This Content Is Clean!

movie_rating_labels_by_fairyfindings-d45tuzt So there’s this bonfire among the writing community blogosphere involving an app called Clean Reader. This is from its blog:

Clean Reader prevents swear words in books from being displayed on your screen. You decide how clean your books should appear and Clean Reader does the rest.

This is, as one of my friends pointed out, CleanFlicks for books. The first blog post I saw came from one of my favorite firebrands, Chuck Wendig. His blog post, which is gloriously “unclean”, has some legitimate points. If they are a) making changes to ebooks and reselling them without the consent of the publisher or b) selling books that are no longer available then this isn’t legal as far as I can tell.

If, as their copy says, they are filtering books without making changes to them, then as stupid as I think this idea is, I don’t see the problem. When a television channel airs an edited copy of a movie, no one screams bloody murder. They have permission and authorial intent be “darned”, they will make sure that your family doesn’t hear any naughty words or see any naughty bits.

I do plan downloading and trying it out. I’m curious to see what the whole deal is. I don’t plan on using it outside of curiosity, since I believe that an author’s work should be consumed unchanged. If words or images offend you, then it’s on you to see that you don’t consume those things (or that you get offended and then perhaps grow as a person).

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7 thoughts on “This Content Is Clean!”

  1. WARNING! NON-EXPERT OPINION AHEAD! PROCEED WITH CAUTION!

    Scott, I see your point with regard to networks airing edited films for time and content. I think, however, they license the film and it’s part of the license. I suspect that would be the distinction.

    However, the app doesn’t modify the underlying text it merely displays something else. So I then think of a live show that’s on a 5-second delay. This allows producers to intercept the audio or video and censor it.

    The best example I can think of is with a UFC fight I was watching on FOX a few years ago. One fighter was giving another the ole “free bird” and the feed would go blank when it happened. The whole Janet Jackson debacle at the SuperBowl led networks to air sporting events on a delay.

    So let’s add another twist. The reason a three-letter network would do this is because they would run afoul of FCC regulations. They have a legal obligation to prevent inappropriate content from hitting the airwaves. In such a case, content creators cannot point to copyright because one law supersedes the other.

    I’m specifically avoiding the whole moral side of the argument. However, I wonder if CleanReader would censor the passages in 1 Samuel and 1&2 Kings that talk about pissing against a wall?

    1. Hey John,

      You make some valid points. Like I said, as long as they have express permission to sell the ebooks they have in their store and they’re not violating any copyright law, I can’t see screaming bloody murder. It bothers me a little, but maybe there’s an upside. Some authors might get new readers and those new readers might get brave enough to take the blinders off.

      As to the Bible there’s also http://biblehub.com/ezekiel/23-20.htm and the verse that talks about using sacred objects for sexual purposes.

  2. The whole thing is a foul. The creators of the app did it because their daughter came home and was uncomfortable with a book she’d read.
    Instead of doing the RESPONSIBLE THING and talking to their daughter about language and how some words are used in ways that are a reaction to bad things happening or because people do tend to cuss in the real world, the parents upped the ante by creating an app that would block out, or “opaque” the offending words.
    It’s ridiculous and deflect the real issue. Their kid was uncomfortable which quite likely means she didn’t understand, which can be talked about in a mature way.
    NOPE.
    App that makes the bad words going away.
    By doing this, they’re harming not only their kid, but the basic fundamentals of language and the relationship between author and reader. If the reader doesn’t like something, put it down and turn to something else instead of imposing one will over the other.
    An author chooses the language that goes into the book. To censor that because someone is uncomfortable or offended is the first step toward making active widespread bannings and burnings.

    1. I think that’s a little bit of an overstatement. Plenty of works have been edited down to fit a certain person or organization’s worldview. Again, I think that’s stupid at worst and shortsighted at best, but it’s nothing new. I think of screenplays that start life as rated NC-17 in essence that are damped down to PG-13. At least this misguided attempt doesn’t remove the book from the world and the people that but the book are getting the full version. It’s just up to them as to whether or not to read it.

      1. I have to agree with RJKeith here. Are curse words that much of a problem? They’re just words. Expletives to express one’s emotions. Maybe unsavory, but in no way harmful.

        I’m probably seeing this through my Canadian glasses, though. You know we’re getting American shows and movies without the bleeps, don’t you?

        Canada has been accused of censoring its media because we don’t tolerate libel and hate speech. To us those are disgusting, because harmful. It’s in our Constitution. But the US tolerates it and prefers to do damage control after the harm is done. Even if most of the harm can’t be undone. I understand why this is so, though: freedom of speech. It’s in your Constitution.

        But curse words in the media are disgusting to Americans. How are those harmful? Who are they hurting, really? And shouldn’t they fall on the same freedom of speech rights?

  3. Annnnnd, here is another opinion (which as we know is identical to an APEhole, as they both smell.)

    Scott, I think the biggest issue with this app lies in the inherent manipulation of a story behind the author’s back. As Chuck Wendig said in his post, those words were chosen specifically by the author, with care and intent. They weren’t just SHOT upon the page at random, but rather, we’re written a purpose.

    The most important part to me is what those words and phrases show me about a character – their ideals, their intentions, their passions. Something I think she one of the most genuine parts of a story.

    Let me just paint a real world situation that could easily be portrayed on a page, and let it serve as evidence of how drastically it can change a character or situation.

    “You” and “I” are both patrons at bar. A conversation is started between us and the bartender about Unions and their effect on industry. After a few minutes of sharing our personal opinions and experiences, we realize we are stubbornly entrenched on opposite sides of the fence. Heated declarations are made, questions about one another’s intelligence arise, and at one point, you stand up from you chair, point a finger at me, and loudly declare:

    “You know what, f_____ you man!”

    Right there, that one word is going to display drastically different things to me about your character and dedication.

    “Forget” you, while more polite, will tell me you are a reserved, somewhat non-confrontational man, one who has strong opinions, but likely isn’t as emotionally invested as he could be, and one who might back down if faced with an aggressive, if not intimidating response. If I was truly dedicated to winning this argument (for whatever reason), I would feel confident that displaying an aggressive front wouwou

  4. would give me an edge.

    Meanwhile, the classic “F#%k you” tells me a lot more. It tells me you are pushed to your limit, your passions are fired up, and there is no telling what else you are capable of. If I keep pushing you, we could come to blows. It could be the thing that stops me dead in my tracks, and actually makes me be the one to back down.

    I might be alone in this, but that one word drastically changes my understanding of a character/event/what have you. And to have an app make such a change without an author’s consent, simply on the desire of the consumer to not see “dirty words”… That is heinous to me.

    As Chuck said, “I’d rather you just not read my book.”

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