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An Act of Literary Vandalism
Plus: Biden in Kyiv
As we are waking up, Joe Biden is making a surprise visit to Kyiv.
“One year ago, the world was literally at the time bracing for the fall of Kyiv... perhaps even the end of Ukraine... one year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. America stands with you, and the world stands with you."
In Michigan, the GOP doubles down on denialism and losing: “Kristina Karamo, ultra-conservative election denier, is new Michigan GOP chair.”
For Morning Shots, Presidents’ Day is just another day at the office.
We start this morning with a story that distinguishes itself by its tooth-aching absurdity, even in our age of absurdities.
Augustus Gloop, I regret to tell you, is no longer fat, as Roald Dahl goes PC.
Mrs Twit is no longer fearfully ugly, and the Oompa-Loompas have gone gender-neutral in new editions of Roald Dahl’s beloved stories.
The publisher, Puffin, has made hundreds of changes to the original text, removing many of Dahl’s colourful descriptions and making his characters less grotesque….
As the Guardian notes, this wholesale Bowdlerization of the classic texts by the publisher is the work of “sensitivity readers” who hail from something called “Inclusive Minds,” which is “a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature”.
The company that owns the copyright is now owned by (sigh) Netflix, which hired the “readers” to “scrutinize the text”; which they did with a passion that clearly exceeded their literary talents and their judgment. Take a look:
References to physical appearance have been heavily edited. The word “fat” has been removed from every book - Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may still look like a ball of dough, but can now only be described as “enormous”.
In the same story, the Oompa-Loompas are no longer “tiny”, “titchy” or “no higher than my knee” but merely small. And where once they were “small men”, they are now “small people”….
Boys and girls” has been turned into “children”. The Cloud-Men in James and the Giant Peach have become Cloud-People and Fantastic Mr Fox’s three sons have become daughters.
The sensitivity readers were not, however, content with merely changing language. They actually added whole sections that the famed children’s author never wrote.
In The Witches, a paragraph explaining that witches are bald beneath their wigs ends with the new line: “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”
Matilda reads Jane Austen rather than Rudyard Kipling, and a witch posing as “a cashier in a supermarket” now works as “a top scientist”.
The poetry is mangled and dulled down.
In previous editions of James and the Giant Peach, the Centipede sings: “Aunt Sponge was terrifically fat/And tremendously flabby at that,” and, “Aunt Spiker was thin as a wire/And dry as a bone, only drier.”
Both verses have been removed, and in their place are the underwhelming rhymes: “Aunt Sponge was a nasty old brute/And deserved to be squashed by the fruit,” and, “Aunt Spiker was much of the same/And deserves half of the blame.”
References to “female” characters have disappeared - Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, once a “most formidable female”, is now a “most formidable woman”.
The pecknsiffs assigned to vandalize Dahl’s work, feared that fragile children would be offended by an extraordinarily wide range of words, phrases, and images.
One of Dahl’s most popular lines from The Twits is: “You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams.” It has been edited to take out the “double chin”.
The words “black” and “white” have been removed: characters no longer turn “white with fear” and the Big Friendly Giant in The BFG cannot wear a black cloak.
How stupidly offensive is all of this? We defer to Salman Rushdie, who knows a bit about the culture of intolerance for inconvenient words.
Meanwhile: The Free Speech advocates at PEN America note that “Education Censorship is continuing to spread across the country in 2023, with 86 educational gag orders introduced as of February 14 this year.”
Bills legislating educational censorship in schools, colleges, universities, and libraries have been on the rise in the past two years, as PEN America has documented previously.
At the state level, the 2023 legislative session is shaping up similarly; there has been a large increase in clones of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, a slight decrease in “divisive concepts” bills, and overall a similar number of bills introduced this year compared with 2022. Many of these bills follow templates established in prior sessions, but some reflect novel proposals to bring censorship to new extremes.
“A Black Professor Trapped in Anti-Racist Hell”
Based on the reaction to my podcast last week with Damon Linker — who both opposes extreme versions of “wokeness” and the crude censoriousness of Ron DeSantis — it’s obvious that many on the left (and the readers of this newsletter) don’t think there’s any problem at all with CRT, DEI programs, or whatever passes for CRT. And because these concepts have been cynically demagogued by so many charlatans on the right, there seems to be a tendency to think that none of the criticism has any validity.
So I offer this must-read piece, which has some details about the new ideology of speech as harm, and its implications for academic freedom and rational discourse.
