, or, if you never realized it, realize: the … um, er … negroes, um, err, I mean, coloreds, um er, I mean blacks, um, er, I mean Blacks, um, er, I mean Afro-Americans … are our descendants! Didn’t we rape their grandmothers and mothers? Aren’t they our brothers? Or at least our cousins?
Further don’t forget, they have greater genetic diversity than your average “white.” “We” are stronger for mixing English and German, Irish and Italian … they should be stronger yet for mixing Scots and Hungarian and Bantu!