In Fahrenheit 451
, author Ray Bradbury
"progressives" (rather than conservatives) would enforce censorship in
the United States, beginning with books deemed "insensitive" to
minorities. Well, today's publishing culture has caught up to
Bradbury's dystopian vision.
Everdeen Mason of the Washington Post (reprinted in the Chicago Tribune, February 15, 2017) reports:
These days, though, a
book may get an additional check from an unusual source: a sensitivity
reader, a person who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist,
sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based
on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as "dealing with terminal
illness," "racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families' or "transgender issues."
industry recognizes this is a real concern," said Cheryl Klein, a
children's and young adult book editor and author of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults. Klein, who works at
the publisher Lee & Low, said that she has seen the casual use of
specialized readers for many years but that the process has become more
standardized and more of a priority, especially in books for young
readers have emerged in a climate -- fueled in part by social media -- in
which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of
people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a
part of that group.
Last year, for instance, J.K. Rowling was
strongly criticized by Native American readers and scholars for her
portrayal of Navajo traditions in the 2016 story "History of Magic in
North America." Young-adult author Keira Drake was forced to revise [my italics] her
fantasy novel The Continent after an online uproar over its portrayal
of people of color and Native backgrounds. More recently, author
Veronica Roth -- of Divergent fame -- came under fire for her new novel, Carve the Mark. In addition to being called racist, the book was
criticized for its portrayal of chronic pain in its main character.
might argue that "sensitivity readers" are no big deal, because their
use is not government imposed (yet), and so it's not really censorship.
It's an editorial decision. Some authors quoted in the article even
claim to be grateful for the "help" they receive from "sensitivity
readers" -- helping these authors to portray their characters
"Thank you Comrade Sensitivity Reader, for correcting my errors!"
But how voluntary
is that consent? "Progressive" activists are never satisfied. They will
increasingly pressure hold-out publishers to hire "sensitivity
readers." Publishers, in turn, will increasingly pressure authors to
make the corrections "requested" by "sensitivity readers."
As Mason notes
Lee & Low Books has a companywide policy to use sensitivity
readers. Stacy Whitman, publisher and editorial director of Lee &
Low's middle-grade imprint Tu Books, said she will even request a
sensitivity reader before she chooses to acquire a book to publish [my italics].
important for authors to consider expert reader feedback and figure out
how to solve the problems they point out," Whitman said.
other words, whether an author consents to "solve the problems"
complained about by some sensitivity commissar will determine its
chances for publication. This will mean ever less diversity in
literature, because weak, cowardly, incompetent, stupid, and evil
personality traits will become (even more so than already) reserved for
straight, white, Christian, male characters.
Returning to Bradbury
's Fahrenheit 451
, here's an excerpt from the Fire Chief's speech, explaining how society eventually got around to book-burning:
let's take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the
population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the
dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs,
Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes,
Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or
Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not
meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics
The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy
[my italics], remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their
navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your
typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla
tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No
wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing
what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic-books survive. And the
three-dimensional sex magazines, of course.
There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! [my italics] Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.
didn't get everything right. Publishers don't care about the
sensitivities of Mormons or Baptists or Swedes or Germans. Such is our
"progressive" culture. Poking fun at non-Christian religions is hate,
but bashing Christianity is healthy satire. Nazis are unqualified
villains, but Communists are at worst misguided idealists. At best they
are the noble victims of McCarthyism. (The sensitivities of the victims of Communism
Bradbury had a great insight. Censorship doesn't start with government
dictates. It begins with popular pressure. It begins in the private
sector. And the signs are ominous.