Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Cocktail & Conversation -- Clean Reader App

Every other Thursday here at the Broke & The Bookish is  A Cocktail Conversation time. One of the TB&TB members will pose a question to 2-3 of the other members of TB&TB crew about books, life, music, etc and then they'll answer and we can converse about it. So grab a cocktail & cozy up for some conversation. It's 5 o'clock somewhere, friends.

I've seen a lot of talk about the Clean Reader App (if you aren't familiar check this article out). What are your opinions about it?

Bridget says:

 My basic understanding of the Clean Reader app is that it removes profanity from ebooks. From what I can tell, it doesn't change or replace them, it just blocks them out. I have...a lot of complicated feelings on this.

My first instinct is to shake my head and say, "To each his own," and probably wander away muttering about how some people are such weenies. But I also have a lot of half-formed "This is bad, but I can't really articulate why" thoughts. The first of these was summed up rather eloquently by one of my good friends: "If you can't handle profanity, you can't handle real life." Like, seriously with the pearl clutching. Reading the word "fuck" or "pussy" or "shit" or "cock" or whatever isn't going to kill you, and it's not going to turn your children into delinquents, either. So many people seem to look for things to be offended by. To those people, I give a hearty double middle-finger and say "Get a life."

But a more important argument against the Clean Reader is summed up quite nicely in this article. Here's a great quote (emphasis mine):

Profanity is a circus of language. It’s a drunken trapeze act. It’s clowns on fire. And let’s be clear up front: profanity is not separate from language. It is not lazy language. It is language. Just another part of it. Vulgarity has merit. It is expressive. It is emotive. It is metaphor.

In any book I've ever read, profanity is there for a reason. It's not superfluous language that you can just remove from books at will. You wouldn't rename a character because you didn't like their name, or decide they were white when you're told they're black, would you? The same goes for profanity. The author's intention is exactly what is written—no more and no less. To disrespect that in the name of "clean reading" is unconscionable. 

If you hate profanity so much, feel free to read books that don't contain profanity. But don't punish authors who use profanity (for perfectly good and legitimate reasons, I might add) by mangling or censoring their writing.

 Julia says:

So I knew the basics behind the app but I wanted to learn more so I read some articles. And after finding a list of words and their replacements here in an article,  I just don't understand. I get that they want to protect themselves or their children from being offended but that is how you learn and grow—you come across things that make you feel uncomfortable and explore why. I mean this is self censoring so I can't really say the app shouldn't exist, no one is trying to force it on the book world. I just don't agree with changing the original words, and potentially the original meaning, just for comfort. I mean seriously vagina and bottom are two completely different things. So if anything this is teaching bad anatomy. 
What do you guys think of the Clean Reader app? Do you have similar thoughts to Julia and Bridget or do you feel differently? 


  1. I've never heard of the app until this post. It's an interesting thought and I could see why it would appeal to parents (it's like bleeping out explicit words on TV) but at the same time I don't agree with it.

    However, if your child is reading a book that contains swear words that you don't want them to read or feel are not appropriate, should they really be reading it in the first place? Most novels for younger people don't have "swear" words (though they are certainly evolving) so I'm not sure why you would use the app.

    You can't censor other people in the real world and I would rather my child read about something in a book and ask me, then hear it on the street and use it without truly understanding its implications. Ignorance can do more harm than good and I think that is what this app will do in the long run.

  2. My concern is who decides what is profanity? Yes, we'd probably all agree that Fuck is. But how about "darn." What about "gosh?" Some people think that's using the Lord's name in vain (because it's in place of "God.") It's no different than what people consider too much sex in books. Is it hand holding? Kissing? Intercourse? Is it just referring to these thing? Or actually describing them? It just goes on forever. People need to decide for themselves. We don't need some arbitrary tool (in this case an app) deciding what's appropriate.

  3. I never even heard of this before, but after clicking on that link that was provided (thanks!) I have one thought. I don't like this at all. I know there are some people that don't like cursing in their books. Fine, I've got no problems with that. (In fact, I tend to prefer slightly cleaner language than most people I talk to.) However... How can I say this nicely and still get my strong feelings across... I think the book should be read how the author intends it. If they didn't want any profanity or allusions to sex in their book, they would have wrote it without them.

    I have another problem. I clicked on the link Julia provided (thanks again!). It lists words considered bad by the app and the alternatives that you can display. While some of these are perfectly viable alternatives, any inclination of respect I could have had went right out the window when 'jerk' was considered an alternative for 'bastard'. For some reason, 'jerk son' just don't quite mean the same thing.

