A new app has come to my attention. It’s called Clean Reader, and its pitch is “Read books, not profanity.” What does it do? It filters out the “bad” words from a book as you’re reading it, either blocking them with an opaque rectangle or offering an acceptable (non-profane) alternative. Now on the surface, this might seem like a harmless idea…and hey, maybe it’s even a good thing if it means more readers will be able to enjoy my cleaned-up books, right?
I have two main–and strong–objections to this idea. First, it all boils down to the fact that someone has decided they know better than me how to write my books–or rather, how to rewrite them. This does not make me a happy camper. Or a happy writer. Because wth??? They’re changing books without the consent of authors. Seriously.
When I write a story, I choose my words with great care. I labour over them for days…weeks…months. Hell, I angst over my words as much as I did my children when the latter were teens (and if you’ve raised teens, you’ll understand how much angst that requires 😯 ).
Words form the world that I build for my story and the characters who inhabit that world. Words are my story. Start changing those words, and you change my story. Without my permission. And as Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, points out so succinctly, “Editors often suggest changes to the text, but no-one, not even the publisher, is allowed to impose changes, or to republish a censored, abridged or altered version of a text without the permission of the author.”
Yet, here is Clean App doing just that. Really??
And going beyond the obvious wrongness of that issue, we come to another even more pervasive one: just who the heck gets to decide what words are profane, and how far will it go?
Right now Clean Reader’s settings include “clean,” “cleaner,” and “squeaky clean,” with “clean” allowing readers to filter out the more profane words such as fuck, and “squeaky clean” filtering out all profanity (including damn) along with what the app calls “hurtful racial terms.”
But it doesn’t end there, because on its “squeaky clean” setting, the app goes on to filter out anatomically correct names for body parts! Have we really taken that big a step backwards? As Joanne points out in her response to an email she received from Clean Reader, “the toxic message [this] carries (that body parts are shameful and must not be mentioned by name; that sex is dirty and shameful) is likely to be extremely harmful to impressionable young people, and may result in serious psychological damage, with all the social consequences that may entail.”
To which I would add duh.
Far from being harmless, this app smacks of censorship to me–and
we only have to look back on history to see what a slippery slope that can be. No, nope, nuh-uh, no way can we ever go in that direction again.
As to the idea that more readers will be able to read my books because they won’t be offended by the language? I say balls to that. If you don’t want to read the story I wrote, I suggest you go find another one instead, because you sure as hell don’t have the right to rewrite mine and I will not be censored.
P.S. Thanks to Chuck Wendig for bringing this to my attention via his blog post.
Important Update! After feedback from authors, Clean Reader has removed all books from its catalogue. Yes!!! 🙂