Fuck You, Clean Reader: Authorial Consent Matters

 

There exists a new app called Clean Reader.

The function of Clean Reader is to scrub the profanity from e-books.

Their tagline: “Read books. Not profanity.

You can dial in how much of the profanity you want gone from the books.

Author Joanne Harris has roundly (and to my mind, correctly) condemned the app, and I would recommend you read about her and condemnation. I would further suggest you go on and read the email she received from the Clean Reader people and, more importantly, her response to that email. (Oh, also: check her tweets, too: @JoanneChocolat.)

I am an author where much of my work utilizes profanity. Because fuck yeah, profanity. Profanity is a circus of language. It’s a drunken trapeze act. It’s clowns on fire. And let’s be clear up front: profanity is not separate from language. It is not lazy language. It is language. Just another part of it. Vulgarity has merit. It is expressive. It is emotive. It is metaphor.

So, as someone with a whole pig wagon full of fucks at stake, let be be clear:

Fuck you, Clean Reader.

*cups hand to mouth*

Fuuuuuuck. Yoooooooou.

*fuckecho through the canyon of fucks*

Please let me condemn your app in whatever obscene gesture you find most obscene.

Let me unpack this a little.

When I write a book, I write it a certain way. I paint with words. Those words are chosen. They do not happen randomly. The words and sentences and paragraphs are the threads of the story, and when you pluck one thread from the sweater, the whole thing threatens to unravel — or, at least, becomes damaged. You may say, Well, Mister Wendig, surely your books do not require the profanity, to which I say, fuck you for thinking that they don’t. If I chose it, and the editor and I agree to keep it, then damn right it’s required. It’s no less required than a line of dialogue, or a scene of action, or a description of a goddamn motherfucking lamp. Sure, my book could exist without that dialogue, that action, that goddamn motherfucking lamp.

But I don’t want it to. That’s your book, not my book.

My consent matters when it comes to the book.

If changes are necessary to the book — then I consent to making them.

An editor sends me edits, I can say whether those edits fly or not.

Just as the publisher can consent to the book they publish.

That’s the deal. That’s how this works.

And here you may say:

But what of the consent of the reader?

To which I respond:

Your consent as a reader is being able to pick up the book or not. Your consent as a reader comes into play as to whether or not you put down that book at some point throughout because something within it was objectionable: bad story, unlikeable protagonist, toxic ideas, or even yes, crass and septic vulgarity. That’s the contract the reader and the author share, and this is true with books and movies and comics and really all stories. You consent to buying the ticket. I consent to taking you on the ride. Neither of us get to modify that contract halfway in. We don’t get to change the experience unless somehow the engine of change is built into the content (as with many games). You can’t change the story. I can’t steal your book.

(Here I’ll note that on an individual level, if you really want to go through my book and hand-edit out the profanity, fine. Thing is, you still have to read the profanity to do that — and that means not relying on an app to categorically and programmatically make edits to the text.)

You may say, But I want to read your books, just without all that nasty business.

To which I say, then I don’t want you reading my books. Nothing personal, but I wrote the thing the way I wrote the thing. If that troubles you, then I don’t want you reading it. No harm, no foul. Surely there are other sanitized, anesthetized stories that will grant you greater comfort. But don’t sanitize mine. Don’t anesthetize my work or the work of any author. Do not take that consent away from us. It is immoral. Is it illegal? That, I don’t know, but honestly, I’m hoping it turns out to be true (as honestly, I’d want this thing shut down).

I’m not a fan of slippery slopes, but programmatically removing or changing information from a book? It’s bad shenanigans. Given that this app seems custom-made to serve Christian ideals (see: replacing “bitch” with “witch”) where does it stop? Cutting out an abortion scene and replacing it with a scene where the child survives? Moving a sex scene and replacing it with a scene where the young couple sits and quietly reads the Bible? If a character is objectionable, will you replace it with a goddamn motherfucking lamp so that it doth not offend?

(Sorry, I mean, “Gosh-darn Monday-through-Friday lamp.”)

Look at their website, where on their blog they note that author Mark Henshaw “…makes it a point to write well enough that he doesn’t need to include profanity in his writing.”

Oh, no you didn’t.

Conflating quality with a lack of profanity?

*vomits up a whole bag of middle fingers and dumps them into your lap*

In another blog post, they talk of this like you’re just someone ordering food at a restaurant: oh, ha ha, I don’t like blue cheese so I just order my food without it, and this is exactly like that. Except yeah, no, it’s not. Never mind the problem with conflating food you buy and books you read, let’s instead assume that if you find blue cheese so categorically offensive that you shouldn’t order food with blue cheese in it. Chefs fucking hate when you order food with inane substitutions. Instead of viewing our books like customizable meals, let’s instead pretend like our words are the ingredients list on a procured food product — just because you don’t like maltodextrin doesn’t mean I can whimsically pluck it out without the chemical composition of the food product falling apart. It’s in there. Too late. Don’t like it, don’t buy it.

Their purpose in creating the app was:

“One day our oldest child came home from school and she was a little sad.  We asked her what was wrong and she said she had been reading a book during library time and it had a few swear words in it.  She really liked the book but not the swear words.  We told her that there was probably an app for this type of thing that would replace profanity with less offensive words and perhaps we should get her a tablet that she could use to read books with.  To our surprise there wasn’t an app like this.  The more we thought about this idea the more we wanted it to be a reality.  Eventually we decided we would do all we could to bring Clean Reader to the world.  We’ve been putting as much time and money into it as we could over the last few years and we’re excited to see it launch soon!”

