Update the Classics: Add a PC Subtitle

National Association of Scholars

Submissions for this contest are now closed. See the list of winners at the bottom of this post. See the next contest, on Charles Dickens, here

Tom Sawyer: Lessons in Whitewashing.

NAS has a new contest for readers with a satirical bent. Add a politically correct subtitle to the book of the week, and win the admiration of contrarians everywhere. Winners will add a subtitle that transforms the book into something today’s sensitive yet resentful students can’t resist.

Many say they’ll read ancient literature only if served up with appropriate warning labels. Last fall Columbia students asked for trigger warnings on mythology, especially works that mention rape, because the texts were “wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression” and were “difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.”

We regret that the classics have been so maligned. Human traits transcend time and custom, and classics have stood the test of time because they teach lessons that resonate in all times and places.

In fact, we believe that if we squint hard enough, we can find in the classics some progressive material that should appeal to social justice warriors too. We can bring the classics up to date. A group of artists, dedicated to giving old books fresh covers, have done their part. Their project, “Recovering the Classics,” strikes us as worthwhile but a mere facelift. We want to go deeper. In the spirit of our satirical “trigger warning contest,” we suggest proposing new politically correct labels for classic works, in order to demonstrate the progressive content buried deep inside each one.  

Classic books, if you search this way and that for long enough, can teach you lots of up-to-date, politically correct lessons. Take Crime and Punishment. A stressed-out student, dogged by debt, is driven to the extremes of mental illness until he finally kills his lender. Bernie Sanders should take note. What better case for free college?

Those tired of the jargon-filled tomes on “intersectionality,” the idea that all oppression is linked, generally by capitalism, should try The Merchant of Venice. Members of two different ethnicities feud over money, demonstrating the capitalist origins of racial tension.

Sometimes the title alone hints at good progressive lessons. To make those themes explicit, we recommend re-subtitling Our Man in Havana: Fidel Castro’s Legacy of Liberation and Reform and Fahrenheit 451: Projected Earth Surface Temperature in the 22nd Century.

Will you help us build our collection? Every new politically correct subtitle will help rescue a classic from the dustbins of discarded volumes.

Each week we’ll propose a classic book—or a slate of classics—that needs a new PC subtitle. Send in your recommendations, and each week we’ll select a winner to announce on our website, along with runners-up. Share your submissions on Twitter with the hashtag #PCSubtitle and the NAS Twitter handle @NASorg. You can also fill out the form at the bottom of this post. 

This week’s assignment is Jane Austen. Pick any Austen book and let us know your new subtitle. Here’s our suggestion:

Pride and Prejudice:  Finding Safe Spaces for Queer Folks Under Heteronormative Tyranny. #PCSubtitle @NASorg

What do you recommend? Tell us by Friday, September 23.  

Updated September 26: Jane Austen #PCSubtitle Winner

Many thanks to the 52 readers who submitted 70 ideas for politically correct subtitles to Jane Austen’s novels. The NAS staff selected this week’s winner and runners-up.

First place goes to Darel Veal for

Sense and Sensitivity Training

Not technically a subtitle, but clever and succinct.

The runners-up, in no particular order, are

(Wo)Mansfield Park, submitted by Jordan Hill

Censor Sensibility, submitted by Jordan Hill

Personsfield Park: Local Theater as an Act of Subversion, submitted by Will Begley

Northanger Abbey: Anger is our True North, submitted by David Randall

Manspread Park - Combating Patriarchal Postures across England's Quaint Garden Benches, submitted by Michael Brooks

We also want to recognize John J. Stephan, who proposed a politically correct manual for teaching English literature without Shakespeare: As We Like It.

Join us again this week for #PCSubtitles for Dickens books.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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