Huckleberry Finn and Cultural Senstitivity

Glenn Ricketts


You may have read about the latest attempt to make a classic work acceptable to contemporary PC sensibilities, in this case a new edition of Huckleberry Finn from which racial epithets - certainly authentic to the novel's social and historical setting - have been removed. It doesn't stop there, either, since typical colloquial references to American Indians have also been purged. Why, you'd like to know. That's the way they talked, that's the way they were. What's the point of concealing it or pretending it wasn't there? I recall at least one previous episode in which this particular work was bowdlerized, but that' s unfortunately not the only example. Mozart's signature opera, The Magic Flute has also been expurgated in some modern editions to remove "sexism" and ethnic slurs - it must have been that Papageno guy, I guess - which some people have decided we shouldn't hear. Even worse for for me, I think, is the disclaimer attached to the complete edition of Max Fleischer's immortal Popeye cartoons dating from the early 1930's, and containing some of the cleverest and funniest repartee you'll hear anywhere. (Popeye: "Gee, You're awful pretty." Olive Oyl: "Thanks, you're pretty awful yourself.") But Warner Brothers, which issued the package, didn't want me to laugh too hard or forget that the cartoons reflected the sexist and ethnic stereotyping characteristic of that benighted era. Those things were wrong then, they're wrong now, and WB studios wanted me and other viewers to know that they thought so. Unfortunately, it's set up so that you can't fast forward to the main menu, and have to put up with the PC sermon every time you want to watch. But back to Huckleberry Finn, I'm glad to see that this latest censorial nonsense has attracted some appropriately scathing criticism. For my money, I recommend this piece by Tony Norman in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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