Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Bowdlerization and Mutilation

January 2011 has been a bad month.  First, some loser published a new edition of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  The major contribution of this new edition - the elimination of the N-word from the text.  I've been fairly happy that there has been a proper amount of outrage over this and most seem to understand why this is a bad/stupid thing to do.

About the same time as the SafeTwain was published, PBS began airing the recent UK TV phenom Downtown Abbey.  But because certain PBS executives think Americans are stupid, certain parts of the series have been cut to eliminate material they fear we will not understand and to speed up the action because we cannot stay focused without jumping right in to the story.  Who do they think is watching a costume drama about servants and the English aristocracy anyway?  I started watching the original but haven't got very far yet.  This might not be for me.

I read a lot of English fiction and watch a lot of English TV and I constantly encounter material I do not understand.  This is why Google was invented.  For instance, I am currently reading Kate Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog.  Lots of bad things happened in Leeds/Yorkshire in the 1970s and Atkinson makes reference to the Gene Hunt and Jack Regan school of policing.  I got the Gene Hunt reference (I watched the original UK version of Life on Mars - not the bowdlerized version they showed here or the insipid American remake) but had to Google Jack Regan.  Turns out, he's from The Sweeney - which I sort of know about but have never seen.  (Hard to imagine that nice old Inspector Morse was a bad ass before he became Inspector Morse.)  I am reading the UK edition of the book and wonder if this bit will make the American edition when it is published in March.  (And why the delay?)

Earlier this month I read The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin by David Nobbs.  I heard Jonathan Coe talk about this book on the radio and that made me really want to read it - because Coe may be my favorite writer.  I guess the TV series of the same name was a big hit (in the US, too, I've heard, mainly because of endless PBS reruns but I never knew about it).  I thought the book was wonderful.  I tried the TV series but it was too painful to watch.  Book seems far superior and maybe the show was funnier in 1975.  While researching the TV series, I found that the new DVD set available in the US has been bowdlerized - they took out something making fun of minorities (or making fun of people who are scared of minorities).  We can put these DVDs on the shelf next to the new Mark Twain.

One thing I was surprised to see and hear was the use of the N-word in Fawlty Towers.  I've been watching that via Netflix and just saw the episode called The Germans.  I'd seen parts of this before but not the whole thing.  In the first half of the episode, before we get to the Don't Mention the War stuff, the Major tells Fawlty a story about a cricket match and refers to the N*s.  As the Major is a washed up, drunken fossil, I take the N-word from his mouth to be more about him than those to whom he refers.  Wonder if it was the same in 1975?

I also read the English and American versions (don't ask) of Lee Child's latest, Worth Dying For.  The only differences I noticed?  Tyres and tires.  This I can live with.