Monday, January 31, 2011

From Tiananmen Square to Cairo

Last week, I saw an image from the uprising in Egypt that at first seemed uncannily familiar, and I thought it might become an iconic image of the recent events in Cairo.  The image was from a video of a lone man who confronted a police truck that was armed with a water cannon.

The power of the image was quite clear -- the lone, unarmed man standing up to the power of an oppressive government embodied in an imposing, armored vehicle using force against its own citizens.

This image struck me as similar to the famous one from the university student occupation of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China in 1989.  In that image (also seen on video), a lone student confronts a line of tanks.

The image from China suggests some of the same power as the image from Cairo.  There are some differences, though.  Several tanks are more intimidating than a truck with a water cannon.  And the line of tanks famously stopped.  The commander of the lead tank did not run over the man confronting them.  This suggested the power of the people to effectively stop the oppressive force of a government, and it suggested a solidarity between the man confronting the tanks and the soldiers in the tanks.  They are both citizens of the same nation.  They should not be fighting each other.

Despite the power of the Chinese image, it does not capture the whole story.  The uprising in Tiananmen Square was put down by the Chinese army, with hundreds of unarmed people being killed by their fellow citizens.  This famous image does convey the potential for that massacre -- a lone man standing against four tanks does not stand much chance if the soldiers in the tanks do not recognize him as a brother.

This isolated image from Cairo also does not tell the whole story -- I know no image can, but we press meaning upon them anyway.  The police truck did not stop, as the tanks did.  The policeman inside apparently did not feel solidarity with the people in the streets.

Also, the lone man was quickly joined by friends.  The man was knocked down by the water cannon, but he got back up and the protesters bent the cannon so that it shot straight into the air.  I read one account that indicated the driver of the truck was eventually forced out of the cab, though that is not captured in the video.

So the image from Cairo does tell a story, but a story different from my first impression.  It is a story of the bravery of the people of Egypt to confront the powers of their government.  It is the story of the general ineffectiveness of the Cairo police.  It is the story that many of us are hoping turns out differently from China's in 1989.

I saw one image online today that may, in retrospect, capture the story of the Egyptian uprising.  Again it involves a water cannon.  But this image involves many citizens and not a lone man in the middle of a street.  This image involves many people confronting the violence of the police with the power of peace and prayer.  Perhaps the brave people on that bridge are praying for justice.  I hope they get it.  But I hope they also are praying for peace, for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Egypt.

I know already that the image does not tell the whole story of the events in Cairo.  There has been violence and death.  There has been crime and chaos.  But I hope that this image predicts the future.

I know that the American Civil Rights Movement was very different from the current revolution in Egypt.  I am not trying to project American values or ideals onto Egyptians.  But the image from the bridge does remind me of something said by Martin Luther King Jr. when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964:

I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs and even death.... After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time -- the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Watching Together

Some people say media technologies push us apart.  They say our televisions, MP3 players, smart phones, and computers isolate us from each other.  There is some truth to this.

I have walked by the Starbucks near my house and seen it full of people -- all of them with their laptop computers in front of them, many of them with earphones connected to their computers, and none of them talking with each other.  A room full of people communing with their devices or communing with people in distant places on their devices.

Consider the title of Sherry Turkle's recent book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

But in other ways, our media technologies bring us together.  They provide experiences for people to share simultaneously across the nation.

For instance, 25 years ago today, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in the Florida sky not long after its takeoff.  And this happened on live television.  Millions saw it at the same time.  Many people can recall where they were, what they were doing (other than watching television).  Thousands of school children saw it happen because they were in their classrooms watching together.  Christa McAuliffe was onboard, and she was a school teacher.  The first school teacher to go into space.  Or at least try to.

I was working at a newspaper in Oklahoma on that day in 1986.  I recall standing in the newsroom with my coworkers, watching the takeoff.  I recall us asking, "It is supposed to be doing that?"  A moment later, the shuttle exploded.

I do not simply recall it.  I can see it all vividly.  The newsroom.  My friends who worked there.  The papers I held in my hand.  Where I stood.  The television that was suspended near the ceiling so the entire newsroom could see it throughout the day.

These national experiences shared through the media are not new.  Many people, for instance, can remember where they were when they heard that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.  The nation knew instantly because of television and radio.  But not every person was listening or watching at the same time.  People often tell stories about where they were when they learned of the event.  Not where they were when they witnessed it.

