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Posts Tagged ‘censorship’

Letter from New York, 2005

January 26, 2015 | by

Adventures in tastelessness at The Onion.

Photo: Casey Bisson, via Flickr

I used to be an editor at The Onion. This was in 2004, when most of the original writers were still there—just a handful had gone off to Hollywood. I was hired by my friend Carol Kolb, who’d just been made editor in chief.

Carol is the funniest person I have ever known. One time we went to a German restaurant together, and our server was a cross-dresser. The cross-dresser was the newer kind. He was a man, dressed as a woman, but I think the polite thing is to use the female pronoun. She didn’t wear any makeup, and she didn’t have styled hair. She wore blue jeans and a shirt from the Gap. Her chin-length red hair was lackluster, and looked a little oily. She was about forty years old, and she behaved like a forty-year-old woman—tired, kind, a little weary.

I went to the restaurant a lot, and for whatever reason, she never confused me, but Carol, I have to say, was uncomfortable. It was as if she couldn’t decide whether this was just a guy who had accidentally put on his wife’s clothes that morning or she was a woman who had just given up all hope. Carol had trouble ordering—she stumbled over her words and couldn’t meet the server’s eye. I noticed she kept looking nervously at the server’s breasts and hips. It wasn’t too big a deal, and the server handled it like a forty-year-old woman would, not taking it personally and not acknowledging that it was happening. When the server walked away, Carol said, “I am so embarrassed. I was acting like somebody from Spencer, Wisconsin.” She made her eyes glaze over as a hayseed’s would if he met Divine. “I was like this!” she said, “I just couldn’t get it together.”

Another joke of Carol’s was to say, on a crowded subway, “Did you hear about Maria’s new boyfriend?” Read More »

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American Grotesque, and Other News

December 1, 2014 | by

William Mortensen’s L’Amour (1932) doubles as the cover of a new book about him, American Grotesque.

  • Don DeLillo rereads his own opus, Underworld, seventeen years after its publication. (“Great fucking line,” he’s written next to “The subway seals you durably in the stone of the moment.”)
  • In the thirties, William Mortensen was one of the most celebrated photographers in the nation—his pictures were “unabashedly theatrical, bizarre, and often louche.” What sank his reputation: a critical tiff with Ansel Adams.
  • The Chinese State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television has moved to ban wordplay “on the grounds that it breaches the law on standard spoken and written Chinese, makes promoting cultural heritage harder and may mislead the public—especially children.” (An example of the now forbidden fruit: “replacing a single character in ke bu rong huan has turned ‘brook no delay’ into ‘coughing must not linger’ for a medicine ad.”)
  • While we’re on censorship: In the quest for G-rated moon landings, NASA used to go to great lengths to scrub astronauts’ profanity from its transcripts. In the case of one particularly salty spaceman, they went further—they had him hypnotized. “A psychiatrist put the idea in his head that he would rather hum when his mind wandered.”
  • On the history of fairy tales: “In the coded language of symbol and metaphor they chart the journey from childhood to adulthood. The Russian commentator Eleaser Meletinksji wrote, ‘It is even possible to say that the fairy tale begins with the break-up of one family and ends with the creation of a new one.’”

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No One Can Draw Runners, and Other News

October 13, 2014 | by

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A Greek vase with runners at the panathenaic games, ca. 530 BC.

  • “Picture a person running. You’re probably picturing [it] wrong. It’s okay, you wouldn’t be alone. It turns out that artists have been drawing people running incorrectly for thousands of years. From Greek vases to drawing handbooks to modern sculptures, even our very best artists can’t seem to get the pose right.”
  • A new anthology’s narrow definition of art: “There is certainly great value in drawing attention to the historical context of a poem. We ignore an essential feature of literature when we lose sight of its power as an artifact of a particular moment, place or era. Still, it is difficult to read Poetry of Witness without quickly sensing that the editors are gaming the system to support their narrow preconception of poetry’s utility.”
  • Censorship in China: great for sales. “Having a book banned in China is often a marketing coup for publishers selling copies abroad. In the age of social media, this dynamic appears to be playing out on the mainland as well … ‘Smothering someone is as good as crowning that person … A ‘smothering’ order is a reading list.’”
  • The art of brand names: What makes for assonant, beautiful, memorable, popular branding? (Pro tip: do not name your company Shpoonkle. It will fail.)
  • Against brunch: “There’s something more malevolent at work than simply the proliferation of Hollandaise sauce that I suspect comes from a packet. Brunch has become the most visible symptom of a demographic shift that has taken place in our neighborhood and others like it … Our once diverse neighborhood now brims with the homogeneity of an elite university.”

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Poems as Animals, and Other News

September 25, 2014 | by

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Roeland Savery, Paysage de forêt avec animaux, seventeenth century.

