Thursday, March 12, 2015

Hester Prynne is dead!

Lillian Gish goes to the scaffold once more in an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

Thomas Bowdler's legacy
You might have noticed some cosmetic changes here at Dead 2 Rights lately. Allow me to explain them, as they represent some not-insignificant alterations to the site's content as well. First of all, this blog's flirtatious previous mascot, late pinup model Fran Gerard (aka Miss March 1967), has been replaced by the stern, unsmiling visage of one Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), an English physician best known for producing The Family Shakespeare.

Bowdler's infamous tome, first published in 1807, was a volume containing expurgated -- which is to say "cleaned-up" -- versions of William Shakespeare's plays. "Nothing is added to the text," proclaimed an 1819 advertisement, "but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family." So Lady Macbeth's "Out, damned spot!" became "Out, crimson spot!" Because of The Family Shakespeare, Bowdler's name became forever synonymous with censorship. To bowdlerize something is, in essence, to remove the naughty bits.

Thomas Bowdler's intentions were not altogether -- or even chiefly -- evil. He lived in a more prudish time than ours and simply wanted a version of the Bard that he could share with his wife and children. Because of Bowdler and his book (or, rather, series of books, for The Family Shakespeare was a franchise), the teaching of Shakespeare to younger children became more acceptable.

Other editors had gone much further than Bowdler, actually tacking on happy endings to some of Shakespeare's tragedies. Bowdler's work was meant to counteract that sort of desecration. But no matter: Thomas Bowdler was rendered a villain by history, a sour-faced scold who dared to censor the greatest writer in history. Tough luck, Tommy.

Nearly two centuries after Bowdler's death, writers and artists must still contend with the prevailing moral attitudes of their time. This blog, for instance, has been created on the Blogger platform. Blogger, in turn, is owned by Google. And Google has, I can assure you, an absolute horror of sex. They're not alone. Lots of people have a horror of sex. It disturbs them to a greater extent than any act of violence ever could. For many of these people, nudity and sex are synonymous. The image of a bared female breast is, for these people, a source of great discomfort. That's just a reality. It's how people think.

So what does this mean for me? Well, for the last few months, it has meant that my blog has had a "Content Warning" screen that readers had to click through before they could read whatever I'd just written. I opted to put one on there myself so that Google wouldn't do it for me. That would have been far too embarrassing. To be honest, though, I hated that warning, even though it was self-inflicted. I cringed every time it popped up on my own screen. Yes, even I had to click through it to reach my own blog. Even though I have never profited one dime from Dead 2 Rights, that warning made me feel like a pornographer. Like Hester Prynne, I was wearing a badge of sexual shame. Hers was red, mine was orange.

So this week, I did what I felt I had to do: I bowdlerized the holy hell out of Dead 2 Rights. In essence, I performed an exorcism on this blog... or, perhaps more accurately, a sexorcism. As far as I can remember, not a word of the text has been altered, though some links have been removed, as have some embedded videos.

Most crucially, over 50 images have been voluntarily altered rather than excised. Exposed breasts, vaginas, penises, and even asses have been dutifully blacked out. As you might imagine, this almost exclusively affects the Ed Wood Wednesdays series. I'm very proud of the work I have done on those articles, and I want them to remain easily available and accessible. If that means putting black rectangles over some boobies, so be it.

Thanks for understanding,