I think that makes a big difference in the degree to which such events are burned into the national memory.

I think it also can make some events seem more important than others because their images were shared.  Some important things happen off camera, but they do not impact the national consciousness as they should simply because they are not on television.

A commentator was on NPR this week talking about the Challenger disaster.  He said that the Challenger disaster taught Americans that space travel was more dangerous than they had believed it to be. He said this explains the lack of national trauma when Columbia broke up when re-entering the Earth's atmosphere in 2003 -- we were not that surprised.  I don't know that he is right.  I think the real difference is that so much of the nation was watching Challenger's launch.  Not nearly as many people were following Columbia's path toward its scheduled landing.  At that stage, it was still a dot in the sky over New Mexico and then Texas.  There was not much to televise.

A similar phenomenon happened with the events on Sept. 11, 2001.  The nation watched the World Trade Center be destroyed.  We all saw the second plane fly into a building.  We all watched the two towers burn and then collapse.  Those images became iconic.  They have been repeated countless times in photograph, video, and art.

But on that same day the Pentagon was attacked and people died there.  And the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 fought their hijackers and the plane crashed in a field outside Shanksville, Penn., killing everyone on board.  Yet those two events did not capture the national imagination as much as the events in New York City.  We can say that this is reasonable because so many more people died at the World Trade Center.  In that sense, it was more tragic.  But, again, I think the real difference is that one event was witnessed on live television and the others were not.  No iconic images are available from the Pentagon or Pennsylvania.

The "live" quality of these images can be exaggerated.  Once captured, the images can be played throughout the day -- as they were on Sept. 11.  How many times did we see the airplane fly into the side of the building?  How many times did we see Challenger explode?  And in the days after the events?  A dozen?  A hundred?  A thousand?

At the heart of ritual is repetition.  Sometimes within the individual ritual, its participants repeat some words, songs, or actions.  If not that, then the ritual itself is repeated through the year or from year to year.  The showing and sharing of these nationally traumatic images can become like a ritual.  Like a ritual, they are shared.  Through the repetition that marks ritual, they are embedded more deeply into our memories and identities.  And like many rituals, this process is shared with a community.  In this case, the nation.

Rituals also mark a break in the sequence of daily or mundane activities.  For instance, many people do not go to school or work for certain holidays.  When traumatic events are televised, the media spectacle can become like a ritual in that the normal broadcast schedule is interrupted.  In a sense, time stops.  On Sept. 11, schools closed.  Government workers were sent home.  Our daily clocks stopped, and we entered ritual time. And in that space we shared the virtual experience of the national trauma.

For more on this idea of media spectacle as ritual, see Yasmin Ibrahim's "Distant Suffering and Postmodern Subjectivity: The Communal Politics of Pity."

Richard Scobee
Also, I should say the Challenger disaster touched me in a personal way.  Not at the time, but later.  A few years later I met and became very close friends with Kathie Scobee Fulgham -- the daughter of Challenger's commander, Richard Scobee.   In order to have become commander of a space shuttle, he must have been a great astronaut.  And judging from the wonderful human being his daughter became, he must have been a great father.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Eyes Wide Shut

I want to contradict myself.  Or at least appear to do so.

I recently wrote about the apparent futility of efforts to censor some texts.  I suggested that the act of censorship oftentimes calls attention to the censorship's target.  In writing this, I quoted Italian semiotician Umberto Eco on the futility of techniques to aid forgetting: "But this technique allows one not to forget something but to remember that one wanted to forget it."  But now I am writing about a dangerous and frequently effective means of forgetting.

We generally think of "ideology" as meaning a set of beliefs.  But it is more than that.  Ideology includes the stories a group tells about itself in order to explain the meaning and origin of its beliefs.  Also, ideology includes the principles that will guide that group's interpretation of its experiences.   In doing these two things -- explaining the past and guiding the present -- an ideology frequently requires some forgetting or ignoring of facts that challenge its interpretations or principles.

In academic circles, this process of forgetting, hiding, or ignoring is called "mystification."  Terry Eagleton, in his book Ideology: An Introduction, writes that this process "frequently takes the form of masking or suppressing social conflicts."  In this way, an ideology can be "an imaginary resolution to real contradictions."