  • I suppose I’ve read more dirty books than any man in New England, and I could make the biggest collection of erotica in this country if I wanted to.” An interview from 1930 with the censor for all of New England.
  • Christopher King, whose essay about Alexis Zoumbas appeared here on Monday, has a cameo in the Times Magazine: “King had invited me to visit him at his home in Faber, Virginia, where he keeps his own massive collection of 78 r.p.m. records, decaying discs that could only be experienced there, in person. He asked me what I might like to hear, and when I hesitated, he suggested Zoumbas … in Epirus, King said, these songs live and die in the looks and handshakes and embraces exchanged in their presence.”
  • When Freud, who died seventy-five years ago, was diagnosed with a very malignant form of cancer, he said he wanted to “disappear from the world with dignity,” which meant enlisting his doctor, Max Schur, to euthanize him. “All this was said without a trace of emotionality or self‑pity, and with full consciousness of reality.”
  • “Ted Hughes didn’t just write a lot of poems about animals—about pikes and jaguars and thought-foxes. He thought of poems as animals. ‘They have their own life,’ he wrote in an essay in 1967, ‘ … and nothing can be added to them or taken away without maiming and perhaps even killing them.’ ”
  • An Arizona law against “revenge porn” has the state’s booksellers concerned: it “could be applied to any person who distributes or displays an image of nudity—including pictures that are newsworthy, artistic, educational, or historic—without the depicted person’s consent, even images for which consent was impossible to obtain or is difficult to prove … ‘There are books on my shelves right now that might be illegal to sell under this law. How am I supposed to know whether the subjects of these photos gave their permission?’ ”

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Don’t Get Hot

September 23, 2014 | by

profanity

Illustration: Tomia

An anecdote about censorship, since it’s Banned Books Week. Readers of today’s TPR know that our writers cuss with all the relish of a splenetic sailor who’s just stubbed his toe on shore leave. But such was not always the case. The magazine’s earliest editors were leery of salty language, and Terry Southern never forgot it.

Our latest issue features an editorial exchange between Southern and George Plimpton from 1958, when they were preparing Southern’s interview with Henry Green for publication. That interview features a now-classic aperçu from Green about the origin of his novel Loving:

I got the idea of Loving from a manservant in the Fire Service during the war. He was serving with me in the ranks, and he told me he had once asked the elderly butler who was over him what the old boy most liked in the world. The reply was: “Lying in bed on a summer morning, with the window open, listening to the church bells, eating buttered toast with cunty fingers.” I saw the book in a flash.

As Southern wrote to Plimpton, “Hot stuff, eh George? Well now you realize of course that the word ‘cunty’ makes the reply, gives it bite, insight, etc. I mean to say it simply would not do to rephrase it, ‘Lying in bed on a summer morning, with the window open, eating toast with fingers,’ would it?” Read More »

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[REDACTED], and Other News

September 23, 2014 | by

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The censors of the Russian Empire. “Examination of correspondence from the theater of war by military censors,” an illustration from the journal Priroda i liudi, May 28, 1915.

  • What not to do during Banned Books Week: ban seven books. After a tense board meeting, a high school in Highland Park, Texas, has demanded its students stop reading The Art of Racing in the RainThe Working Poor: Invisible in America, SiddharthaThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianAn Abundance of KatherinesThe Glass Castle: A Memoir, and Song of Solomon. “Parents and grandparents brought books flagged with sticky notes. They read excerpts of sex scenes, references to homosexuality, a description of a girl’s abduction, and a passage that criticized capitalism.” (Most of which you can find in a given issue of The Paris Review—lock up your daughters.)
  • Relatedly: What is censorship? “To dismiss censorship as crude repression by ignorant bureaucrats is to get it wrong. Although it varied enormously, it usually was a complex process that required talent and training and that extended deep into the social order. It also could be positive. The approbations of the French censors testified to the excellence of the books deemed worthy of a royal privilege. They often resemble promotional blurbs on the back of the dust jackets on books today.”
  • Things from which invisible ink has been made, through the ages: “The milk of figs, cows and nuts; lemon juice, orange juice and onion juice; saliva, urine, blood, vinegar, aspirin, and laxatives.” Oh, and a dormouse’s corpse … oh, and the display codes embedded in porn images …
  • Talking to Emmanuel Carrère—“the most important French writer you’ve never heard of,” unless you’ve read the Art of Nonfiction No. 5—about his new book Limonov, which comes out next month: “In the manner of Truman Capote … Carrère has waited, with the patience of a deer hunter, for the true story that would not only illuminate aspects of his own life, but also exemplify the puzzle of the post–cold war west.”
  • “The internet gives us everything that writing does not: it gives us what we dream about when sitting alone at our desks: contact with our tribe and the sense that we’re in a community … The internet reminds me of smoking—which I gave up almost twenty-seven years ago—but whenever someone talked about cancer or heart disease it made me want to light up.”

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