Hey, listen, I have a kid. He’s not even four. I don’t edit the material that reaches his eyes. I control the flow of that information and when something lands in front of him that’s deep or confusing or in conflict to my beliefs, I don’t water it down. We talk about it. My son isn’t even four and we can have conversations about it. That discussion is meaningful. Far, far more meaningful than if I had simply edited out unlikable material and replaced it with something more comfortable. (You’d be surprised how often this happens even with kids books — children’s books are surprisingly judgeypants toward obesity, and as such, requires some discussion with the boy.) What books are these people letting their fourth grader read? “This book, Requiem for a Dream, sounded so polite. I mean, requiems! And dreams! But it wasn’t! No, sir, it wasn’t! What poppycock! Wait, is poppycock profane? There’s that word, ‘cock’ and so we must create an app to find all the ‘cocks’ and replace them with pictures of happy chickens. Chickens can’t be offensive! Especially because they’re so delicious, at least when nobody has put that blasphemous blue cheese all over them ha ha ha condemn Satan praise God burn foul-mouthed witches.”)

Education isn’t about concealment of information. It isn’t about the eradication or modification of offensive language, or ideas, or information. It’s about presenting truth when a child or an adult are ready to hear it, and then talking about it. Anything else is how you get Jesus riding dinosaurs, or a loss of climate change, or the eradication of women or people of color from the pages of history, all because it doesn’t line up with preconceived notions and pre-existing comfort levels.

Stories aren’t bulletin boards. You don’t pull down thumbtacked bits and replace them with your own. And that’s what this app does — it doesn’t merely censor. It edits. It changes. You can’t do that. Changes cascade. It’s like stepping on a butterfly in the past and waking up to a future where a T-Rex is your accountant. Stories aren’t echo chambers. They’re wild, untamed, unkempt territory. You don’t get to prune it into a bonsai shape that you prefer.

Authors write the books they want to write.

And you can read them as they are written.

That’s it. Game over.

You want differently?

Go buy Mad Libs. They let you insert whatever fucking words you like.

481 comments

  • Between crap like this, and the growing tendency of colleges & universities to create “safe spaces” and “warnings” about content, we are creating a nation of snuggly-warm, safe-in-their-bubble marshmallows, who will never, ever have to be faced with something that challenges their sensibilities or world-view.

    That should scare the shit out of anybody who knows how brains work.

    • I’d imagine people who know how brains work are familiar with PTSD. Which is what trigger warnings are aimed at. PTSD has nothing to do with snuggly-warm, bubble-safe marshmallows, or protecting someone’s worldview. Anyone with PTSD is already *keenly aware* that the world isn’t safe.

      And “safe spaces” usually refers to spaces where commonly-marginalized groups (POC, LGBTQ+ folks, women, religious minorities, etc.) are explicitly accepted. Such spaces are only needed because most of the world does such a terrible job of treating such people the way it already treats white, cis-het men. People in marginalized groups are, again, already *keenly aware* that the world isn’t safe.

    • A trigger warning has some value, though, in that it expresses exactly what is in the book without changing what is in the book. It deepens consent because you can choose to read the trigger warning or not, and after having read it, can choose to read the book. And the author’s work remains whole — again, provided the author consented to having the warning applied in the first place.

    • Exactly. It’s the mind-set that scares me. Haven’t these people read 1984? Can’t they see where this sort of thing leads? Can you imagine what they’ll do when an app can change genetic structure? They’ll embrace it as a “cure” for homosexuality, most likely. (Hey, there’s probably a book in that. I better get to writing)

  • And heck almighty, it’s not as if you can’t return kindle books within 7 days. That return policy, in itself, eliminates the need for the app. If you accidentally buy a book that offends your delicate sensibilities, return it and don’t read it.

    I’d much rather someone return my book for a refund than edit out the f-bombs.

  • Thanks for the (first) fuckeree of the day. You’ve made me pee myself and reconsider that pseudonym and fuck em if they don’t like it. What I really need is an app that will hack all far filthier “had” and “was” out of my prose – according to the leader of my writing group.

  • THANK YOU for sharing this! This app is an abomination and an insult to the practice of writing and authorship. It is not only censorship, not only alters the written work of the author, but can also change the intent, meaning, and emotion that is being conveyed. It seems to me that Stacy (previous comment) is on to something regarding copyright infringement.

    This is a measure of political correctness and censorship that is in league with pulling To Kill a Mockingbird and various works of Mark Twain off the shelves simply because people are apparently too fragile to acknowledge the realities of our history. If you don’t like it, don’t read it – but don’t infringe on someone else’s right to read it, or for that matter an author’s right to produce it.

  • It’s actually not copyright infringing because it doesn’t publish anything. The reader buys the original book, and uses the app to search and replace bad words. Someone is going to sue them eventually, but assuming they have the money to pay for the lawsuit CleanReader will probably win.

    Whether or not it’s legal is wholly apart from whether it’s a truly shitty thing to do. Which is also wholly apart from whether or not a reader should be able to do a truly shitty thing.

      • The first issue would be whether it ‘publishes’ the work. Publishing requires dissemination, so it would need to share the altered work.

        Second, who you could sue: if I use a computer to alter one of Chuck’s books and publish it, then the computer manufacturer and makers of the programs I use aren’t usually liable for my actions. So, if you could prove publication, you might only have a case against the user of the app.

        Sadly, having sparked an interesting discussion, the app can no longer be on my list of things that should never have been. : (

        • This isn’t about random software companies being able to control what their end users do. This app was created for the purpose of its users to change works without the original authors’ permission. Big difference.

          It’s like when Napster provided a platform for kids to illegally download music. It was created for that purpose–not for some other purpose that its end users abused. And in that case, both Napster and a bunch of kids got sued. Yes, typically the kids who shared after downloading (which is a form of publishing, I guess) were the ones who got busted, but they infringed when they downloaded the music. They did it again when they shared.

