Today is Bloomsday, the day that the fictional Leo Bloom wandered around Dublin until he met Max Bialystock who introduced him to Sarah Jessica Parker and together — along with Buck Mulligan — they stopped NORAD from launching a thermonuclear war because a computer told them to.
Actually, it is the day that James Joyce recounts in his masterpiece, Ulysses, one of the most influential works of literature not just because of the text but because of how it’s been received over the years — being banned in the United States when it was first published before a judge finally ruled it wasn’t obscene.
Which brings us to today’s lesson.
You see. Almost 80 years after the book was first banned, it’s still encountering closed-mindedness.
As The New Yorker pointed out the issue was some nudity — a statue of a goddess and one of the characters naked as he went to take a bath,
“Honestly I never expected we’d have problems with regard to nudity in this first chapter, and the last thirteen pages (still not up on the Web site) have some frankly naked Buck Mulligan,” co-creator Robert Berry told the magazine. “He’s going in for a bath, after all. I’m not sure we’d be able to make later sections of the novel under these rules Apple has set. It’s really kind of surprising since “Ulysses” won such a landmark case in censorship and public decency way back in 1932. it seems that the more things change some mindsets stay the same.”
Berry added that having to make the changes was “artistically debilitating.”
And while Apple reversed its decision, that they requested the changes at all is just the latest of a disturbing series of episodes with dark implications for the future.
First, at the same time they were censoring Ulysses Seen, Apple was also censoring — and reversing itself — a version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.
There was the report late last year that they were keeping apps involving the Dalai Lama from being sold in China.
And, of course, there was the story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who couldn’t get his app sold in Apple’s store.
The short of it is that we live in a somewhat dangerous time where while information is more available than ever before, so is the ability to wall off that information or even censor it.
The American Library Association’s Banned Books Week is sadly still around. You would think, hope, that by now people understood banning books really isn’t a good idea. No such luck.
Apple. Amazon, Barnes and Noble… everyone who is selling digital content… censorship isn’t not going to work and trying it doesn’t really accomplish anything other than building resentment.
I am thankful that companies are developing devices to speed the delivery of information and make it easier for people to obtain not just raw information but books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, billions of chances to experience lives other than their owns.
While I am thankful to those companies, I implore, beg, plead, — however you want to put it — with them not to censor. People aren’t perfect but I really do believe that the more information that we share, the better we are at dismissing the crap. I know it’s a little naive but I really think that if we treat people like adults, they will act that way.
There’s no need to censor. Let people make decisions for themselves and they will be able to separate the crap from quality.
I would like to direct Apple and their corporate brethren to three versions of the same sentiment.
For movie fans (from Spiderman)
With great power comes great responsibility.
For Christians (from Luke)
From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked
and, for government geeks (from a British Parliament debate in 1817)
The possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility.