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Today I Sort of Defend Censorship

I've been reading a lot of H.P. Lovecraft lately.  Steph and I have made it a nearly nightly ritual to read his works out loud in the hopes that our fetus may hear my voice.  And yes, we have made the obvious joke about the dread of an impending terror that will be unleashed upon our universe.

Lovecraft is an intriguing writer, more a poet than a narrator, who finds that there's no need to describe things in ten words when twenty will do.  By all my measures of good writing, I should hate him - but I love his work all the same.  He rites purty.

There's just one problem with his work: his casual and gratuitous racism.

Lovecraft's work is like the Skittles of bigotry: you can taste all the flavors of a shit rainbow.  Some of his stories, like The Rats in the Walls, feature only the most cursory racist bent that come across like your doddering eighty-year old grand-uncle who doesn't seem like a hateful person, but says awful things out of habit.  Other stories, like The Call of Cthulhu, rely specifically on a white supremacist view of the world in order for the narrative to function.

Then there are the random misplaced diatribes that hang out in the middle of an otherwise enthralling story - like the overblown descriptions of "mongrel hordes of Spaniards" that live in the city in The Horror at Red Rook - and you get the feeling that Lovecraft just had to make a point that day.  Like when you're having an innocuous conversation with your father-in-law about, oh, bird watching or something, and then out of nowhere he'll get in a jab about how bird-watching "just hasn't been the same since they started to let gays marry," and then the dialogue swings back around to the beauty of a red-breasted titmouse.

The worst of these examples would be that which permeates much of his Cthulhu mythos.  The implication is that "lesser beings" (i.e., anybody that isn't white and from English or Nordic descent) are more primeval species who haven't fully evolved and so they are more susceptible to the charms and hypnotic effects of the Elder Gods, and thus they will ultimately be the downfall of humanity unless White Men can vanquish their "mongrel" religions.  It's the worst kind of imperialistic bullshit that we pretty much abandoned back in the 1940s when Hitler made it weird.

When I catch these references while reading out loud, I tend to omit them.  It's not that I believe that little Fetus C can understand or absorb hate, but I'd just rather not have too much ignorance in my home.  And if the stories were any less interesting or the style any less enchanting, I'd likely just put them aside and move on to something the slightest bit less foul.  Like Kipling.

This raises an interesting question for me.  As a white guy on the Internet, I am by default a First Amendment Champion, so I'm supposed to maintain the party platform and decry any attempts at or suggestions for censorship.  But since I've already started to censor Lovecraft when I read him out loud, I'm left to wonder: why not indulge in some censorship once in a while?

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not arguing for a wholesale expurgation of Offense from all of his works. Rather I'm arguing for an optional alternate version of his works.  You can subtitle it: "The Twenty-First Century Abridgment: Now With 87% Less Racism!"  Consider it a Beginner's Version - a more digestible, more approachable presentation that let's you skip over the more abhorrent features.  If you enjoy his work enough, you'd be motivated to check out the Advanced Lovecraft works that are unedited.

The writer part of me wants to find fault with this idea because MY OPINIONS!!!, but there's a deeper part of me that thinks that Lovecraft himself might respect this idea.  Hear me out.

The children of tomorrow will surely think us vile and spiteful.  I've already accepted that all of our opinions and attitudes will be invalidated by the pressures of time.  Even so, the whole reason that we bother to write things down - the reason we share stories and pass them on to others - is that we hope some morsel of our being survives in the lessons, values, experiences, and emotions we can share.

We might claim that it is more important for our children to be open-minded enough to consider an opinion that contradicts their own, but isn't it a bit too selfish to demand that an opinion that has been invalidated by time be afforded continuous respect?  Isn't the expectation that our work always remain hallowed and honored a measure more selfish than the desire of modern generations to avoid obsolete grotesqueness?

And while I'm sure that we're all capable of overlooking the racism in order to gain some other value from Lovecraft's work - we're all adults here - wouldn't it just be a heck of a lot easier for those of us who may be on the fence to become readers if there was a Beginner's Version to start with?  I know that Birth of a Nation is supposed to be an important movie, but I still can't bring myself to watch it because I just don't really feel like sitting through two hours of Klan worship. Give me a thirty-minute Lite version to entice me and I might check out the rest.

If the only thing that's standing between my message now and the willingness of my great, great, great, great, great, great grand-children to hear it is a few uses of a word they don't like, then you know what?  Censor away.  Make yourself a 28th Century version that you guys can get into.  The only thing I would ask is that we leave the original text available as an option to those scholars who seek to understand my work in its original context.

Hell, I can use all the readers I can get, whether they're already alive or they will be in a thousand years.  So why would I rail against that censorship which could perhaps drive a few more my way?

I think sometimes we get so caught up in our self-righteous defenses of FREEDOM! that we forget that there are more important things at stake.  A bit of censorship can open up a work to a much larger body of people who may be influenced to develop even more starkly original and fascinating works.

Lovecraft's writing is above all a portrayal of humanity - all of it - as an insignificant speck in the eternal cosmos of existence.  It is an all-encompassing horror on the scale of planets.

Renaming his cat from "N-----man" to "Smokey" is not going to change that.