Censored for your approval

Well, it happened. 189 years and someone finally decided to do something about Santa and his pipe. Pamela McColl of Vancouver, Canada has, in one fell swoop, made Santa give up the habit of smoking.
189 years of “The stump of a pipe held tight in his teeth. And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.” Gone with the click of the ‘delete’ button.
Santa also wears faux fur out of respect to his reindeer and all of the polar bears of the North Pole.
All right. The latter I wasn’t worried about, as a kid I figured Santa needed fur to keep warm 30,000 feet in the sky and the animals he killed for their flesh went to good use as part of Christmas dinner. Or an igloo outback that served as a refrigeration unit.
Hey, don’t look at me. A man can’t survive on cookies and milk. Man’s gotta have red meat.
But smoking?
I understand her reasons behind it; she lost someone dear to her from a fire caused by a lit cigarette and the dangers of falling asleep with one tucked between bottom lip and teeth. But, to go and erase a part of a Christmas story for the 21st Century children..?
Are you fucking kidding me?
Smoking is bad.

Smoking is bad...m'kay?
Smoking is bad…m’kay?

It’s very, ridiculously bad for you. Everyone knows it. The D.A.R.E. foundation drills it into your head from the time you’re able to understand that school assemblies suck until you graduate. From there the TRUTH foundation takes over with television/theatre/radio ads, slamming them into your eye holes over and over again until you get to the point where you would give the Hulk a run for his money if you ever so much as smell the smoke emanating from one of those small, cylindrical death sticks.
We get it.

Smoking is bad...m'kay?
Smoking is bad…m’kay?

We really do. As adults, anyway. And, the wonderful thing about being an adult? You get to choose what you do and do not do.
I smoked. For four years. Granted they were Swisher Sweets, but there was no other way I could get a break during a 16 hour day.
Because the Navy hates people.
Back in the real world, I haven’t touched a cigarette or cigarillo in two years. I quit because I didn’t really need to smoke in the first place and because I have no reason to now. I get breaks in the real world. It’s a good thing.
Point is, I knew smoking was bad for me but I did it anyway. I understood the risks and went with it.
I had the choice.

Now, kids are different as I understand it. I remember living by mum and dad’s rules. Don’t smoke. Don’t do drugs. Don’t get pregnant. Clean up after yourself. And do the dishes. Simple enough. They talked to me about the effects of smoking. Kind of. Most of what I learned came from the D.A.R.E. people and Health Class.

Anyone else remember that Miracle of Birth movie?