  4. Interesting. I don't swear at all in real life (though once in a while in my head), and I generally read a lot of classics without a load of profanity.... but I still don't like the idea of this at all. I don't see how it's for children. As someone else noted, if a book is full of F-bombs, it's probably got a lot of other content that's above a kid's head. I remember being at a nightclub once where some profanity was bleeped out in a song, and thinking, if you're old enough to get into a bar, you're old enough to hear bad words, and if you don't want to hear them, you likely aren't too keen on a room full of people doing.... what drunk people do at clubs. ;) If you don't like books with a lot of swearing, just don't read them. I personally don't mind a little profanity, as long as I can see the purpose, but I wouldn't want to read something with all of those words 'edited'.

  5. Also, it's really weird that vagina and penis are bad words. These are body parts, people, not dirty words!

  6. Sometimes people give words way too much power.

  7. I hadn't heard of this before but I really don't think it's a good idea. What book that is written for a 9 year old has tons of profanity in it? People swear all the time and if you can't handle reading it then you might as well shut yourself in your house and never come out because so many people in the real world use profanity. Also, the word vagina was really edited out? I agree with Maggie - body parts aren't bad words! When I read a book if there's any profanity I prefer it be for a purpose. So if that's just that character's style, then all the power to them!

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks

  8. I think that this app is a very, very bad idea. No one has the right to alter an author's work in any way, shape, or form. They chose all their words very carefully so if you can't handle their choices, well, there are plenty of other books out there that you might like better. Sometimes I feel like we're moving backwards instead of forwards. :(

  9. This is very interesting. I once had a student who told me she wanted to be careful about what she put into her mind, just as she wanted to be careful what she put into her body. She was very respectful and articulate about it, and it was obviously important to her religious identity. In this specific case, she was objecting (politely) to a Junot Diaz reading I had assigned. I often think about that student and the validity of her position. I felt like it was her prerogative as an adult that make that decision for herself, and I'm sure she would appreciate the Clean Reader App. Personally...I can see the appeal, but I also think that profanity has its place in literature. A lot of times profanity is used very deliberately to create voice and atmosphere, or to make a point. Also, even if you shut it out of your reading, you can't shut it out of real life. People are frequently profane in real life, I feel, out of a lack of articulation--then again, I can see wanting to have control over it where you can.

    Sorry for the long comment. tl;dr : I agree with y'all, but I can see the other side too.

  10. I've seen a lot of bloggers condemning this app, and frankly I don't understand why. I think the "to each his own" approach is the most reasonable.

    This app isn't ruining literature. It isn't "punishing" authors. In the first place, the app is very straightforward about what it does. It isn't misleading anyone. No one's going to use it to read The Catcher in the Rye and somehow be tricked into believing that the original book had no profanity in it. This is like reading an abridged novel. As long as it's clearly labeled that it's abridged, and people can make an informed choice about whether they would prefer to read the original novel or the abridgment, people can read what they want.

    There are also so many other ways that author's words end up out of their control. For example, most authors have no idea what the Chinese translation of their book says. Their carefully chosen words are gone. The same with children's adaptations, abridgements, etc. after a book runs out of copyright. Many readers may not be ok with these things either, but I think it's worth noticing that this app isn't the only thing single-handedly taking away power from authors to keep control over their words.

    Also, I really dislike the recurring, "Profanity is in real life, so deal with it" argument. Yes, no one will ever completely remove profanity from their lives. But there are tons of things I don't like, that I would prefer to avoid if I could. Will I ever be able to 100% avoid what I believe is the incredibly disgusting smell of peanut butter? No. Other people have the right to eat peanut butter, and I deal with that in public like an adult. But you bet I don't have peanut butter in my home because I prefer to avoid it when I can, and when doing so doesn't step on other people's rights.

    If anything, I think this app could be very useful. I have extended family members, for instance, who do exactly what you suggest: try to avoid completely everything that might offend them. They watch only PG movies, for instance, even the adults. But don't you think they could actually learn MORE if they used this app and were able to read books they previously avoided like the plague. Sure, maybe they're not dealing with the "real world experience" of hearing people use vulgar language, but they're probably being exposed to a lot of other, and probably more IMPORTANT, "real world experiences" and themes in that book than they would have otherwise. Using, not using, or avoiding profanity doesn't make anyone more mature or more equipped for life than anyone else.


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