THE OFFENSE: Merchant, which is currently enjoying a successful Broadway extension of its summer Shakespeare in the Park run, remains one of the Bard’s most problematic plays due to the villainous character of Shylock (played in the current production by Al Pacino). Shylock is a Jewish moneylender, and several sections of the play verge on (or run right up into) anti-Semitism, with the character portrayed as penny-pinching, vengeful, and cruel.
THE SOLUTION: This is the closest mirror to the Huck Finn fix: Let’s take out all the places where he is called (or calls himself) a “Jew”! With what, though? Well, Jim was a slave; Shylock was a money-lender, though those four syllables could really screw up Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. Our closest rhythmic synonym (according to Thesauraus.com, anyway) is “banker.” Sounds good!
SAMPLE EXCERPT: “Hath not a banker eyes? Hath not a banker hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?” Wait, now that Christian stuff doesn’t make sense. Ah well. This isn’t an exact science, after all.
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
THE OFFENSE: Salinger’s classic of disaffected youth was the most censored book in American high schools from 1961 to 1982; it remains a fixture on the American Library Association’s “most frequently challenged books” list. Some object to the flashes of sexual activity, blasphemy, and overall rebelliousness of protagonist Holden Caulfield, but many simply disapprove of teenagers reading such words as “goddamn” and “fuck,” which they’ve certainly never heard before (much less said themselves).
THE SOLUTION: Entertainment Weekly’s Keith Staskiewicz calls the censoring of Twain “unfortunate,” but asks, “is it really any more catastrophic than a TBS-friendly re-edit of The Godfather?” Well said, Keith! It’s pretty much the exact same thing. So let’s just go through Catcher and replace those pesky profanities with TV-safe replacement words.
SAMPLE EXCERPT: “If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fudge you’ signs in the world. It’s impossible.”
Howl, Allen Ginsberg
THE OFFENSE: San Francisco poet and publisher Lawrence Felinghetti was famously put on trial for obscenity when he published Ginsberg’s Beat classic in the mid-1950s. The epic three-part poem made numerous mentions to drugs and sex; its most notorious lines involved those “who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy.”
THE SOLUTION: Again, TV-style profanity replacement should do the job, though that is a trickier line to just cut-and-paste a replacement for — as those poor souls who had to make the TV-edit of The Big Lebowski can attest.
SAMPLE EXCERPT: “…who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving candy bars and manuscripts, who let themselves be fought in the Alps by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy, who punched and were punched by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love, who sang in the morning in the evenings in rose gardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their dandruff freely to whomever come who may…”
The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
THE OFFENSE: Hey, who doesn’t like the Harry Potter books? Well, quite a few fundamentalist religious types, who argue that the mega-popular tales of the boy wizard promote witchcraft and start kids on the slippery slope to Satan.
THE SOLUTION: What if Harry’s not a wizard? Maybe he’s just a really good magician, less about the dark forces and more a master of up-close sleight-of-hand. But even magicians can seem a little occulty (that Criss Angel just reeks of goat sacrifice); perhaps something a little more innocuous, like juggling? There we go — NewSouth could just change “wizard” to “juggler” and calm all those evangelicals down.
SAMPLE EXCERPT: “Harry was still an underage juggler, and he was forbidden by juggler law to do tossing outside school.”
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
THE OFFENSE: Oh, come on. It’s right there in the title. You think can really teach a book with the word “dick” in the name without provoking gales of giggles from a classroom full of teenage boys?
THE SOLUTION: As any high school health teacher knows, the quickest way to make dirty stuff less funny and less erotic is to use the most arid, clinical name for it. So it should be when it comes time to rebrand Melville’s filthily-christened orca.
SAMPLE EXCERPT: “There she blows! — there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Penis!”