Like Lysol For Literature

Mar 20, 2015 • Apps, Books, Technology

an app to erase profanity

Meet CleanReader, a little app that sanitizes the language in books, removing all potentially objectionable language from profanity to racial slurs. Should context be insufficient, the reader can hover over the word to see inoffensive adjectives. It is, in short, an emblem of consent culture.

But not all writers are thrilled about the prospect of having an app edit their manuscripts without their consent. The backlash elicited the following response from one of CleanReader’s creators:

The number one argument against Clean Reader is essentially that an author is an artist and they put specific words in specific places for a reason. Therefore we as the consumers of this “art” should consume it exactly as it was presented by the author/artist.

I suppose these same people would hate going to dinner with me at a restaurant. I’m not a fan of blue cheese. Some friends of mine love it. I’ve tried to learn to like it, tasted it several times in several different settings and dishes. To me it tastes like furniture lacquer. When I get a salad at a restaurant and the chef thinks the salad is best served with blue cheese on it, I will spend a significant amount of time trying to find and remove every piece of blue cheese. Then I’m able to enjoy the salad. In the restaurant world the chef is the artist. He has spent his entire professional life trying to create masterful pieces of art to be served on a dish or in a bowl. Is the chef offended when I don’t eat the blue cheese? Perhaps. Do I care? Nope. I payed good money for the food and if I want to consume only part of it then I have that right. Everyone else at the table can consume their food however they want. Me removing the blue cheese from my salad doesn’t impact anyone else at the table.

The same holds true for profanity in books. Some people like the impact certain words have on the [sic] narative, dialogue, or setting of a book. Other people are indifferent to it. And some are offended by it. To them it’s the “blue cheese” that ruins the otherwise great book. Yes the author/artist felt specific swear words worked best for their work of art, but for some of their audience these same words are what detract from the book.

I find the attitude infuriating as a creator. But unless this app becomes mandatory, I support it as another aspect of consent culture.