SUZANNE HARRINGTON: For bottom’s sake, Clean Reader app is going too far

Imagine if a barely literate Ned Flanders climbed through your window and got his hands on your books. Your literature, your novels, your classics, your memoirs, your contemporary fiction, your cult titles.

Imagine if he took out a big fat biro and crossed out all the words he deemed ‘profane’, and replaced them with Flanderspeak. Gosh darn it, it would reduce your reading material to a great big pile of fudging bollards, wouldn’t it?

And what if he replaced the correct anatomical names for all intimate body parts with a single word – “bottom” – so that erotic scenes were rendered comically non-sensical? (And physically impossible – think about it).

A real life Ned and Maude Flanders have come up with an app to do just that.

The Clean Reader app was dreamed up by parents Jared and Kirsten Maughan.

Everything – body parts, expletives, sexual words – are wiped ‘clean’ by an app which accesses your e-reader and temporarily interferes with the original text.

There are three settings – ‘Clean’, ‘Cleaner’ and ‘Squeaky Clean’.

Say its creators – sorry, I nearly typed clitoris – “Many of the people who we’ve heard from that are using Clean Reader say they’re willing to miss out on a little bit of context in order to avoid reading some profanity.”

They add, “A less offensive alternative word is always available.”

While you are still picking your chin off the floor at this blithe urge to unleash an electronic eraser on the work of, say, DH Lawrence, the novelist Joanne Harris has been outraged by the idea.

Writing on her blog, in a piece entitled, “Why I’m Saying Fuck You To Clean Reader”, the author of Chocolat is succinct: “It starts with blanking out a few words. It goes on to drape table legs and stick fig leaves on to statues. It progresses to denouncing gay or Jewish artists as ‘degenerate’. It ends with burning libraries and erasing whole civilisations from history. Is that where we want to go? Not. Fucking. Likely.”

Harris objects to such literary vandalism on three grounds - artistic, moral, and pedagogical.

Firstly, to go in like Isis and trash a text because it offends you is an act of artistic destruction.

Morally, it is offensive to non-Christians (the Maughans are real life).

And pedagogically, it sends a terrible message to younger readers, says Harris: “that body parts are shameful and must not be mentioned by name; that sex is dirty and shameful.”

Here is the response of the app’s creators, using a laboured restaurant metaphor complete with spelling mistake: “Is the chef offended when I don’t eat the blue cheese? Perhaps. Do I care? Nope. I payed [sic] good money for the food and if I want to consume only part of it then I have that right.”

While obviously Ned, Maude, Rod and Todd are free to read or not read whatever they see fit, perhaps they should keep this narrow agenda within their own little family.

Meanwhile, in the name of all literature, take this stupid fucking app off the market.

MORE SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Elton John on song in his anger about ‘designer’ baby comments


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