3 March 2023

Sure signs of grumpy old man syndrome

| Ross Solly
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Willy Wonka meme

Circle of strife: it started as a book, became a film, morphed into a meme and then life imitated art. Image: File.

Indications I am becoming a grumpy old man – clue number five: Sensitivity readers.

We don’t employ sensitivity readers at Region, to which some may say, more the pity. But they’d have their work cut out with some of our writers.

What we do have are several hard-working, long-suffering sub-editors who have the forlorn task every week of reading through my 500-word diatribes and somehow turning them into something that can be presented to the public.

This month, we learned of the emergence of a new form of employment that sits alongside influencers as a career choice of the modern era. ‘Sensitivity readers’ are finding work at book publishers, combing through the works of authors we once revered but it turns out were racist, sexist, body-shaming charlatans.

It’s the works of Roald Dahl which brought this literary cleansing process to our attention.

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It turns out Dahl has sprinkled words like fat and ugly throughout his works, and dared to assign a gender to Oompa Loompas.

We now know Roald Dahl was a bit of a Willy Wonka in his private life. But his books have entertained youngsters for generations and somehow made it through to 2023 before someone somewhere decided people might feel offended.

Good lord, if some find Charlie and the Chocolate Factory offensive, what hope have some of the other classics got? Beauty and the Beast is surely doomed. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol must surely go lest it offends people who don’t celebrate Christmas. Don’t even get me started on David Copperfield.

Mark Twain’s Tales of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn can’t be allowed to survive. (In fairness to the sensitivity readers, when I read Tom Sawyer to my children, I did self-censor one or two words.)

The big talking point has been whether this is sensitivity or censorship? Surely it has to be the latter.

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When you change something to protect people’s feelings, that smells like censorship to me. I know what some are saying – Ross, you are a white man who has lived a privileged life, what would you know about being offended by someone writing about witches needing to wear wigs because they are bald?

Granted. So maybe I have no right to complain about the removal of entire paragraphs of James and the Giant Peach, or that Oompa Loompas are no longer small men, but now small people.

The group overseeing the rewrite is called Inclusive Minds. A spokesperson said the aim is “to ensure authentic representation, by working closely with the book world and with those who have lived experience of any facet of diversity”.

So that’s not me, so I’ll butt out, but not before saying – the world has possibly gone mad.

*Earlier clues of my becoming a grumpy old man, as displayed by previous writings on this site:

1. Railing against Andrew Tate.

2. Railing against Twitter.

3. Railing against the use of AI

4. Railing against the use of mobile phone detection cameras.

Original Article published by Ross Solly on Riotact.

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