Saturday, July 4, 2009

Book Warning Labels

Over at Mark Shea's blog, Shea discusses a copy of G. K. Chesterton's Everlasting Man
, which in a 2008 edition includes the warning that, "This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race have changed before allowing them to read this classic work."

Shea is generous with this insidious, bigoted notice, this ignorant besmirching of an author's name and work because he lacks the over-sensitivity and mealy-mouthed, tip-toeing cowardice of a modern writer, the cowardice that forces said modern writer to bad grammar and laborious euphemisms, this politically correct fear of offending all the professional victims and media darlings that prevents academics, students, and politicians from speaking plainly and speaking their minds, this assault on decency, honesty, and generosity disguised as politeness. I cannot be so generous.

This adding of a label to Chesterton's book reminds me of some conversations I've had, during which certain people felt justified in completing my sentences for me in order to make me sound like a dunderhead. Once, some years ago, when I stated that I wished to join a church, a listener added, "that meets your needs," assuming incorrectly that I was more concerned with my appetites than with true religion. I found the addition a severe insult. Even less to my liking is the additive, "in your opinion," that some companions have been in the habit of appending to my absolute statements about the way the world works. The next person who completes my sentences in such a manner is going to get mauled.

Speaking of obnoxious literary warning labels, I have here a copy of Metropolis, an early manga by Osamu Tezuka. Incredibly prolific and commonly known as the God of Manga, Tezuka is best known around here for Astro Boy. Metropolis is the middle part of Tezuka's so-called SF Trilogy, which also contains Lost World and Nextworld. It is rather primitive by today's standards of comics, and even Tezuka himself, in his latter years, disliked it enough to oppose the anime adaptation (which was made anyway after his death), but Metropolis was important in shaping manga as we know and love (or hate) it today, and introduces themes Tezuka would explore again in Astro Boy and Princess Knight.

At any rate, I have here the 2003 Dark Horse printing of Metropolis, which can boast of being the first English-language edition. But inside the front cover, I found a notice that very nearly prevented me from enjoying the rest of the book's contents. I print it here in full so you can gape in wonder at the condescension and assumed reader stupidity as well as the veiled insults the publishers have decided to hurl at this most beloved and influential of manga creators (my comments are in red):

Many non-Japanese, including people from Africa and Southeast Asia, appear in Osamu Tezuka's works. Sometimes, these people are depicted very differently from the way they actually are today. In a manner that exaggerates a time long past or shows them to be from extremely undeveloped lands. [Since when is being undeveloped something that comes in grades? Perhaps they mean extremely underdeveloped.] Some feel [not think, mind you] that such images contribute to racial discrimination, especially against people of African descent. [Who are these "some"? The publishers?] This was never Osamu Tezuka's intent, but we believe that as long as there are people [who?] who feel [feelings again] insulted or demeaned by these depictions, we must not ignore their feelings [feelings again].

We are against discrimination, in all its forms [except against manga artists from the past], and intend to continue to work for its elimination. Nonetheless, we do not believe it would be proper to revise these works. [Discrimination we're against. Censorship we might consider.] Tezuka is no longer with us, and we cannot erase what he has done [*sputter*], and to alter his work would only violate his rights as a creator. [At least they have that part figured out. I wish these guys would talk to the translators of the NRSV Bible.] More importantly, stopping publication or changing the content of his work would do little to solve the problems of discrimination that exist in the world. [You can start by solving this problem of discrimination against manga creators who don't fit your PC trendiness.]

We are presenting Osamu Tezuka's work as it was originally created, without changes. We do this because we believe it is also important to promote the underlying themes of his work, such as love for mankind and the sanctity of life. [Oops, that last one's not PC either; are you sure you shouldn't apologize for that, too?] We hope that when you, the reader [who we apparently think is an idiot], encounter this work [or, you know, just read it], you will keep in mind the differences in attitudes, then and now, toward discrimination, and that this will contribute to an even greater awareness of such problems.
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