By Stephen Tuttle | March 4, 2023
Sometimes censorship is well earned. Other times, it’s appalling.
A good example of the first, deserved version is Scott Adams and his comic strip Dilbert. The strip, a sometimes wicked and often accurate satire on the corporate world, was syndicated to 2,000 newspapers that were read in 65 countries. The cartoon was often funny, but Mr. Adams never was.
Dilbert is now being canceled by hundreds and hundreds of papers after Adams went on an unpleasant racial rant on his podcast. He said Black people—all of them—are a “hate group” and that white people “should get the hell away from Black people.” Regrettably, it was not Adams’ first foray into what can very charitably be called racial insensitivity.
Adams had previously said you can determine the quality of a residential neighborhood by the “racial mixture” of who lives there. He claimed that an animated version of Dilbert for television was canceled “...because I’m white” and the network running the cartoon wanted to “go more Black.” It was the third time, he said, he’d lost work because he’s white.
Adams hasn’t always traded in racial nonsense; sometimes his ignorance is directed at women. Here’s his take on discussing pay equity with women in one of his internet posts in 2011: “The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. You don’t argue with a four-year-old about why he shouldn’t eat candy before dinner…And you don't argue when a woman tells you she’s only making 80 cents to your dollar…” Yikes.
He also said Republicans would be “hunted” if Biden was elected and that the Holocaust has been turned into a left-wing talking point. Well, yes, the hunt apparently continues unabated, though it would seem unsuccessful thus far. And, yes, the left and other thoughtful groups do use the Holocaust as a talking point, and we should be thankful they continue reminding us.
Of course Adams and some right-wing supporters are now yammering away about the “woke cancel culture” and wondering aloud what happened to the First Amendment and freedom of speech. The answer is that Adams’ cartoon is being canceled by papers whose editorial departments represent both liberal and conservative opinions. He earned this result long ago.
It’s a little depressing we have to go over this entire First Amendment and freedom of speech business yet again. The First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging our speech, which should be obvious from the very first words of that amendment: “Congress shall make no law…” It does not now, nor has it ever, applied to the private sector. Adams might have some legitimate contractual beefs with the publications that no longer run his strip, but there are no constitutional grounds on which he can stand.
Which brings us to the appalling version of censorship which feeds a full meal of “wokeness” to all of this. We are now changing the language in long-existing literary works lest they offend anyone.
Roald Dahl was a popular children’s book author. His two most-read works still are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Enormous Crocodile. According to The Guardian, Puffin, the current publisher of Dahl’s work, hired “sensitivity readers” to examine the books so they can “continue to be enjoyed by all today.” So, words like “ugly” and “crazy” have been removed. The character Augustus Gloop, described by Dahl as “enormously fat” is now just “enormous” which, by the way, is not the same thing at all.
In The Enormous Crocodile, the title character says of his friends, “…we eat little boys and little girls…” That has been changed to “…we eat children…” which the sensitivity readers believe is somehow better.
This is sensitivity run amok, and the same treatment is now being used on Ian Fleming’s James Bond books and has been at least discussed for Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, among other works the busybodies have decided to sanitize. (Twain does use the “n word” regularly as part of a character’s name. But the critics always ignore it’s one of the first times in American literature a Black and a white character have had a true friendship.)
The changes being made eliminate ripe teachable moments we can now just ignore. Why did the author choose that language? Why is it considered offensive today? What was different when the work was written that made people accept those words and that language? Why are those words considered offensive or even banned today? What words should we use that convey the same meaning in place of those that are unacceptable?
Scott Adams earned his banishment with his intentional intolerance. Rewriting the works of long-dead authors to appease someone’s current hyper-sensitivity is neither earned nor justified.