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Clean Reader

(finsihing this post up while waiting to head to doctor...)

So the writer blogosphere is pretty pissed off at the moment, because of an app called Clean Reader. You buy an e-book through it and can then apply a filter that will scrub out all the bad words.

(More on reaction and my own feelings in a minute--first a bit about what it does and how poorly it does it.)

Basically, it lays a censor bar over any word on its list and I think, when tapped, the censor bar returns a sanitized word.

This is a blunt instrument at best. For example, it'll only "see" a word if there are spaces around it. So a peacock is fine, a cock-of-the-rock we don't know (hyphens seem tricky) and the dying words of Socrates are "We must sacrifice a groin to Aesculapius."

Some amusing knock-on effects are that all female genitals become "bottom" and all male genitals become "groin." There are presumably a lot of groins being inserted into bottoms if one attempts to read a sex scene. Meanwhile, the Owl and the Pussycat can still go to sea, but he will be calling her "Bottom, my dear," and the bottom willows should be blooming any time now. (No word yet on the runcible spoon.)

Also, chest-feeding and chest cancer. I'll just leave those there, as they appear to be loaded.

The Clean Reader people (who I don't think expected to become the center of the howling shitstorm (see, compound word, so that currently passes muster!)) claim that you can turn off this filter at any time, and admit that many religious books such as the Bible become unreadable. (One shudders to contemplate the scene where Balaam's butt demands to know why he has beat her three times, although Samson's ability to slay that many men with the jawbone of a butt is certainly...vivid.)

As with many such things, I suspect it will actually serve to make many books much pervier. Sleeping Beauty is going to groin her finger on that spinning wheel, and we shall be subjected to groin's crow in the morning. (Not to mention my third kid's book, "Curse of the Were-Groin." The heart quails.) I also suspect that it will make confusing word salad out of a lot of innocent paragraphs, and readers will ultimately wind up turning it off in irritation.

But technology marches on, and let us say that they actually improve this and some people like it and it learns enough to slap the censor bars in a slightly less slapdash fashion.

Now we come to response.

A lot of authors are very, very angry.

The general thrust seems to be "I chose those words for a reason, and if you don't want to read them the way I wrote them, you can bleep the bleep right off, you bleeping bleep."

And you know, I get this.

Really, I do.

My adult books do not contain a great deal of profanity, but ironically, I'll bet you a dollar I get more unhappy e-mail about profanity in my books then most authors do, because I'm a children's book author. I have been sent long screeds about how using the words "My god" in my books is dreadful. (My personal favorite of those included the phrase "I'm sure you consider yourself a good Christian!" Hey, I laughed.) I have literally received spreadsheets of every usage of the word "crap" in my books, with suggested alterations, so that I could "fix" this in future printings, because it was simply too strong a word for nine-year-olds. (Okay, ONE spreadsheet. That was special.)

And the first time it happened, I was pissed.

And the second time it happened, I was pissed.

And the third time it happened, I rolled my eyes.

And the tenth time it happened, I decided people were just people and there was nothing to be done about it.

Maybe it's because I've had art on the internet too long and it gets sliced and diced and moved around and reposted and at first you get extremely indignant and then you rapidly stop caring as long as they're not getting money on it, because life is too short and the internet will always outlast you.

I totally understand why people are angry. My kneejerk is initially How dare you! as well. And I am not going to tell anybody that their feelings are wrong. There's a lot of authors I respect enormously who are very indignant over it, and more power to 'em.

I'll be honest, though, I don't care nearly as much as I probably should.

If you want to change your own reading experience on your own device, what's it to me? You're not changing what I wrote, you're changing what you read. If you want to read a slightly more nonsensical version of my book that badly, I just can't bring myself to care very much.

There are lots of legal arguments that may or may not have a foothold including Moral Rights--not even the lawyers seem to agree there, so I certainly won't claim to know one way or the other. There's also the argument "Books are supposed to challenge you!" which is an interesting argument, but I don't actually like it very much. Most of my books aren't actually supposed to challenge you, they're supposed to comfort you because life is a hard country and we all need a little kindness along the way. (It is totally fine if other people's books are supposed to challenge you, just...err...#NotAllBooks or something.) I do not actually feel bad about this, because I think comfort is hard to do and generally worthwhile.

