While offensive TV shows get pulled, problematic books are still inspiring debate and conversation

As Confederate statues finally tumble across America, television networks are marching through their catalogues looking to take down racially offensive content. It turns out that little video monuments are lurking all across the TV canon — more shocking with each new announcement. Just this month, blackface scenes have been rediscovered and removed from “The Office,” “Community,” “30 Rock” and “Scrubs.”

“The Office”? — really? I don’t remember that scene.

Of course not. Collective amnesia is an essential condition for perpetuating poisonous stereotypes, the way bad sanitation leads to cholera.

. . . .

The great reckoning now sweeping across pop culture has been working through the stacks of literature for far longer. The effects of time are twofold: Most books have fallen into dust, along with the racist values they imbibed. And those few texts that survive have been subjected to rigorous — and ongoing — debate.

Any theater launching a production of “Othello,” for instance, must begin with a rich body of scholarship on Shakespeare’s sources and intentions. What are we to make of the Moor, the Venetian general manipulated into murderous rage by his villainous white colleague? Even before Othello comes onstage, he’s subjected to obscene racist ridicule. And later, Othello himself laments, “Haply, for I am black and have not those soft parts of conversation that chamberers have.”

As a Renaissance writer working in England 250 years before the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States, Shakespeare surely held the white supremacist values of his culture. But is “Othello” a racist play, or is it a fledgling critique of racism?

. . . .

Twitter would, no doubt, trend with #CancelShakespeare. By the end of a ferocious week, the Bard would withdraw his play, begin a listening tour, and issue a statement expressing deep regret for the pain he has caused by appropriating the experience of a Moor.

. . . .

That is the nature of literature. The words on the page may be frozen, but we’re not. To engage with them carefully and with each other civilly is to reap a better understanding of who we were and are.

Just a few weeks after it was published in 1885, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was banned by the Concord Public Library, which condemned Twain’s novel as “absolutely immoral.” Complaints came from white readers alarmed by the book’s coarse language; the Brooklyn Public Library was shocked that Huck said “sweat” instead of “perspiration.” Heaven forfend! But in the 20th century, that silliness gave way to thoughtful considerations of the novel’s treatment of racism and racist slurs. By the 1950s, a movement had begun to remove the novel from American schools because of its frequent use of the n-word. As that push gained momentum, critics debated whether Twain’s portrayal of Jim is sympathetic or humiliating; others suggested editing the novel to fit contemporary tastes. The critical arguments have been illuminating, exploring, among many subjects, Twain’s regard for black people and the deleterious effects of racist language on African American students.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

Is PG the only one who is revolted by the constant use of the term, “problematic”?

15 thoughts on “While offensive TV shows get pulled, problematic books are still inspiring debate and conversation”

  1. I woke with an amazing insight today(No pun intended.)

    I’m sure that people are aware of Plato’s Cave, how people are chained in the cave being shown shadows on the wall.

    – There are many caves, not just one.

    The WOKE are in their own cave, and they are trying to pull us in to their cave so that they may devour us.

        • The way out? Bari Weiss is leading the way.

          That’s an amazing letter from a New York Times insider telling the world how worthless and woke they are.

          • Are you sure?
            Look around for the reporting: CNN and elsewhere, are painting her as ‘controversial’, and making her out as the bad guy. Somebody unwilling to fit in in the NYT “empathic” culture.
            (Never mind that empathy is about sharing feelings. AKA, monoculture.)

            Or try this one, where the first and constantly repeated adjective is “jewish”, and not in a good way:

            The Jewish writer and editor accuses the newspaper of censoring centrist and conservative opinions and being the target of ‘unlawful discrimination’

            Do remember that she’s an NYC version of “centrist”, which puts her to the left of even the Clintons.

            This is more of the recent liberals vs progressive infighting over tactics, rather than any real correction. The liberals are concerned that the recent rampages and demands are scaring the bejeezus out of 2016 Trump voters who might once more hold tbeir noses come voting time.l

            Sorry, but I don’t see her revelations as doing anything but boosting the NYT’s cred among the woke.

            • Sorry, but I don’t see her revelations as doing anything but boosting the NYT’s cred among the woke.

              Agree, it boosts cred among the Woke. But Who cares about them? The task is to rally the Unwoke. Measuring by CNN is just measuring criticism of the Woke by the Woke.

              Anyone notice today’s Brooklyn protest march led by black preachers? It was in support of the police. They want protection and reject the Woke.

              • More significant, the national association of Police Unions that had gone blue in 2008/12 and skipped 2016, endorsed the orange guy. That’s several hundred thousand families, spread all over.
                Actions breed reactions and today’s bandwagon is tomorrow’s attack ad.
                Lots of regret, soon enough.

