Friday, January 14, 2011

At what point to we stop rewriting the past to avoid offending the sensibilities of the present?

I have been very fortunate. As a middle-aged, heterosexual, mostly normal, white male I have never felt the sting of real prejudice or racism. To some that would immediately disqualify me from commenting on this topic, but it is an important subject that affects us all in some way.

History abounds with books and stories, and more recently audios and videos, that by today’s standards of tolerance, common decency, and it must be said political correctness, are considered to be unacceptable. But where do we draw the line? Does every group that is offended by something  they’ve heard or read have the right to not be exposed under any circumstances to the offending material? Or more extremely, have it expunged completely from our collective history?

The N-word in Huckleberry Finn and the F-word in the lyrics of Money For Nothing are but two high-profile examples in the press this week. But the list is endless. Do sex workers who legitimately object  to the word “whore” have the right to have a significant percentage of rap music removed from the airwaves so they don’t have to hear that pejorative term? And how about the N-word in music; does that not count? Wartime movies often referred to the enemy in disparaging and some would say hurtful tones; do we now sanitize those? And after 9/11 should the movie studios have gone back and erased those twin towers from recent releases to avoid the possibility of some of us being emotionally hurt?

I don’t know.

But what I do know is that we are all a product of our history - the good, the bad, and the indifferent – and when we go back and rewrite that history with a 21st century pen we are changing the collective experience of our species and our societies.

And I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

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