Wednesday, April 28, 2004

The DVD Editing Machine

John Scalzi has a post today on DVD Machines that edit out offensive bits for home viewers.  I commented, and he replied, also in the same post.

To properly follow up, I need to use a bad word.  One that begins with "f."  So, please, step away from the journal if you don't want to your innocent eyes to be exposed to such naughtiness.

And the follow-up involves a little story about AOL censorship.

Once upon a time there was a really brilliant columnist named Cecil Adams, who wrote a column called "The Straight Dope."  You ask him questions, he answers them.  ANY questions.  Funny, funny guy.

So, once upon a time, someone asks him a question about whether it's true that Eskimos have nine words for snow.  He answers with a particularly hilarious column about how a certain Eskimo dialect is a polysynthetic language whereby you create words by throwing prefixes, suffixes and roots together -- thus attach the word "bad" to the word for "snow" and you've created a single word for "bad snow."  Cecil ends the column by saying that, in his spare time, he is attempting to create a sentence in Eskimo.  He says, "When completed, this sentence will proclaim: 'Look at all this fucking snow.'  At present it means: 'Observe the snow. It fornicates.'"

I laughed my butt off.  

For a time, AOL carried The Straight Dope.  The site on AOL started building an archive of Cecil's past columns.  And, because of TOS and not wanting to offend anyone, they changed the line to read:

"When completed, this sentence will proclaim: 'Look at all this freaking snow.'  At present it means:  'Observe the snow.  It fornicates.'"

Note the absence of humor.  The humor of "fucking snow" translated into fornicating snow doesn't exist when the snow is simply "freaking."

Roasted my cookies, it did.  Perfectly good punchline lost because someone (either human or machine) thought, "Hey, we can just replace an instance of 'fucking' with 'freaking' and it'll be fine."

No.  It won't.  I can't show my friends my favorite Cecil Adams column online because the joke isn't THERE anymore.  What's worse, anyone stumbling upon this column isn't going to get the joke, and might -- in fact -- think Cecil isn't nearly as fornicatingly funny as I do.

Anyway, this little foray into bad words and AOL's act of censoring them is just my best-known example of how a single instance of apparently innocent censorship can really mess with the purpose of the piece.  And to those who say, "Yes, but at least by reading the censored version of Cecil Adams, we were exposed to his work, and edited Cecil is better than no Cecil at all," I reply, "No, what you're reading isn't Cecil Adams."  And in the same way, I think that people who watch DVDs on the DVD-snipping machines really aren't seeing the movies that were meant to be seen.  (Way, way worse than colorizing, people.)

(In an extremely ironic post-script, I note that, for one reason or another, Cecil Adams moved off AOL and is now found on the web.  The archived version of the snow column on his website still contains "Freaking."  Apparently, they forgot to edit the bad word back in.)


annalisa135 said...

whatever happened to freedom of speech?  editing takes away that freedom in my opinion.  now that you are off the soapbox, may i applaude?  excellent entry.  i concur.

andreakingme said...

Oh, this was freakingly well done, NZ! Now this is what I call making a point. Atta girl.