          Here, I think the same principle applies. The reader doesn’t actually own a copy of the ebook they have–they purchased a license to read it. Seems to me a license would restrict this type of use, same as when a software company restricts users from creating derivative works on its platform in its terms of use.

          • It might well not be a derivative work.

            A derivative work requires a substantial alteration, so – given the bar for substantial copying is 10% – there might not be enough change to count.

  • Someone needs to make an app to add profanities to “clean” books, say every 5 words or so.

    What an ignorant approach to parenting (and the world):

    “I don’t like these things so lets turn a blind eye and pretend they don’t exist. Hey, if we cover all homeless people with colourful blankets then they won’t exist either…”

    Fully agree, talk to your child and let them learn how to deal with these things and why they exist in the first place.

  • I read their response, and can’t for the life of me figure out why you’d order Chana Masala and then spend your meal taking chickpeas out of it. Of course part of that confusion might be because I didn’t like the words “salad” and “cheese,” and by choosing to alter the words they used can’t understand the conversation any longer, but I’m sure that’d never happen with books, right?

  • You know, I have been struggling for a long time with the part where editors tell you profanity is lazy writing. All the advice columns swear that there’s absolutely no swearing. (or sex in the champagne room, sadly this one is true.)

    and I’m like fuck, my character would say fuck. He wouldn’t say ‘Hey man, hand me the dang wrench.’ He’d say ‘Lou, gimme the goddamn wrench, fuck.’

    At some point I decided it was better to be true to the characters than the ideals of those who wouldn’t understand them. I mean, if you didn’t want me writing my story about my characters in my freaking head why the hell did you pick up a book with my name on it?

    So fuck em. I’ll use it when it fits. Same goes with violence, sex and any type of ritual sacrifice I see fit. If it fits the story. If the Red Power Ranger needs to make an appearance to make the plot flow the way it should I’m not cutting him out and I’m sure as shit not putting in the Green one cause he’s more popular or whatever. ( I seriously despise Power Rangers.)

  • Holy shit, yes. oh looky there, another “but it’s for the CHILDREN” argument to censor someone’s art. I loathe that ridiculous argument: it’s nothing but a lazy parent’s cop out. What the actual fuck.

  • When my mixed race son came home a little sad, after reading a book that had lynchings and the “n” word in it, we had many important and insightful and amazing conversations. We got closer; he taught me things and I taught him things.

    I suppose I could have chosen to tell him we need to edit the world and take away the history and ideas and hard work and words of others.

    But, I didn’t. I wouldn’t.

    Thanks so much for writing this, Chuck!!!

    (Here’s a post I wrote about the experience with my youngest son. Actually, for reasons I won’t bother you with, I really needed to remember this. Thank-you again! http://autismanswersbytsara.blogspot.com/2014/04/autism-answer-turning-something-wrong.html)

  • I agree. This issue made me think about the music industry as well. The artist has the explicit and the clean version. If I am not mistaken, the artist does their own censorship. No one does it for them. No one should be forced to change their art to appease anyone. It should be their choice. In my opinion. Thanks Chuck!!

  • PS How do you feel about movies on basic cable? In “Me Myself and Irene” they replace “motherfucker” with “Mammajamma” which I think improves it dramatically.

  • Excellent post. You say everything I want to say about this post during the time I’ve just been able to sputter incoherently. I give you a hearty, “Fuck yeah!”

  • Huh. It’s not often that I disagree with you, but I do. My books don’t break if the profanity is taken out, and yes, there is profanity in there.

    The thing is… To someone who doesn’t swear “Gosh darn” carries as much weight to them as “God damn” does to you. Actually probably more. So if you want your book to have the same *impact* then this app doesn’t get in the way of it.

    It feels like being offended because a picture is displayed in black and white that was painted in color. And huge. The tiny thumbnail on your phone doesn’t change the original picture, even though it sure as hell changes the way the artist *intended* for it to be viewed.

    And the objection that the app is made for Christians? And… your point would be? That we’d like to engage in religious persecution because someone doesn’t want to consume certain things? I’m vegetarian. You can bet that I ask for things to be left off my food *all the fucking time* because I’d still like to be able to enjoy a meal. Do I have the experience the chef intended? No. Do I have a less enjoyable meal? No. Do I affect anyone else’s enjoyment of their meals? No.

    If people want to read things without profanity, fucking let them.

    • HOW DARE YOU DISAGREE WITH ME THIS ONE TIME.

      *sprays you with skunk musk so that all will know your shame*

      Ahem. No, I kid, I kid. But here’s the thing: I choose words to mean something. Or to evoke a mood. Or to carry a theme. Or just because I jolly well liked that word. Even here, I said “choose,” not “select,” and a third-party picking words — be they profane or otherwise — out of my work and changing them to suit some preference is not something to which I consented. And if someone objects to the language, then they will inevitably object to the ideas, and to the characters, and to the situations. And at some point, we will see an app that does not merely remove — but actually changes — the content itself. Contextual editing.

      As far as the app being for Christians, first, I’ll go back to what Joanne said in her response:

      “Moral. It’s clear from the list of words you consider “profane” that this app is designed to impose a Christian agenda on books. This is insulting to non-Christians. The pejorative use of the word “witch” as a substitute for “bitch” is offensive to pagans, and illustrates your religious bias.”