      • ‘Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.’ —William F. Buckley

        (Of course, the modern Woke tribe have gone the liberals one better, because they no longer even pretend that other views are worth hearing—that is, not until Wokeness metastasizes further and a different view becomes compulsory.)

        • Well, there are other views and “other views,” Tom.

          Everyone who is anyone knows the difference.

  2. I confess. I read Huck Finn a couple times over the years and didn’t engage in any “thoughtful considerations of the novel’s treatment of racism and racist slurs.”

  3. Ugh, the WaPo’s first paragraph is off to a bad start, given that it contains at least one blatant lie. The “Community” episode had a man cosplaying as a friggin drow, which are fantastical creatures that do not even remotely resemble any black person I’ve ever seen on this earth. If the writer can’t be bothered to make a distinction between the governor of Virginia’s hobby, and the portrayal of an imaginary being, why is anyone supposed to take him seriously?

    I feel like I’m Vegeta roasting Mr. Piccolo, who was oddly shocked to discover he’s not an Earth native: “The green skin and pointy ears were a dead giveaway, don’t you think?”***

    We had to read Vonnegut’s “Player Piano” in school. That’s the one where everyone is unemployed because their jobs were replaced by machines. I wasn’t worried about that story coming to pass. I thought at the time, “well, it would be hard to replace a writer.”

    But a “reporter” or columnist who can’t report reality, or distinguish nuances, or put facts in a proper context, could more easily be replaced by the current dumb AI we have now. With the bonus of skipping to the part where the AIs just regurgitate whatever its programmers want, without dressing up its reports as “objective.”

    ***Back in the day, when I snarked in agreement with Vegeta’s line above, my brother explained that in the show, there were all sorts of aliens and such on Earth. So, Mr. Piccolo wasn’t an utter moron. He had a legitimate excuse. Humans who think drow and orcs are black people; however, are still stupid.

  4. Speaking of “offensive shows / problematic books,” I’ve been hearing about Japanese manga / anime creators appealing to the Japanese government for protection. They’re worried their freedom of expression is under threat from two fronts: China … and Western political correctness. On Japanese twitter, one person specifically says “Western political correctness is the enemy.”

    Now, the artists consider China a threat because some Chinese companies are attempting to buy Japanese manga / anime publishers. This would allow them to have a say in what stories can be told … or not told. We’ve seen how that’s working out for Western video game companies, and sports, and movies.

    As for the West, I gather Japanese artists and writers are not concerned about localization, where you really do have to adapt a work so that the relevant adapter culture can understand the story.*** They’re concerned about foreigners, including Amazon, being able to tell them what or how to draw. Amazon has apparently pulled several light novels and comics from the store.

    Besides that, I’ve seen hints here and there that anime/ manga are next on the Cancel Culture Chopping Block. Some people are insisting that those media are misogynistic. I see articles, like the one alleging that series such as “Attack on Titan” and “Full Metal Alchemist” are promoting fascism, which is the strangest take one can have on either of those series.

    To give an example of how stupid the article is, the writer thinks it’s a problem that the city-state in Attack on Titan is run by the military. Even though, the show is about the last humans on Earth being forced to live behind three colossal walls. On the other side of the walls are Titans, which are titanic, humanoid kaiju who eat humans. They can only be killed if you strike the nape of their necks with a special sword. Eerie parallels to Mussolini’s Italy, no? Anyway, the writer believes Eren, the main character, wants to kill the Titans because he’s bought into military propaganda. I guess seeing his mother get eaten alive by a Titan couldn’t be his actual motive?

    ***Classic example: Go Lion vs. 80s-era Voltron. “Beast King Go Lion” was the original, but when it was adapted as “Voltron: Defender of the Universe” for American kids, some changes had to be made. First, you don’t see the intro where Voltron battles the goddess of the universe, and she punishes his hubris by breaking him into the separate lions. I think she puts him under a geas to fight for Good instead of Evil.

    And I’m guessing (because I don’t remember) that in the V: DotU version, Voltron was never referred to as a god to worship as he is in Go Lion. Particularly with his “cross beam,” which is shaped like a Christian cross and is used to slay kaiju, or mecha-kaiju. Talk about your cultural appropriation! That show was never going air in America as a kids’ cartoon in the 80s if they kept the Voltron-as-a-defeated-god idea. The first two seasons of the Netflix version also avoid religious references, though likely for different reasons (I’ve never seen the other seasons).

    • I don’t know if things have changed since CRUNCHYROLL launched but the Manga/anime world used to ignore the western markets (and the massive piracy tgerein) because they lived just fine off their asian markets and didn’t need to worry about localization.
      They might decide to adopt a “take it or leave it” response to the cancel crowd.
      “You don’t like the stories we tell? Tell your own.”

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