But I understood. I like to think that I was a pretty smart kid. Odd and maybe a little (lot) awkward, but smart. Logic told me that if I wanted to live a long life, I probably shouldn’t smoke. Forefront in my mind was not logic, however, but the thought of what my mother would do to me if she ever caught me smoking.
I’m pretty sure kids get the idea. Smoking is bad. You don’t need to go around changing a story that’s withstood the test of time just to add to the ‘No Smoking’ rhetoric. If you don’t like something, that’s fine, tell your kids a different version of the story. Take out whatever you want to take out when you do the re-telling. Make it as PC as you want it to be. But for the love of everything you hold sacred, don’t you dare go around editing someone else’s work.
How dare you doesn’t even begin to cover it.
That’s someone else’s work! Published 189 years ago and propelled into the lexicon of literature and things that bring joy to children because it struck a chord during the time in which it was published. It has since been passed down through the ages and has become that coveted word in the literary world ‘beloved’. All ages. Doesn’t matter whom.
And this woman took it upon herself to strike a few sentences from the work because of what she felt children needed to know. And included a letter from Santa. Added justification. A stand up petulance as if she knew the backlash she was going to get before the work went live.
The way I can figure it is mimicry by association. If Santa smokes well, hell, it must be all right then. Santa also drinks Coke right along with his polar bear buddies, but you don’t see Coca Cola doing away with the ads or the memorabilia even though countless studies have shown that Coke isn’t exactly the greatest drink for you.
Santa drinks Coke, goddammit. Has since the 30s.
The American Library Association’s deputy director, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, likened Pamela’s act to the Mark Twain incident months back where a man with lofty ambition and clearly defined ideas of what should and should not be in a book (and a Mark Twain scholar, which if that isn’t the definition of a slap in the face I don’t know what is) took it upon himself to censor “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” replacing all 200 incidents of the N-word with ‘slave’.
Fuck you, dude.
I’m not the biggest Twain fan in the world, but even I understood satire. My English teacher helped me out with that, taking time to explain to the class what, exactly, Mark Twain meant. Now, if only she would have told me to skip Chapters 12-14 of Les Miserables, it would have made my reading of that particular book much less painful.
But we can’t hope for miracles, can we?
Censorship is one of those things that exists because people like it to exist. People like to think they know whats best for everyone around them. If we take the bad bits out, our children will be spared. Funny thing is, books are fantasy. Real life isn’t. And real life hurts a hell of a lot more than a book does. In a book, the bully gets his comeuppance in some form or fashion. In real life? The bully grows up and gets meaner.
There are losers in life. There are winners. These are facts.
It wouldn’t be as much fun to watch if every athlete that showed up to the Olympic Stadium was given a gold medal, would it?
Turning a tee-ball game into a show of who has the most team spirit is not making your kids into better, more understanding people, it’s turning them into wimps who, when they get into Junior High (fuck high school, junior high kids are little bastards), will understand the meaning of pain. Emotional if not physical.
Bullying is real and shielding-or censoring-your kids from reality is not helping.
Kids are resilient, they understand a lot more than we think they do. They can be moulded and trimmed into the people we never were. Taking things out, excising bad words or vices, isn’t making the book better or updating it for a modern audience, it’s stripping the story of essential parts. Parts that can be explained for better understanding.
That’s what Literature classes in college are for.
Or, if you’re a smart kid, A.P. classes in high school.
Nazi Germany went through a mass censorship. Book burnings were the epitome of exsanguination. Destroy knowledge, control the masses.

Burn! Burn it all and bask in ignorance!
Burn! Burn it all and bask in ignorance!

As an author, I worry about censorship. I worry about it with Grimm because, even though she’s fourteen, my book is not going to be for the normal YA audience. It’s not meant to be a fluffy love story with some dark brooding guy and a beautiful-if not misunderstood-girl with a secret power. the book is about a teenage girl who has to fill her father’s bony shoes and all of the gruesome that comes with being Death. If I keep the Devil’s Den parts in the book, which I’m going to, because it makes the bulk of the story, I worry about genre placing and audience age. With the Nightly-Edition as well.
I’m not willing to censor the books. To damp down what I’ve written. It’s not fair to me as a writer, it’s not fair to the book, and above all; it’s not fair to the readers. Dampen it down and I lose something.
Take away Santa’s pipe and you take away the image that is Santa. In my mind, anyway.
Plus, doesn’t the man deserve at least one vice? Give the guy a break, hey? It’s not easy being the big guy in a red suit.


5 thoughts on “Censored for your approval

  1. Bubbe says:

    Well said! I can’t believe she took it upon herself to alter a Chirstmas classic! AND attach her name to it! I suppose she doesn’t see the backlash that’s likely to hit her. At least I hope there’s a backlash against this sort of thing!

  2. Yvonne Hertzberger says:

    First – we must never – never- mess with someone else’s work,
    Second, it is sacrilege to alter a classic.
    Third, when we avoid teaching our kids about how things change and hide what we see as ugly or bad we deny ourselves the opportunity to talk about the issue. If we do not talk about the issue our children learn nothing.Only be acknowledging what’s out there and talking openly about what;s right or wrong with them can we teach our children to think. Children who grow up in a so-called perfect world lack the skills to cope with differences of opinion and culture, diversity, conflict and hardship. Is that the kind of people we want to become our citizens and leaders?

    When my son was barely five years old he saw a news item on a war in the Middle East. I explained to him that sometimes people do such things, that it is sad and wrong, and we had a long discussion about war, why it happens and what we need to do to make this world a better place. He understood it. It did not traumatize him, nor did it make him prone to violence. Quite the opposite.

    1. rjkeith says:

      Kids understand a lot more than we think they do. Sitting down and talking to children not only means that you’re taking time to understand them, but also they to understand the world through you. It’s a fantastic exchange of different points of view. And, who knows, you might learn something from your kid.

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