      And I’ll add that:

      a) Nothing about Christian thought actually prevents or punishes vulgar language.

      b) Any religious body willing to edit language is often also willing to edit history.

      c) Because it is a kind of religious persecution, however small. Just as I don’t want someone to edit my books so that a character professes faith they do not possess (nor I possess), I don’t want someone to edit the words I use because those words are in some way offensive to them. Whatever I put into the books is what I put there. Religious or no.

      The chef metaphor — again, it’s admittedly absurd and maybe I should’ve left it at that — carries through again to the consent of the chef. If you ask to have something vegetarian, the chef has the choice to make it so or not. And he can offer substitutions where appropriate, or consider a request to make “vegetarian fried chicken” not on the menu to be impossible. Just as you have the consensual choice to ask, or to choose something explicitly vegetarian, or to go to a vegetarian restaurant. No third party — particularly one that you pay (because despite being free, Clean Reader gets its cut) — is involved in changing your experience or the restaurant/chef’s experience.

      — c.

      • (I’ll ask the question: what if I edited your comment so that it agreed with me? Not just deleting it — not merely censoring it away, but actively changing your comment so that what the comment says is not at all what you typed into the box, and in fact betrays it utterly?)

      • “I choose words to mean something. Or to evoke a mood. Or to carry a theme.”

        So do I. But I’ll return again to my point that words mean things to different people. If I actually want to evoke the same mood for all my readers then, I don’t have a problem letting people put a blinder on for swear words that are significantly more charged than they are for me.

        Google Translate translates my words, badly, into other languages to make my website accessible to those readers. I don’t give it permission. I have no problems with this.

        I can, in fact, read your website entirely as if written by the Swedish Chef. http://borkalizer.com/

        And yes, if you were to change my post that would be a problem BUT it would be a problem because you were doing it for ALL READERS. If you had an app that blocked offensive content on websites — which already exists, mind you — and turned it on for my post then I’d be fine with that. I’d think you were silly, but I wouldn’t object. If you engaged in an exercise in which you changed my words to agree with you ONLY FOR YOUR OWN VIEWING I’d be fine with that. EVEN if you used an app.

        Clean Reader is a tool that the reader can decide to use or not.

        I find it’s choices ridiculous and the story behind it problematic BUT the tool itself? Eh. I have no problems with it.

    • But it’s not really that people don’t want to consume certain things, they want to consume those things on their own terms, not yours, regardless of what you set out to express. Your books (or Chuck’s) might not break, but some works would.

      Take the movie “All Is Lost.” Large swaths of the film are without dialogue. We follow Robert Redford’s character struggling to keep from drowning on the open sea, with most of his experience revealed through his face and body language. At one point, late in the film and after one too many things have broken against him, he screams the word “Fuck.” It’s a powerful, heartrending moment. Making that a grunt, or “darn,” or left silent wouldn’t convey as absolutely the emotion of that moment.

      And if someone doesn’t want to hear that word, that’s certainly fine, but I’d humbly suggest they don’t really want to see that movie, or might not want to read that book. A vegetarian can go to a restaurant and request changes to the item served, but a diner should probably skip eating at Sukiyabashi Jiro if they don’t like raw fish. Going there, sitting before Jiro Ono as he prepares your food, then peeling the ahi off is disgraceful. Leaving after doing so and saying you don’t see the big deal in eating there is boorish and insulting.

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about this, but for me it comes down to something much more significant than authorial integrity, actually.

      It’s true that words mean different things to different people, and that “gosh darn” may well carry the same weight to them as “goddamn” does to me (probably more really since I don’t think there are any gods damning anyone, but anyway the point stands).

      The bigger issue to me is what gets counted as profanity. What does clean actually mean? Are the words gay, lesbian and trans clean? What about the words vagina and penis? What about the word negro? To me, censoring those words by replacement or elision goes far beyond limiting someone’s intake of put-downs or crass language. It rather makes a powerful and to me frankly offensive political statement about what counts as “clean” or “dirty”.

      Maybe I’m tumbling down the slippery slope Chuck was trying to avoid. To be perfectly clear, I don’t know to what extent Clean Reader censors those particular words and concepts… I’d like to test it out when I have a chance. The fact remains though that it *could*, and all it takes is someone to request such a word be added, and whomever at the company happens to be the arbiter of what goes in the list to agree, which is deeply troubling to me.

      If someone wishes to muffle the force of my cuss words, I find that sort of distasteful, but ethically it’s an affront primarily to me personally, as the author. If they instead wish to elide or change the meaning of words that are clinical, or describe someone’s sex or sexuality, gender, race, or cultural mores, or the real oppression that too often results from those, that’s an affront to all those people (to all people, I’d argue, in fact). It is those experiences being elided or changed. Each such change is a small but no less dangerous erasure of someone’s reality.

      Block out the word “fuck”, eh, ok, I find it kind of silly and I wish it wasn’t happening. But if we start to block out “vagina” or “gay” and state that the work has become “cleaner” thereby… whoo boy do I have a problem with the message that’s sending. I categorically don’t want people to read my work with that sort of message tacked on, even, or maybe even especially, if that’s the message they prefer to see.

    • “And at some point, we will see an app that does not merely remove — but actually changes — the content itself. Contextual editing.” This. Thank you, Chuck. This is the major problem with this app. Every social injustice you can think of can be traced back to attitudes and actions that seemed logical and “not so bad” at the time. This app will lead to others that will change books into something their original author would not even recognize as their own work.

  • Thank you!

    The thing that pissed me off the most was the whole “Our daughter came across language in a book that made her uncomfortable, so we created this app.” Not, we sat down and had a discussion about what she was reading.

    How nice that they’ve taught her that when she feels uncomfortable it’s the thing that makes her feel that way that should change.