I also sort of feel like this argument gets dicey because there are plenty of trolls who will scream bloody murder if you block them, and one of the go-to battle-cries is that you're just creating an echo chamber where no one will challenge your beliefs. Few people are actually "challenged" by endless kill-yourself-dumb-cunt comments, so it turns into an argument for blocking abusive white noise.

On the other hand, you block those people, you don't filter them so they're sending cute photos of puppies instead.

On the gripping hand, if there was an app that let me turn those troll comments into cute puppy photos, I can't swear that I wouldn't endorse it whole-heartedly, so...err...complicated.

Anyway, at the end of the day, I do see why people are mad. I see why some readers might be mad! And if this was the start of a slippery slope (and I don't actually believe it is--or all slopes are slippery, take your pick) where these versions were taught in schools or the original is no longer available or something, then yes, I would likely become quite concerned. If a clean "print" version comes out, I'll be irked. If the option to turn off the app and read the original goes away...troublesome. But people are buying the app and the book and no one is holding a gun to their head to make them install the app, and as it stands...I do not feel as strongly about this as many of my peers.

So, y'know, read a sloppily abridged version if it makes you happy. It's not the book I wrote, but I'm not going to stand over you and tell you you're reading it wrong. You could also hold your thumb over the bottom line of every page and never read that line, or skip every third chapter, or read backwards if it made you happy. That would probably also affect the reading experience, but...oh well. What happens between my words and your eyeballs is not my problem, and I sort of feel, not even really my business.

I held up my end by writing the best book I could--everything after that is out of my hands.

I had an extension that caught political hotwords on Facebook and replaced any post that used them with pictures of kittens. I imagine that this isn't really much different. Possibly, I'm missing out on a lot of character growth by filtering what I see, or possibly I'm just keeping myself sane in crazy, hyper-saturated media exposure. Sometimes the unfollow button is a superior method (and I did turn the extension off after politics season), but it's really just a way of coping with an information stream that I wasn't enjoying. If a filter of any kind makes someone happier with their recreational reading... I am not really bothered by that choice.

I wanted Facebook to have a filter that changed all pictures of human babies, and posts about human babies, into pictures of puppies. Your political extension makes me jealous.

afb Expand
So... what? does it display a censor bar, or does it replace words? Those seem like two rather different things to me.

From what she said (I haven't seen it myself) It displays a censor bar and when you click the bar it gives you a replacement word. So it is warning you that the word has been replaced.

I held up my end by writing the best book I could--everything after that is out of my hands.


(Also: Yay, another author who's not outraged about this! I can actually relax around someone!)

OK so I read the description, and the sample, and I still don't understand how sentient winged butt can "pound" someone. "Get pounded" by the narrators "groin" I can understand. But unless that butt includes a groin, I don't understand what is happening, and I'm not paying $2.99 to find out.

Two thoughts.

The first is, when I read "the Owl and the Pussycat" to my three year old daughter, I'll admit that I swap "Pussy" to "Kitty" when reading the poem. I still say "Pussycat", but I'm just a little uncomfortable saying "Pussy my love" to my little girl.

The second bit is that I'm reminded of the video someone made where they took the Count singing about how he loves to count, only they beeped out every time he says "count", thus making the video both very raunchy and totally hillarious.

"Jesus rode into town on a ."

I'll just leave this here.

There's a basketball player in Canada named Guilherme Carbagiale Fuck (it's a German last name) - I wonder what last name that app would give him.


'Freak', apparently, from another blog I saw about this. So, Guilherme Carbagiale Freak.

argh. My comment 40 minutes ago marked as spam for daring to link to Scalzi.

IF it makes you feel better, I think it's more "daring to link" rather than a link to any location.

if there was an app that let me turn those troll comments into cute puppy photos

ahaha, I would love this. :) I could use it on sites where troll comments are not blocked.

> and the dying words of Socrates are "We must sacrifice a groin to Aesculapius."

Immeasurable improvement.

Ride a groin-horse to Bradbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse.
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She shall have awkward and disturbing mental images of the first line wherever she goes.

If Clean Reader is bad, what of Rifftrax? Discuss!

The core theme of Fahrenheit 451 is that when art became unchallenging, no one challenged the state when it dictated that challenigng art should be removed. We need a new 451, and one that's better than Equilibrium.

