Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist

The devil in the details.


I discovered, recently, that it is fairly common practice for modern works of children’s literature to have details “updated” to fit in with more contemporary sensibilities. For example, a Judy Blume book published in the mid-1980s that featured a scene where her characters bought some new cassette tapes would, when re-published in the year 2008, instead feature a scene where the characters bought new CDs. (Or, perhaps, downloaded new music.)

I’ve been trying to determine how I feel about this. There’s a part of me that feels definite indignation. That part of me feels that Ms. Blume wrote this book in the 1980s, and the book reflected the tenor of that time period as well as the technology available. Updating the media is a betrayal of the story that was told; it is a type of revisionist history. It is as if to say that children have no means of appreciating a story that took place before they were born, that you have to pander to their lack of historical knowledge or their unwillingness to find out what an “LP” was by changing the author’s words. It is a small surrender on the part of education. No wonder, that part of me thinks, so many of our citizens grow up unaware of the world at large. No wonder so many of them can be perplexed when bad things happen based on actions that took place twenty years ago. To them, there is no twenty years ago, to them, the past is a vague concept filed under “Not My Problem.”

But there’s also the part of me that thinks this is mere cosmetology, like rhinoplasty performed on fiction. It’s not as if the editors are adding scenes wherein the characters talk about 9/11 out of nowhere. The story is the same, but details have been changed to maintain the core point of the story. This book isn’t about all the archaic, outmoded items people had to deal with way back when…it’s about this character’s first crush on a girl in his class. Those stories are universal. The setting changes, but the simplicity of Boy Meets Girl remains the same.

My jury is still deliberating. I do believe it is important to understand the past as it actually appeared because it allows you to better understand the present and consequently the future, but can understand why publishers didn’t feel it was necessary to speed-bump simple stories by retaining vocabulary terms that the current readers would have little reason to hear in their daily lives.

I think that maybe the problem is that parents and teachers have given up on instilling in children a desire to learn things that are not going to be on the test. But then I remember that teachers tend to receive a wage not comparable to their workload, responsibilities, and overall challenges; I remember that teachers today are beholden to produce students who graduate and whose graduation allows the school to prove to the watchful government that they deserve more funding. Teachers have nothing to gain and much to lose by taking time away from standardized testing.

And parents? They’re working two jobs just to keep the bill collectors happy. Who has time to answer all 700 of Junior’s questions about why this character was writing a letter when a simple email would suffice?

I will, I think, have my limits, but I haven’t run into them yet. One day, perhaps, I’ll discover that Athos, Porthos, and Aramis carry Beretta 9mm handguns in the most recent publication of The Three Musketeers.

On that day, I think my decision will be clear.

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This entry was posted on January 18, 2008 by in Books, Education, History, Politics, Society, Teaching, Writing.
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