    • Yeah, these are the same people who are shocked when their 15 y/o daughter gets pregnant, because teaching her about sex was too uncomfortable. Of course, I’m sure they now have an app to handle this parenting responsibility for them. Growing up in the ’70s, there was a parochial school near my high school. Twenty two percent of their female students ended up pregnant before graduation. Why? Because in the ’70’s, (and maybe now, I don’t know) many Catholic families NEVER talked about sex. And their parochial school damn sure didn’t.

  • Will be interesting to see if this goes the way of the Clean Flicks lawsuit in the early 2000s. Same concept, only editing movies instead of books. Clean Flicks lost to Hollywood’s producers over copyright infringement.

  • I just read what Cory Doctorow has to say about this, and I find that I agree with him more than you. In essence he says he thinks it’s a dumb idea but he doesn’t have a problem with people editing his book for their eyes only. I mean, don’t we all sort of do that anyway? Sometimes typos and grammatical errors slip through editing and copyediting, right? When I read them I mentally re-write it to what it was *probably* supposed to be, but I don’t know for sure. I’m editing what’s in front of me without your explicit consent.

    On a more fundamental level, we take what we want from what we read. Everything’s parsed through our beliefs and knowledge and that changes the text to us, even if it doesn’t literally change the words.

    Don’t get me wrong though; I think it’s a shitty thing to do to your kids, and that editing a book that you then give to someone else is definitely problematic because then you risk influencing them against the author unfairly. But I do think authors have to accept that people are going to do what they do with the books they buy, and this is little more than a streamlined version of me flipping through my copy of Blackbirds and crossing out all the naughty words manually, which I think you’ll agree is my right to do if I ever felt like wasting a whole lot of time.

    I’ll also add that your flair for creative profanity makes me think running a simple find-and-replace on one of your books would make for some interesting turns of phrase, to say the least.

    • Yeah. I had a long post, but it got lost when I submitted it, but it basically tracked this. I’ll look for Doctorow’s comments. I think it is silly, but if someone buys a copy and wants to edit that copy (and that copy alone), then fine. Doesn’t make sense to me, personally, but I don’t have a problem with the other person doing it.

    • This. I don’t appreciate the attitude behind the app, but it’s no different than watching Goodfellas on basic cable,with the added benefit of being opt in rather than an imposed censorship regime.

      Also I’d enjoy replacing common adverbs with “fuckity-bye”.

    • Cory is much, much smarter than I am, and I’m willing to concede he maybe has a point here I’m just too foolish to see. I just don’t agree. I don’t mind if an individual wants to do whatever to my book. They can use it as toilet paper for all they like. Clean Reader is a third-party app that sanitizes the work — just because it creates several possible permutations instead of a single edit doesn’t make it any less pervasive. To me, that makes it all the more concerning.

  • I’m speechless. Well, almost. I am dumbfounded by the stupidity — not to mention arrogance — of scrubbing words and situations from books. No one has the right to change someone else’s words/thoughts to suit them. If you don’t like it, go away or write your own damn book. You won’t be missed.

  • What the hell? Seriously?!?! Clean Reader, those are my words, MINE. My blood, my sweat and tears on those pages. Not yours. You don’t like how the blood, tears and sweat tastes, go cleanse your palate elsewhere–and may I suggest with vanilla flavored milk.

  • FUCK. YEAH. THIS.

    THIS AND A MOTHERFUCKING LOAD OF EPIC FUCKING WIN FOR YOU.

    Thank you for this. When I first saw a story about that software, I was like what. The. Actual. Fuck.

    If an author wants to write books without swear words? Have at it, cupcake.

    Do I swear in my books? My characters do, sometimes, fuck yeah. Because, fuck. Fuckety fuckety FUCKCAKES they sometimes like to swear. And sometimes, they cheese-and-rice don’t swear. And sometimes, they creatively swear by wishing the warts of a thousand toads on the cuntnuggety douchewaffles who piss them right the fark off. (And sometimes they say fark and frak instead of fuck.)

    My characters are real. I swear. Not everywhere, or in every situation, no. But anyone who’s worked on a mutherfuckin car from hell KNOWS you HAVE to swear when trying to get a stuck bold or nut loose. Because FUCKING SWEARING PHYSICS, man. Is too a thing.

    Also, this:

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201205/hell-yes-the-7-best-reasons-swearing

    and

    http://www.psych2go.net/people-swear-lot-tend-honest-loyal-upfront-friends/.

    Anyone whose raised a child knows that yes, there ARE periods of your life where you have the most absurdly non-obscene swear words coming out of your mouth, because LITTLE FUCKING PITCHERS, man. And those big DAMN ears of theirs. Cheese-and-rice. Mudder-humping crepe-balls.

    And sometimes my characters swear like that.

    A snarky, ball-busting character is not going to talk the same as a straight-laced, uptight, reserved character. And if that straight-laced character suddenly drops an F-bomb in the middle of something, you know that’s a serious point for them, that something’s going on.

    It’s all about the language. Sometimes, language is eloquent and dainty and all prim and proper. And sometimes it’s like climbing over a desolate landfill of the rustiest, jaggedest, pointiest words there are, with a heaping of salt on top.

    I get delighted emails from readers when I come up with creative profanity they haven’t heard before. I take that as a compliment, that they’re actually telling me they love the word I used and plan on using it themselves.

    Anyone can call someone a jerk. Or an asshole. But it takes a pen monkey to call someone a douchecanoe filled with smegma-encrusted boil jizz.

    Language, yo.

    I can’t call the software “censorship” even though in a way it is. I hate when people toss “censorship” and “freedom of speech” around like a two-dollar whore without understanding the true definitions.

