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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: If ‘Huck Finn’ is better without the word “nigger,” what movies could be similarly improved?

It’s an exciting time to be a consumer of entertainment! You’ve probably heard that many American school districts have been reluctant to teach Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it contains lots of language — particularly a nasty epithet for black people used repeatedly — that offends delicate folk. The solution? Don’t challenge attitudes, change the book! Mark Twain scholar Alan Gribben is publishing a new edition of Huck Finn, plus The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in the same volume in which all the instances of the word nigger will be replaced by the word slave (injun will be cut, too). Why, they mean the same thing anyway!

As Gribben told Publishers Weekly, it all makes perfect sense:

This is not an effort to render Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn colorblind. Race matters in these books. It’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.

Of course race matters! And if Mark Twain had been a smart guy, he’d have written about race in a way that matters. Gribben is the smart guy who knows how to deal with race and racism in the 21st century:

After a number of talks, I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person they said we would love to teach [Tom Sawyer], and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can’t do it anymore. In the new classroom, it’s really not acceptable.

The new classroom, you see, alters itself to suit the delicacies of the ignorant, instead of educating the ignorant to understand the complexity of the world. It’s why it’s essential that creationism– I mean, intelligent design must be taught to our children. If they read Huck Finn with all those n-words, and then learn that they’re descended from monkeys, well, who knows where we’d be? It’s a fair guess that it would be the end of America, that’s for sure!

And so there’s no reason that we couldn’t extend this excellent notion to other works of art that challenge us instead of coddling us, as we deserve to be coddled by art.

If Huck Finn is better without the word nigger, what movies could be similarly improved?

We should start by removing all the violence from The Godfather — that gives children terrible ideas! — and all the dead corpses from Schindler’s List: so unpleasant! And it should be a snap, with today’s computer technology, to put Clark Gable’s shirt back on in that scene in It Happened One Night — that’s really where all our troubles began, I suspect. Men walking around half naked? Disgraceful!

What do you think?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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