Posts Tagged ‘censorship’

Like so many of you out there, I am outraged at the sanitizing of Huckleberry Finn by replacing the “N” word with “slave.” At first, I assumed Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books must be doing it to sell books to schools and libraries that banned the original, riding the wave of political correctness and sensationalism to the best seller list.

But then I read the article in Publisher’s Weekly and came to the realization that Gribben really thinks he’s doing the right thing:

“After a number of talks, I was sought out by local teachers, and to a person they said we would love to teach this novel, and Huckleberry Finn, but we feel we can’t do it anymore. In the new classroom, it’s really not acceptable.” Gribben became determined to offer an alternative for grade school classrooms and “general readers” that would allow them to appreciate and enjoy all the book has to offer. “For a single word to form a barrier, it seems such an unnecessary state of affairs,” he said.

The article ends with a quote from NewSouth publisher Suzanne La Rosa:

But the heart of the matter is opening up the novels to a much broader, younger, and less experienced reading audience: “Dr. Gribben recognizes that he’s putting his reputation at stake as a Twain scholar,” said La Rosa. “But he’s so compassionate, and so believes in the value of teaching Twain, that he’s committed to this major departure. I almost don’t want to acknowledge this, but it feels like he’s saving the books. His willingness to take this chance—I was very touched.”

Sounds reasonable, right? Even noble: Making Huckleberry Finn accessible to everyone, at the cost of one’s reputation. I mean, after all, the book is considered one of the great American novels, perhaps the greatest. It’s the ultimate indictment of those who judge people by how they look, or the title or position in society they hold, or even their familial relationship, rather than judging them by their actions and their hearts.

And wouldn’t that message be just as strong without the “N” word or “Injun” scattered over 200 times across its pages?

Who cares? That’s not the issue here.

The question is: Who owns Huckleberry Finn? And I don’t mean who owns the right to publish it. I mean, whose book is it?

It’s not Gribben’s book. It’s not our book. Librarians and school teachers and school boards and offended readers don’t own it.

It’s Mark Twain’s book. He wrote it. He could have used the word slave, but he didn’t.

Good intentions don’t justify censorship or the mutilation of art, whether you’re a teacher or the Pope. (Sorry, Pius IX.)  And I don’t think anyone who has ever read Mark Twain would suggest he would approve of Gribben’s actions. This is exactly the kind of misguided sophistry Twain would skewer with his rapier wit. Rather than openly fight the injustice of censorship, our brave hero slinks in shrouded in a cloak of acceptability.

But mostly, it’s just wrong. Twain is powerless to defend his words against Gribben’s literary rape.

Isn’t there a word for depriving someone of their right to self-determination, when you treat them like an object to serve your needs rather than as a human being deserving of respect?

Can someone please tell me who gave Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books the right to treat Mark Twain like a… “slave?”

Have you seen the recent Hyundai commercials? The friendly announcer says that recently, Hyundai put cameras into vehicles at dealerships and, according to the company’s press release, “captured the unscripted, unedited remarks of drivers as they tested various Hyundai models.”

Do you believe them?

I don’t.

Over time, anyone who’s ever shopped online and read the customer testimonials has learned how to tell fake reviews from real ones. The fake ones are usually really good or excusably bad (or really bad if they’re fakes created by competitors). Some sites don’t even bother sprinkling in a few negative reviews with the positives, but all positives are a sure sign the reviews are faked, or at least, selectively edited.

Enter Hyundai, with their “Uncensored” commercials. Not a negative comment to be heard. Well, except about Honda, Toyota and other cars. And of course, from people posting comments on their YouTube channel, such as:

laughingcrows (1 week ago)
Give us a break, your “hidden” camera commercials are really insulting.
Don’t lie to us. The American public isn’t that stupid. Or are we?

Censorship isn’t merely a sin of commission. It can be a sin of omission, too. So even if you equate uncensored to unedited, which would be a mistake because the commercials are clearly edited, the choice of only showing positive experiences and comments is in itself an act of censorship, where the negative ads are merely not shown at all.

Uncensored? Hardly.

I can’t help comparing this to the Ford Fiesta Movement, where Ford gave 100 social media storytellers Fiestas to talk about, however they wanted, on their own blogs, YouTube, Twitter, etc. Their campaign was also met with skepticism on blogs, but to his credit, Scott Monty, head of Social Media for Ford, engaged with the negative comments and addressed them head on. So did some of the Fiesta “agents” who defended their abilities to give honest reviews, good or bad, and the freedom Ford gave them to do it.

The recent Ford Fiesta movement is considered a watershed in automobile marketing. With $0 in traditional advertising, the Fiesta, a car available only in Europe, with no history in the US, and Ford’s first subcompact car in over a decade, achieved a stellar a 58% awareness pre-release (exceeding the Ford Fusion after 2 years and hundreds of millions in traditional marketing). It garnered:

  • 11 million social networking impressions
  • 11,000 videos on YouTube
  • 6,000 reservations 4 months before the car was even available
  • 10,000 units sold in the first 6 days of sales.

All for a fraction of what a typical national TV campaign would have cost. I wonder what Hyundai spent on theirs?

Taking another play from the Ford Fiesta Movement playbook, for what they’re calling the “experiential” component of their campaign Hyundai is giving 100 cars out to people who will then discuss their experiences via social media, again ostensibly “uncensored.”

Social Media marketing is about engaging in the conversation, not editing it. It’s about being honest and earning trust. And above all, it’s about disclosing your relationships, so even if you have a bias or financial relationship, you’re not hiding it and people can judge for themselves. (Full Disclosure: I have never owned either a Hyundai or a Ford, although my parents love their Hyundai and in college I made out with a girl in a Ford Mustang.)

The Social Media marketing landscape is littered with the corpses of  unsuccessful campaigns. In the end, many of them failed because they were disingenuous, misleading or downright dishonest.

I found this interesting post on the Dennis Hyundai blog for a Hyundai dealer in Ohio.  It says:

Have you seen the new Hyundais? Come to http://www.dennisimports.com and click on our Hyundai Uncensored Logo, tell us what you think about the new hyundais! If we choose your comments to use in our advertising, we will pay you $1,000!

The post was dated July 9, 2010, about a week after the corporate commercials began running. I’m not implying the original Hyundai Uncensored commercials were “incentivized,” but I’m willing to bet that for $1,000, Dennis Hyundai isn’t going to be using very many negative comments in their ads.

If you’re going to pursue a social media strategy, you have to be authentic.  In discussing social media, business and authenticity in this Wisdom 2.o interview, Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos.com, said:

“I think that is the only way you are going to succeed. Transparency is going to happen whether you embrace it or not, so you might as well embrace it. I think that is one way to develop a personal and emotional connection.”

So can someone please explain to me what kind of connection Hyundai thinks they’re making with consumers with their Uncensored campaign? Feel free to respond honestly… I promise I won’t censor your comments.

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