    To me, software like this is nonconsensual defacement. It’s electronic graffiti. It’s like me saying, “HEY, I am a Pagan, and I’m offended and don’t like that nativity scene on your lawn, so imma just gonna come in here and dress them all like ZZ Top. You’re cool with that, right?”

    No, it’s NOT really different when you look at the principle of the matter.

    We cannot censor the world. We can’t censor the horror of an airplane going down and taking 150 lives in an instant, nearly twenty of them children and babies.

    We cannot censor the really shitty things politicians say about each other and classes of people (even when they’re lying out their eye teeth.)

    We have to TEACH our children the values we want them to have, NOT teach them to erase and homogenize and “clean things up” to suit their sensibilities. We have to teach them to accept differences without losing sight of their own core values and to be TOLERANT of differences. Like you said, people can close a book. Stop reading. I’m not forcing anyone to read my books. Some people will like some of my books, some won’t. Some people who like some of my books might not like other books I write. It is what it is.

    But it’s culturally very dangerous territory to go wiping things out we don’t like. Also, it might be illegal to go changing the text of copyright material, I don’t know. I didn’t give them permission to change the text of my book. Also, are they having to break DRM on some of these books to make the changes? Can they then upload these books and share them, changed? That (I hope) is illegal, isn’t it?

    I do know it pisses me the fuck off when I check out a library book and some asshole has gone through and used a pen to scratch out swear words. That’s DEFACEMENT OF PUBLIC PROPERTY, ASSHOLES. IF someone wants to buy a print copy of a book and do that to THEIR copy, knock yourself out, jerk.

    Let’s look at what ISIS is doing to irreplaceable antiquities. Destroying them.

    Yes, in a way, this is exactly what software like this does. It’s the same as people trying to “rewrite” Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn to make them politically correct. Instead of making them PC, let’s read them, as-is, and understand WHY they’re NOT PC in this day and age, why they were PC way back when, and the changes that evolved between the writing of them and the NOW that took place.

    THAT’S where the value lies. (Lays? I don’t fucking know. I always get that one confused.)

    So…thank you, again, for speaking up about this. Before you did, I was wondering, hey, maybe I’m just really reacting badly and it’s no big deal, even though honestly? It disturbed me on a very fundamental level. I’m glad I’m not alone on this one.

    • When I was a kid, there was a publication series, “Great Illustrated Classics” and I was always proud because I read so many classics at such a young age.

      Later I found out they were abridged and sanitized, I have literally felt cheated for 15 years since I learned this. That’s why I object to this app.

      However, you say:

      “IF someone wants to buy a print copy of a book and do that to THEIR copy, knock yourself out, jerk.”

      Aside from “print”, isn’t that exactly what this app is? I mean, it’s electronic, but they are choosing to buy the book through this app specifically so they can do that. I think it’s dumb, and I agree it’s a dick move, but… I dunno… seems like if you’re giving them that right, you are kind of endorsing the app… (I apologize for the excessive use of ellipses)

      P.S. That is some seriously impressive swearing.

      • Thanks, Matt, for the swearing compliment. 😀 (I have been told I’m…creative.)

        The difference with a paper book is in the licensing. Also, they have to go through and read the book first to see the swear words to blot them out. Electronic media is different, and has different licensing standards.

        My biggest beef with the app is the ability for them to offer up alternatives. DEFINITELY not an approved use of my works. If it was ONLY able to “block” words…I’d still think that was douchey, but it wouldn’t be quite as heinous as replacing my words, alterations to the base file or not.

        My second question now is, how are they obtaining these files? People are buying the files, but how are authors getting paid? Is there extra duplication of the files going on for them to “scrub” a version? I’m guessing the app is a middleman for the book purchases? Who are these people? And, frankly, has anyone done an analysis on if the readers are getting screwed over by some middle man buying and reselling files (if that’s indeed what’s going on here)?

        Um, I haven’t licensed ANYONE to “resell” my files for me other than the vendors they’re uploaded to. (Kindle, Nook, etc.) So if they’re “reselling” files, there IS definitely a SERIOUS copyright issue here, because they’re an unauthorized vendor of said files, and that’s just like what some of those shitty pirate sites do, put files up for money or “donations” and people think they’re legally buying files when they’re not.

        I hope someone can do a follow up on this whole issue with those questions.

        • AFAIK the books are sold through PageFoundry; the app has some sort of deal with them? So if you remove your books from distribution to PageFoundry then they won’t show up in the CleanReader app. (And yes, it’s opt-out, not opt-in.)

          Still not sure how all that works, though, and I think CleanReader probably gets a cut of each sale.

          • Am I to understand that PageFoundry is selling these books AFTER. MindCleaner has changed them? I know that’s illegal. I must be misunderstanding you.

          • @ElctrcRngr — no, CleanReader doesn’t make any changes to the file of the book. There’s a marketplace in the app itself where you can buy books and then open them right in the app and read them, with dirty words omitted (depending on your settings).

            So they’re not selling changed files; they’re working with (I believe) the Inktera part of Page Foundry to provide books directly from the app. And I’m guessing they get a cut of whatever purchases one makes through the app.

            (Sorry, threaded comments only go so deep, so I had to reply to my own comment. Hope you see this!)

  • I can’t believe this app actually exists… well, actually I can, but wish it weren’t so. I love that on their site they also say that if a word you find offensive is not blocked, you can send it to them so they can add it to their list. Nothing like censorship ……

    On the opposite side of things, I feel this is appropriate to share here in case anyone has not had enough fucks from this post:

    • As much as I love this video (and I do) I have to say that it proves a point in reverse – this mega-sweary Dude has as little context as a Clean Reader Dude would have.

  • I was going to write this exact post on my blog… but you took the words right out of my mouth. So I’ll just link yours instead. LOL I couldn’t agree more. My book. My writing. My words. If the reader doesn’t like that I add profanity now and then, he can go elsewhere.

  • I guess I don’t agree with the idea of “authorial consent.” What about all those Star Wars fanedits — the ones that take Jar Jar out of The Phantom Menace, stuff like that. Is that all that different than what we’re talking about here?

    To be sure, I think the app is extraordinarily silly. I would never use it and I don’t think anyone should. But at the same time, I think someone has a right to view a work of art however they wish (as long as the original is available, of course), be it fastforwarding through a traumatic scene (or a particularly bad song in a musical), editing out a cringeworthy character, or, yes, covering up all those naughty words.

    • Fast-forwarding through a movie/TV scene is different, because you’re not fundamentally altering the original work. You’re choosing to avoid part of it, yes. It’s like going to a museum and holding up one hand so you can’t see naked boobies on a nude. That’s different than if you took a towel and tried to drape it around the statue of David so no one else can see his junk, either. (Or took paint and tried to cover up the boobies on a painting.)

      • But that isn’t what is happening with this app. You aren’t purchasing an edited version, you’re purchasing the original book. Then you can play with the settings on the app to scrub out the parts you don’t want to see.

      • That is explicitly not what’s happening here. The app only affects the work for the user. The work itself *not* being sold to anyone else with the naughty words bleeped out. Your holding-up-one-hand example is the perfect metaphor for what the app does — though if you want to be exact, I guess it’s more like someone saying “That picture has boobs. If you want, you can hold your hands like this and you won’t see them.”

    • A fan-edit isn’t sold on the marketplace, though. If the film was sold through a vendor whose programmatic ability was to change and remix the story and reshare it, you can bet that would be challenged. Some films or shows or musicians or companies are comfortable with this happening. Others are not. Consent still matters in this. YMMV.

      • Is the work actually being sold through them, though? From what I can tell, you have to purchase the original book. The app then simply opens that original file, and shows you the contents — minus the censored bits. According to the FAQ, it doesn’t even modify the originally purchased file.

        The sharing can get a little tricky, depending on how it’s utilized. I seem to remember an app that got in trouble for doing something similar, since the ‘edits’ people could share were entire modified books instead of just a list of changes (on line one, change “fuck” to “fudge it all consarnit”).

        Even as a wacky left-wing copyright hater, I agree that if the app actually sold the sanitized copies of the work, it would be ethically and legally unacceptable.

        • I’m seeing on the app’s page a lot of “in-app” purchases that are books. Therefore, since they aren’t charging for the app itself, it looks like the app IS a middleman. Someone correct me if I’m wrong. And again, that to me brings up a WHOLE slew of copyright questions.

  • I guess we raise our kids differently. I still laugh when one day my then-five-year-old son Mike looked up at me and said, “Dad, I really like going to your readings.” I smiled, thinking this is great–my boy loves literature. He added, “I like going to ’em because I get to hear the word fuck legally.” I laughed so hard, I almost broke a rib. You know… a fucking rib… Today, he’s all grown-up and stuff… and still likes going to readings, mine and others. He turned out pretty well. I’m just glad he grew up in a country where we still have freedom of speech… Good post, Chuck.

  • And a quick FYI on the point about music and the explicit and clean versions–the “clean” versions are usually for public radio play, if I’m not mistaken, due to FCC regulations about swear words. Also why TV editions of movies aired on some TV stations are also edited to remove/change swear words. That’s a slightly different beast.

  • Ironically, I posted a link to this post on a writing forum to send some traffic and start a discussion there. The forum won’t let me link to the post because of the profanity in the link. That’s just ridiculous :/

    I posted a link to the site home page instead.

  • I’m a Christian. I lace my books with a hefty dose of profanity. It IS emotion, it’s real, and anyone who tries to sugarcoat language AND life as portrayed by an author might as well live in a cave and rip the boulders down around the door. My personal beliefs will inform my work, yes, but one of those beliefs is that God could care less if I’m prone to an F-bomb. For real, if the Clean Reader people drop a hammer on their toe, are they more likely to shout, “Fiddlesticks!!” or “Shit the bed!!” If it’s realistic to the character and voice, then it should stay, no matter whose precious and innocent eyes might fall on it after being forced to buy the book in the first place.

  • So what I’m hearing from the creator’s of this app is “Our special snowflake is sad. So instead of parenting, we’ll keep everything that might make her sad away from her.” I wonder what they’ll come up with when a boy makes her sad?
    As for writing with profane words, it was something I struggled with when writing my first story. My characters didn’t swear a lot, but when they did, it was for emphasis. I was afraid of offending someone. If you try to please everyone, I discovered, you’ll make yourself crazy in the attempt. No one has the right to censor what I say, why do these people think they have the right to censor what I write? It really pisses me off.

    • You cannot please everyone. The only one you can please is yourself, and your characters. If you don’t stay true to your characters, then you aren’t being true to your story, or yourself.

    • Not that Chuck needs me to defend him, but Christians seem, to me, quite willing and ready to stomp on the rights of any woman, should she dare to use her body or live her life in a way that they don’t approve of. Not to mention that his comments hardly constitute stomping on their freedom of religious expression

  • I’m thinking a ‘Rose Tinted Glasses’ app will be next in the works for browsing art museums. Wouldn’t want to hurt delicate sensibilities when perusing nude art.

    Fuck that.

  • March 25, 2015 at 11:49 AM // Reply

    What I’d like to know is- What is the fucking legality of all this shit?! I mean my fucking book is under fucking copyright. You can’t replicate, change my fucking words or edit my book and profit from it without my fucking permission. Is the fucking asshole who created the bullshit app making money off of it? This is dangerous fucking territory!