So, one could argue that the revision of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in order to eliminate "nigger" is an example of this.  One could say that if we collectively forget the novels had this ugly word in them, we can more easily accept our national history; doing this could diminish the pain of prejudice, racism, and slavery.  Americans like to think of themselves as freedom-loving and inclusive of all races, but that ugly word reminds Americans that this wasn't always the case.  The solution?  Rather than revise their beliefs about themselves, some Americans find it easier to eliminate the word.  That does not undo the very real history of prejudice, racism, and slavery, but it allows Americans to pretend it does.  That is, it creates "an imaginary resolution to real contradictions."

However, I do not believe this example of ideology holds true with the recent revision of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.  The new edition from NewSouth calls attention to its revision; it may "mask ... social conflicts" but it calls attention to the mask.  Ideology rarely calls attention to itself as a self-conscious effort to shape a story or tell story; instead, it pretends to tell "the truth" about the past or present.

A recent example that DOES illustrate the process of ideological mystification is taking place in Tennessee.  There, members of the Tea Party want to revise the school curriculum to eliminate criticisms of the Founding Fathers based upon their treatment of American Indians or ownership of African slaves.  This effort is particularly interesting in its honesty.

One of their requests for the state government, as reported in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, is that "No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.”

Impressive.   It openly says that even THE TRUTH should not obscure the reputation of the Founding Fathers.  Since those truths are inconvenient, they need to be eliminated or diminished.  The Tea Party wants "imaginary resolutions" to the "social contradiction" of the Sons of Liberty denying liberty to others and dealing dishonestly with nations that held North America before their arrival.

So, although I am not alarmed at the effort to sanitize Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, I do not like this proposed revision of history curriculum.  The Twain scholar who has revised the novels, Alan Gribben, has done so in order to get the books into more classrooms in Alabama, where they often have been excluded because of the word "nigger."  While to some degree the novels present an "imaginary solution," they will make possible a discussion of "social contradictions" by their new presence.  But this effort by the Tea Party in Tennessee functions to eliminate discussion in the classroom.

Although the Tea Party folks are honest about their motivations, I doubt the revised textbooks will be as forthright.  I doubt the book covers will include stickers announcing: "New and Improved!  Now with less truth!"

At a news conference announcing the requests, a Tea Party spokesman said, "The thing we need to focus on about the founders is that, given the social structure of their time, they were revolutionaries who brought liberty into a world where it hadn’t existed, to everybody — not all equally instantly — and it was their progress that we need to look at."

Perhaps the spokesman didn't realize that he was making an argument FOR the inclusion of the contradictions between the Founding Fathers' beliefs and their practices.  How can we measure the progress of liberty without understanding who had their liberty denied and how they gained it?  To measure that progress, we need a discussion of African Americans and American Indians -- and women and Asian Americans and Mexican Americans and homosexuals, etc.  This discussion does not detract from the real accomplishments of the framers of the Constitution, but it does set those accomplishments in clearer context.

Finally, depending upon what the Tea Party spokesman meant by "a world," his statement may also be plain wrong.

If "a world" means the European world that had extended itself to North America, then perhaps the Founding Fathers did introduce a new type of liberty.  But if "a world" means simply North America, then he does not realize there were many native nations here already enjoying all types of liberty not realized in Europe.

All groups have an ideology.  It is impossible to have a society without one, without many.  However, we must remain aware of the ideologies to which we adhere, and we must remain aware of what our ideologies may be making us blind to or encouraging us to forget.  Otherwise, our ideologies can control us rather than us controlling them.  Otherwise, we will be guilty -- as the Tennessee Tea Party seems to be -- of what Emile Durkheim called "the use of notions to govern the collation of facts rather than deriving notions from them."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Snark-Infested Waters

Last night the Golden Globe Awards were handed out in Hollywood, and with them came the usual red carpet spectacle of actors passing the fans and the cameras like floats in a conspicuous consumption parade.

Each award show is followed online by fashionistas grading the appearances of the celebrities who run the gantlet of cameras and fans.  What puzzles me about this process is the apparent randomness of those assessments.

At Yahoo's OMG! site, Angelina Jolie was rated an A- for her glittering gown.  Scarlett Johansson was given a D and was accused of channeling the Bride of Frankenstein with her hair and derided for her embroidered dress.  Anne Hathaway received an A- for her dress that was "embellished with paillettes and Swarovski crystals."  And Vanessa Williams was given a B- with pretty much no commentary at all.

My problem?  I cannot see much quality difference among the dresses.  Of course, they are different.  I see that.  But why is Angelina Jolie's glittery dress worth praising and Scarlett Johansson's not?  Why is Anne Hathaway's dress "embellished" when to me it looks like it could have been made from a thousand Chiclets?  And why is Vanessa "Still Hot at 47" Williams given a begrudging B-?

I know taste is subjective, but it shouldn't be RANDOM.

And then there is Helena Bonham Carter.  The fashion police give her an F for her wild hair, her sunglasses, her mismatched shoes.  Don't they realize she is purposefully refusing to play their game?  Don't they realize she is giving them an F U?

I think I agree with Carter, who may be channeling Laura Mulvey.  In 1975 Mulvey published a famous and influential essay called "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema."  In it, she speculated that the camera in classic Hollywood films could be thought of as a heterosexual male.  That is, the camera looked at men and women differently.  It looked at women more as objects of sexual desire -- even though at least half of the people in the audience were women and probably 90 percent of those women were heterosexual.  Why not sexualize the men in the film, too?

Mulvey wrote,  "The cinema satisfies a primordial wish for pleasurable looking...."  But the pleasure it provides tends to be one kind: heterosexual male pleasure.  This teaches the women in the audience to look at other women from that perspective, Mulvey wrote.  That is, women begin to rate themselves and other women by how they can be pleasurable to view from a heterosexual male perspective.  When the women begin rating themselves according to the measure of that male gaze, they internalize its criteria and work to make themselves conform to it.  According to Mulvey, "In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact.... she holds the look, plays to and signifies male desire."

Can you say anorexia?  Can you say bulimia?  Can you say breast implants?

Mulvey called this habituated concern about physical appearance "to-be-looked-at-ness."  I realize that is not the most poetic turn of phrase, but I think it describes the process and I think it is true.  Hollywood encourages "to-be-looked-at-ness" in women.

Evidence that this has been interanlized by women in general and not just those in Hollywood is that the televised red carpet event tends to be most watched by women.  Women are watching and rating and admiring or deriding.

Meanwhile, men are not subjected to the same external and internal pressures.  The men in Hollywood cinema are not sexualized in the same way or to the same degree as the women.  And so the men in the audience are not conditioned to internalize a constant state of self-discipline and self-judgment.  They find it possible to think of themselves as attractive regardless of how they may actually appear.  (I think this has begun to change recently, as the male body is getting more sexualized in recent films, but that would be the subject of another essay.)

Evidence of the different criteria for judging men and women also can be found on Yahoo.  All of the photographs of women on the red carpet can be found under the title "Red Carpet Report Card."  The men?  They are found in a slideshow called "Dapper Dudes."  No grades.  No snark.  No distinguishing one man's appearance from another.  They pretty much all look like Brad Pitt.

The women are on display.  The men less so.  The women work to distinguish themselves from each other, the men seem to work toward homogeneity.  How many jokes have been made about the disaster of two women wearing the same dress to a party?  But how many men have run crying to the restroom because some other guy wore the same tuxedo?

These differing criteria help explain the common sight in Hollywood movies of the attractive woman with the average-looking man -- or even the below average looking man.  Think Kevin James married to Winona Rider in The Dilemma.  Or Kevin James married to Maria Bello in Grown Ups.  Think Homer and Marge Simpson.  Think Peter and Lois Griffin. 

Now try to think of an opposite example.  Hot husband, average wife.  You can get back to me when you think of one.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Other N-word

Of course, that word is Nazi.

It was directly or indirectly evoked last week in editorial cartoons about a new edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that replaced the word "nigger" with the word "slave."  There was much debate following announcement of that edition, and almost all of it negative.

Some of my friends may have been surprised when I posted "Goodbye, cruel word" and stated that the new edition didn't bother me much.  They may have been surprised because I teach American literature, and I have taught Huck Finn before.  As a literature professor, aren't I supposed to protect the importance of words and the sanctity of the artist's statement?