The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf highlighted a remarkable essay by Vincent Lloyd, a Black professor at Villanova University. Lloyd is no newcomer to the world of anti-racism. He has directed the Black Studies program, leads workshops on anti-racism and transformative justice, and has written several books on anti-Black racism, including Black Dignity: The Struggle Against Domination.
“Until recently,” writes Friedersdorf, “he was dismissive of criticism of the way that the left talks about race in America.”
But then, the nightmare — a seminar for high school students at a highly selective summer program sponsored by the Telluride Association.
As Lloyd later recounted in an essay for Compact Magazine, the experience quickly devolved. Two students with unorthodox views were expelled by their peers, while the remaining students read a prepared statement about “how the seminar perpetuated anti-black violence in its content and form, how the black students had been harmed, how I was guilty of countless microaggressions, including through my body language, and how students didn’t feel safe because I didn’t immediately correct views that failed to treat anti-blackness as the cause of all the world’s ills.”
Before, the event, writes Friedersdorf, “he had quickly rejected the linguist and social commentator John McWhorter’s argument that anti-racism is a new religion.”
“Last summer,” Lloyd wrote, “I found anti-racism to be a perversion of religion: I found a cult.” Opinions that didn’t parrot the dogma were silenced and students who dissented were kicked out. Other students objected to facts, which they felt “harmed” them. “They had learned, in one of their workshops, that objective facts are a tool of white supremacy.”
Lloyd’s essay is worth your time, even though it may challenge your priors:
Like others on the left, I had been dismissive of criticisms of the current discourse on race in the United States. But now my thoughts turned to that moment in the 1970s when leftist organizations imploded, the need to match and raise the militancy of one’s comrades leading to a toxic culture filled with dogmatism and disillusion. How did this happen to a group of bright-eyed high school students?
He described how all dissent was slapped down and punished. “In the 2022 anti-racism workshops, the non-black students learned that they needed to center black voices—and to shut up.”
“The effects on the seminar were quick and dramatic.”
During the first week, participation was as you would expect: There were two or three shy students who only spoke in partner or small-group work, two or three outspoken students, and the rest in the middle. One of the black students was outspoken, one was in the middle, and one was shy. By the second week of the seminar, the two white students were effectively silent. Two of the Asian-American students remained active (the ones who would soon be expelled), but the vast majority of interventions were from the three black students. The two queer students, one Asian and one white, were entirely silent.
Then we get to the whole idea that certain facts — and data — should not be discussed because they caused “harm.”
In their “transformative-justice” workshop, my students learned to name “harms.”…
In the language of the anti-racism workshop, a harm becomes anything that makes you feel not quite right. For a 17-year-old at a highly selective, all-expenses-paid summer program, newly empowered with the language of harm, there are relatively few sites at which to use this framework. My seminar became the site at which to try out—and weaponize—this language.
During our discussion of incarceration, an Asian-American student cited federal inmate demographics: About 60 percent of those incarcerated are white. The black students said they were harmed.
They had learned, in one of their workshops, that objective facts are a tool of white supremacy.
Outside of the seminar, I was told, the black students had to devote a great deal of time to making right the harm that was inflicted on them by hearing prison statistics that were not about blacks. A few days later, the Asian-American student was expelled from the program.
Give it a Listen
On our weekend podcast, I was joined by the Atlantic’s David Frum to discuss Fox News, the GOP’s obnoxiousness problem, and something about that Austen Powers Swedish Penis Enlarger sketch…
Please consider subscribing.
Meanwhile in Ukraine:
“Feeling ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘fatigue,’ some GOP voters look beyond Trump”
Nearly all of the focus group participants had supported Donald Trump in 2020 and said they would vote for him again against President Biden in 2024. But things got complicated when the moderator asked for the one emotion they now felt when they saw Trump on television or computers screens.
“That’s a hard one. That’s a hard one,” said Angela, 53, from South Carolina. “Just because of the way they’ve done him.” She spoke of Trump’s opponents who had tried to hurt him both in office and since he left the White House. “It’s more of an embarrassment for him for what they put him through,” she added. “I feel embarrassed for him.”
“The current Trump is not the Trump that I voted for,” said Nancy, 69, from Iowa. “I feel like he has shown some things, qualities and non-qualities, whatever, that I don’t care for now.”
Such hesitation and ambiguity dominated two recent focus groups of persuadable Republican primary voters from the key early nominating states of New Hampshire, Nevada, Iowa and South Carolina. In the sessions with 14 votes, conducted for The Washington Post by research firms Engagious and Schlesinger, most stood by their past support for the onetime undisputed Republican leader. The future was a different issue, with most saying they would vote for someone else in the GOP primary. Half of the group said they would vote for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.