Like you, I'm unfussed unless the print edition is altered, or the unaltered electronic version is unavailable. If *individuals* choose to bowdlerize their reading experience, so be it -- as long as they don't try to force anyone else to do the same.

I have the "Tea and Kittens" app on one of my browsers, to avoid accidental click-throughs to drive traffic to the Daily Mail. If I *really* want to see the article, I can open it in another browser. No harm done to anyone else's online experience.

I love my sweary books, and have no intention of giving them up, and they'd need to pry them from my cold dead etc.

-- A (still outraged at my mother for going through "The Valley of Horses" and cutting out sexy pages with a razor blade. All it did was cause me to track down the library copy with great speed, and read the passages with far more interest.)

... I am suddenly very grateful for my mother, who didn't much care what I read, and assumed if there was something that bothered me, I'd talk to her about it. When I got into SFF, she started giving me books to read; I remember specifically her passing along the Incarnations of Immortality books because she wanted me to think about religion and faith, vs. just going by their beliefs (...I still want to know why the hell she's surprised I turned out pagan), and then Virtual Mode, both by Piers Anthony, the latter because the MC is a suicidal teen, and she knew I was viciously depressed and wouldn't talk about it. I probably can't re-read Anthony's books, because there's too much fucked up I'd be aware of, but I also can't deny that book probably saved my life at the time.

There was only one book she asked me not to read, and I read it anyway. I'm still not sure what the issue was, because there was both a lesbian protagonist, and graphic rape... but there were lesbians and graphic rape in other books she knew I'd read... even she can't remember why she didn't want me to read it. She did, however, have a screeching "YOU READ THAT?" when I mentioned (as an adult) finding Piers Anthony's Firefly at 12... I was like... "Yes... when I got through with the books in the front, I started reading the books behind" (she had the shelf double-stacked). Her: "Well... at least it sounds like you weren't traumatized." Me: "Nope, Dad did that." Her: "... touche."

I remember introducing her to the Black Jewels books by Anne Bishop, which I started reading at 14, and the various Laurell K. Hamilton books, also at 14... which, if you're not familiar with, the former is DARK and involves the graphic rape of a child (plot-pertinent, and it's literally my favorite series ever, but I always give the TW when recommending it), and I think LKH goes without explanation. I remember when I got my hands on the 3rd Black Jewels book when it came out (I had lucky timing -- I read the first two a week before the third was released), I was up until 5am reading, Mom came in, asked what I was doing up so late, I held up the book showing the number of pages left, and she said, "Okay, but go to bed when you're done. And leave the book on the table for me." I love my Mom.

My dad, on the other hand, was against me reading fiction because fiction = escapism, and I needed to be focused on the REAL WORLD and not in some fantasy land. *rolls eyes* (I am laughing my fucking ass off that Mom has got him, the "realism" and "romance is porn for women" asshole, hooked on Nora Roberts' In Death series. Dying.)

I'm mildly amused that they didn't fall prey to the censorship SNAFU that is known by such names as the Scunthorpe Problem and the Clbuttic Mistake. But this still reminds me of that time in 9th grade when, horrified by the fact that such words as "goddamned" were in the assigned novel for literature (Flowers for Algernon, if memory serves), I got out a black crayon and carefully marked out all of the dirty words.

I'm not sure why I was so concerned about "protecting" myself from words I already heard at school.

My youngest (admittedly 9, not 9th grade) knows all the common swear words and hates them (well, except damn, which doesn't register all that much.) I could totally see him taking crayon to a book, partly because it would disturb the pleasure of his reading experience. I wouldn't use an app like this on books for my kids, but I can understand why parents who, say, actually conquered their pottymouth before they had children, would. I know that I have seen "sanitized" versions of various books taught in school, I am thinking of a version of Huck Finn without n-words?

(It needs a way you can click on a subbed word if the sentence makes no sense and see what the original was, I think.)

You are right and I agree with you.

I have no interest in this app. But I don't care if other people use it. But then I'm not a professional writer. And I buy the clean (radio edit) versions of songs.

Someone needs to write "Curse of the Were-Groin".

Although "were-groin" might be redundant. A young adult novel about being a teenaged boy?

Edited at 2015-03-26 07:23 pm (UTC)

Well and wonderfully said.