Yes and no.  Words are important.  But stories have lives of their own after publication, especially when they become as culturally significant as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn have.

I understand what the cartoonists were doing.  When you communicate in a medium as highly compressed as an editorial cartoon, you need to communicate as quickly and efficiently as possible.  For instance, a lab coat on a person in a cartoon could communicate either a scientist or a medical doctor.  But if you put a stethoscope around the person's neck, the image immediately communicates "medical doctor."  That stethoscope has become iconic for that profession.  Sometimes these iconic images outlive their real-world predecessors.  Look through The New Yorker cartoons and you will see businessmen in fedoras and carrying briefcases.  Although you may have found those hats on the street in the 1950s and 1960s or in an episode of Mad Men, you won't see them on Madison Avenue today.  Briefcases, yes.  Fedoras, no.  Yet they remain in some of the cartoons.  Their iconic status remains.

So, if you are a cartoonist and you wish to communicate something quickly and powerfully about repression or excessive use of government power and/or some kind of intolerance, you might depict someone in your image as a Nazi.

That is what these cartoonists did.  Despite the fact that the analogy makes little sense.

In his illustration, Pat Oliphant refers to those wishing to sanitize Twain's novels as the "political-correction Nazis."  In Michael Keefe's version, we do not have the word "Nazi," but we do see what we would call a German staff car flying flags that may or may not have swastikas on them and filled with dogs and men with tall caps.  These are all signs of Nazis that we have learned to identify from hundreds of World War II movies.

The problem here is that the "Nazis" wishing to "correct" Twain's novels are not government officials.  It is a private concern, a company producing an edition to be used in a Big Read Event in Alabama.  It seems more like the National Socialist Party of Hitler's Germany to burn a book rather than replace one word with another.  Or if they did allow an offending book to be printed, they would require an extensive rewriting, and not such a cosmetic change.  Although he may be called a "slave" in this new edition of Huck Finn, Jim remains a human owned by other humans who attempts to escape this fate and who is still clearly the target of prejudice and hatred in the antebellum South.

(We should note that the Alabama Big Read will use Tom Sawyer and not Huck Finn, but the latter novel has dominated the recent discussions about censorship probably because Jim is more central and "nigger" appears in it more often.  Huck Finn could also be dominating the conversation because it is the book more often taught, since it speaks more powerfully to race and class issues in American history than does Tom Sawyer, which is perceived as "just" an adventurous book for young people.)

One could say that a government entity is behind the censorship, since the National Endowment for the Arts sponsors Big Read events.  But it is unclear to me that the NEA requested Twain scholar Alan Gribben to make the changes when he was tapped to edit the volume officially connected to the Big Read.  But there is no requirement that those who participate in the Big Read use the NewSouth edition.  I am sure that school districts that participate will most likely order the new edition, but again they may not. 

None of this so far sounds very coercive or violent or mean-spirited, which are qualities we associate with Nazis.  Just ask Indiana Jones.

Nor is the effort to create a "nigger"-free version of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn also an effort to supplant all other versions, as Keefe's cartoon imagines.  Gribben's edition will exist alongside the MILLIONS of other copies of the novels already in existence.  And his edition very self-consciously calls attention to the changes it has made.

My previous post considered not whether these changes were right or wrong, but whether they were effective.  For me, this is little different from editing a film for broadcast on network television or altering Cee-Lo's lyrics.  Everyone listening to his latest hit knows he isn't saying "forget you" to the woman who spurned him.  Everyone reading Gribben's edition will know "slave" has taken the place of "nigger."

The strangest thing about the Nazi imagery is that the most recent efforts to ban the novels from schools or libraries have been from African Americans.  For instance, in 1998 the U.S. Court of Appeals heard a case brought by an African American mother seeking to have her daughter and "all other similarly situated individuals" not be required to read Twain's work.

Black Nazis?  NWA meets the SS?  Kind of a strange idea, if you ask me.  And definitely not depicted that way in the cartoons.  Nazis are usually the victimizers, not the victims.

Would Oliphant and Keefe have been willing to draw their cartoons that way, with African Americans showing up at the library to remove Twain's novels?  I don't think so.

I was open to Gribben's edition because I have never had the word "nigger" thrown at me in anger.  I do not know that pain, but I can imagine it.  And I can imagine it could interfere with one's enjoyment or participation in the novels' reading.  And if someone who otherwise would not read Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn WILL read them because he/she can avoid the pain of that word -- I don't have a problem with that.

As cultural institutions, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are large enough to withstand the change.

Oliphant and Keefe's cartoons also raise the issue of overusing powerful words rather than avoiding them.  We went through this in 1995, when Rush Limbaugh was criticized for talking about "feminazis."  If anyone with whom we disagree and whom we perceive as militant or extreme or repressive can then be equated with a military-political complex associated with killing millions of people and starting a world war that killed millions more, then "Nazi" has lost much of its meaning and much of its power.  And if we let it lose that, we might lose touch with the pain caused and injustices enacted by Nazis -- and if we do that, we might be more likely to think Nazis aren't that bad and allow them among us again.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Goodbye, cruel word


That is, What would Jay-Z do?

What would he do if someone changed his lyrics the way Alan Gribben has changed The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for NewSouth Books.  (Read about it here.)  You see, Gribben has eliminated the word "nigger" from two of Mark Twain's novels. 

He has removed it more than 200 times from Huck Finn alone.

He also removed the word "Injun," but that is not the word that got Twain's novel in trouble each year with school boards and parents and students.

Gribben's goal was to make the book acceptable to a broader audience for a Big Read event in Alabama.  A Big Read is a campaign to get everyone in a city or a state to read the same book at about the same time.  Gribben, who is a university professor and a Twain scholar, had encountered many people who refused to read the book because of that word so beloved by Mr. Beyonce Knowles.  Gribben felt the trade-off was not worth it: the benefit of avoiding that word for the price of not reading the novel.  He felt a different deal needed to be made: the alteration of a classic for an expansion in its readership.

So people have been debating whether this OK.  Is it OK to change the novel in this way?  Is it OK to broaden the novel's potential audience by making it less likely to offend readers, when making it more appealing may mean changing its impact?  The novel itself isn't racist, but it is about racism.  Perhaps removing the offending word will make the racist environment in which Huck grows up also less ugly to the audience.  Perhaps readers will think life wasn't so bad after all in the South for a person of African descent.

My friend, Dean Rader, writes for the San Francisco Chronicle's blog site, and he wrote about this issue this week.  His take: "For me, the Neosporined Huck Finn is not the right remedy for the injuries of slavery and racism; it's a band-aid that doesn't cover the wound." 

I have taught Huckleberry Finn and other texts containing "nigger."  What do I feel about this new edition?

I don't really care.  I wouldn't use it in my classroom.  But its existence doesn't cause me to worry.

After all, has Gribben really changed the novel?  No.  It still exists in its original version -- in millions of copies.  People who like Gribben's version well enough might be inclined to experience Twain's version.  That's good.  And everyone reading Gribben's edition probably will know they are reading the "Neosporined" version.  It's not like people who eat at Taco Bell believe they are eating real Mexican food.  Gribben's readers will know they have been given a version altered to fit their tastes.

That's the funny thing about censorship.  It so often calls attention to the thing it tries to hide.   

If you read my last posting, about the snow penis in Lafayette, Ind., you might have watched the video from the TV station that covered the story.  If you did, you would have noticed that the snow penis is never visible.  Instead, it is hidden by a pixelated blur.  But you know what?  Everyone looking at the blur was, in some fashion or another, imagining what the offending sculpture looked like.

Follow my instructions: Do not think of a snow penis.

See how that works?

Was anyone ever fooled by f--k?  Isn't "bleep" more effective than that?  At least then my mother could insert "darn!" or "dang!" in the place of "bleep."  But once a magazine or book is coy enough to present only the first and last letters of the offending word, the editors have forced my mother to hear in her head a word she would prefer not to hear.

Although we can create techniques for recalling information, it seems futile to create techniques for forgetting.  Italian writer Umberto Eco speculated on this in his essay "An Ars Oblivionalis?  Forget It!" -- "But this technique allows one not to forget something but to remember that one wanted to forget it."

For many of Gribben's readers, each time they see the word "slave," they will register at some level, "This word is replacing 'nigger'."  And so the offending word remains present by the marker of its absence.

The way true damage would be done to American literaray tradition would be if Gribben's version replaced all other versions of Huck Finn.  I don't think that is likely to happen.