Let’s talk about Editing and Censorship.
I might be a touch late to the party on this one, but maybe there really isn’t a “late” on this topic since it seems to crop up at regular intervals throughout history. Can someone remind me why there is even a banned book list in the first place? God forbid writers stir up a little controversy. Sex? Bad words? Race? RaceISM? SexISM? And by controversy, I really mean discussion. Say it ain’t so. These things happened and are happening, yet society (including schools… maybe especially schools?) want to stick their fingers in their ears and sing “nanananana!!!”.
Censoring Huck Finn? Because it makes people uncomfortable to read the N word, because now maybe this version will be taken off the banned book list in some schools? Discussing race in an academic setting is difficult, it’s stressful, it can get out of hand. But that’s why there are books like this to help facilitate that discussion. Now then, I’m coming at this from a writer’s perspective, from a personal perspective of wanting to confront the issues of race in America in my own life with discussion and understanding and an open mind rather than anger, resentment, and blame. And I think writing like this is a gateway to understanding history and how that has influenced our current state.
Also – if I wrote a great work and then I died and 100 years later people started messing with my language I would be pretty pissed. I mean, I’d be dead so I guess I wouldn’t care SO much, but still. It is not ours to touch. Read it or not, that’s your choice, but leave the work intact.
But this is only the most recent, controversial, and televised moment of questionable editing. On Christmas my family lounged on couches, buttons unbuttoned on our pants, and sat in a semi-coma watching Star Wars – the first of the first batch. I don’t know which episode that is, in my mind it’s One but I know that’s not totally accurate. It’s the oldest one in human years, not star wars years, does that make sense? And there is a scene, where Han Solo is sitting in that awesome bar and he’s trying to negotiate with one of Jabba’s people (and oh god I can’t believe I’m actually discussing this with my serious face on). And the conversation is getting heated when suddenly, shots are fired and Han runs for it, escaping the uncomfortable discussion and buying himself some time. In the original version Han shoots dude unprovoked, no gun is shown, there is no real threat of violence, Han just goes for it cuz he’s a renegade and maybe not the most upstanding of citizens. But then really, didn’t we already know that? Isn’t that part of Han’s character growth. Dude is not all that nice, but then he learns he has a soul and *spoiler alert* falls in lurve, makes friends, realizes he’d be willing to sacrifice himself for others, blahblah. But in the digitally remastered version (read: newly edited version) Han doesn’t up and shoot dude, the other guy shoots first and laser bullets fly.
As a writer I think this kind of editing after the fact is totally wrong. So George Lucas wanted to make Han seem like a better guy, but that’s not really who Han is. And maybe you’d say that Han is whoever George wants him to be, but I don’t believe that to be true either. It may sound hokey or new-agey but the truth is real characters tell us (the writers) who they are, and what they are up to and we record it. I don’t make up what my characters do more than I decide what color banana I want to eat. The characters just are. And the banana is just yellow.
I was the only one in the room in my house on Christmas who felt irritated by the edits. “What’s the big deal? He created it, he can do what he wants.” But I don’t agree. When you create art, you’re entering into a relationship between you, the art, and the audience. The audience is now part of the art, part of what makes the art live. The original star wars, just like the original Huck Finn are examples of moments in time, they represent the moment they were conceived (written, recorded), as well as the moment the audience experiences it. When you go back and alter an already established text or film or painting you’re disrupting the truth of that experience. It is what it is, let it be. If you want to change something, then focus on doing it differently the next time around but stop messing with established work.