    • This app should be challenged in court. Copyright law is there to protect authors and their works. Now an app can arbitrarily change words on-the-fly? Whether or not the “cleaning” feature can be turned or off makes no difference to the fact of the app: it’s in violation of the author’s exclusive right to a written work’s use and distribution. The keyword here is “use”. The app is *using* a copyrighted text in a manner not approved by the copyright holder.

      • Thank you. ^^ That’s exactly what I was thinking and wasn’t able to express. ^^ Again, if they want to buy a print copy for their own reading and blank out “offensive” words with a marker, okay. But the electronic version, they do not have my permission, nor my publisher’s permission, to alter the content in any way.

  • Makes that whole slogan, “there’s an app for that,” ring louder.

    Next thing you know, they’ll have an app that allows readers to choose a different outcome to the story, and then they’ll be able to pick their own cover art, and on and on.

  • Awesome, the church lady in an app. All we need now is an app that will force us to eat our vegetables, give up red meat and stop using gender specific words.

    Have we really gotten this lazy that we need an app to determine what we can consume, read, enjoy? Maybe they should re-name it to the Parent App (not to be confused with the Parent Trap, because that was actually a cute movie, though no profanity…hmmm).

    And really ain’t it great that there’s an app that can equally homogenize all writing so that all writers are on a level playing field.

    So cool that parents don’t have to pay attention to what’s landing in their child’s universe because hey, there’s an app for that. Because you know, children and adult alike, we’re just not capable of creating our own filters and making a knowing decision about what we do and do not consume.

    What’s next a clean reader Thesaurus? What a load of steaming shit.

  • Unbelievable. I’d never heard of this app, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. I so agree that we have no right to mess with an author’s text for any reason. Don’t buy the book or wait until you’re older. Can you even imagine an edited version of Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian? I cannot. I think the only one star review I ever gave was for Great Illustrated Classics Adventures of Tom Sawyer. They stripped Twain’s work of its beauty and complexity and humor. It’s legal, but is it moral?

  • OMG…your apt response should be a book unto itself. Everything you said, I was shouting, with spittle and mucus spewing from my throat. Who gives someone else the right to edit MY book? Is that even legal?Write your own goddamn book! Bravo comments about the specious app!

  • The first thing that occurred to me when I read about this was either suck it up or don’t read it. Life is like that. This is bigger than writing in general. The next thing is that at 56 yoa I am a fan of Eminem. I think he is a great poet. I don’t have to like all his stuff, but he is entitled to own the way he expresses himself, and I don’t HAVE to like it all. I hear it all, but don’t absorb it, holy fuck people! (*Clean Reader* gee whiz) grow up!

  • I was livid to find my books on this app and I was not happy with the dismissive, unapologetic and insulting response I recieved from Clean Reader. White Out my ass. There’s a HUGE difference between a reader using White Out and an app removing words preemptively. THE PERSON IN CONTROL OF THE WHITE OUT.

    I managed to get my stuff removed from the app, which came down to pulling them from Page Foundry.

    It’s called PARENTING and you’re doing it wrong. Not something I say often because hey, parents, you do you. But when your brand of parenting bleeds into my life and the lives of countless others who didn’t ask to be part of your shenanigans? Nope. All the NOPE. The badger nope and the octopus nope. When you then temper that with “our lawyers said we could” and other inappropriate comments? Even more nope.

    Semantics: we’re not changing your words we’re adding a box, like white out! vs. We’re molesting your words with our click boxes.

    Hands off.

    Thank you, Chuck, for this well thought out and well written article that would be full of little white click boxes and fairly unintelligible via Clean Reader.

      • I emailed Page Foundry as they supply the content for Clean Reader here: support@pagefoundry.com

        My email as to why I wanted my books removed:

        I do not want my books part of an app that promotes censorship or changes the words I wrote in any way whatsoever. They’re my words, nobody has the right to bastardize, bowdlerize or otherwise change them and thereby their meaning.

        If a reader doesn’t like the words I use they simply don’t have to read them, that’s the beauty of books, there are millions of them, and millions of readers. My readers like my words, every single one of them. Changing words changes intent, it changes much more than a simple word. I am opposed to that on every single level there is.

        Thank you for helping me take care of this.

        The response from Page Foundry:

        Hey Jenn:
        We agree on that, for sure!

        The Huffington Post article painstakingly clarified that this user-based option isn’t changing any of the words/text/meaning of any books. It’s simply a switch that the user can flip on/off that “low-lights” some of the words. It’s just like highlighting, but covering white/on/white. The user can turn it on/off as they wish.
        It’s no different than Barnes & Noble offering a free sample of white-out at the counter, really. If the user chose to redact certain words from a certain book, it’s not like you would say Barnes & Noble censored all of their books, right?

        Anyway, rest assured that we aren’t changing author’s words, and not forcing anyone to do anything.
        Any book that’s sold on the system is delivered to the user in the exact same form it was produced by the author. All of the user’s abilities to adjust the font, margins, highlighting, nite-mode, etc… are just user settings to make the book easier to read for them personally.

        Keep pumping out those books, friend!!

        This is the email I found dismissive, FRIEND, White Out my ass, and I’ve already spoken to the difference between white out being used by a reader and this app.

      • I just went through my email string— I started by emailing the app directly here: jared@cleanreaderapp.com

        I asked how they acquired content, they informed me it was Inktera/Page Foundry and added them to the string, the final email was actually from Page Foundry, not Clean Reader.

        I control my distribution and pulled Page Foundry the minute I heard the name, but they were willing to pull distribution to just that app as well on their end.

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