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Oskar and Huck

When Steven Spielberg was approached by NBC to broadcast his masterpiece film, Schindler’s List, he had two conditions. First, no commercial interruptions during the entire three and one-half hour running time. Second, the movie must be uncut, not one frame left out or altered. NBC agreed and the show aired on Feb. 23rd, 1997.

Even though Spielberg warned before the movie started about its disturbing content, some potential offendees watched anyway; and then complained. One was Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), who issued a release saying that network television had sunk, “to an all-time low, with full-frontal nudity, violence and profanity,” and should not have aired, “on a Sunday evening during a family time.”

Well, Tom, we really don’t care if you were offended by what scholars regard as the most accurate depiction of the Holocaust ever made. If you were titillated by the full frontal nudity of people walking into a gas chamber, or offended by the profanity, or shocked by the violence, then cover your eyes and ears and mouth. It’s not about you. It’s about one of the most horrific periods in history, and a man, Oskar Schindler, who, as part of that history, goes from being detached and uncaring to being consumed with grief over what he had witnessed.

Today, we have another crusader who wants to protect our sensibilities; especially those of our innocent children. Enter Auburn University’s Alan Gribben, who has authored a new release of Mark Twain’s classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and, in the doing, removed 217 uses of the “N” word from the original work. In Gribben’s defense, his sanitized version was done at the behest of many teachers who wanted to have the book available for the classroom, but one that would be less offensive to parents and students, especially black students.

With all due respect to Dr. Gribben, he has destroyed the whole point of the book. Huck came to find that, contrary to the ubiquitous and hate-filled racism of the day, an escaped slave, a black man, was a real human being, worthy of respect and deserving of freedom. This is a book that exposes the ignorance of that racism and transforms Huck, much like it transformed Oskar Schindler, from a bystander into a participant doing his best to help fight man’s inhumanity to man.

No, removing the N-word from Huckleberry Finn would be like removing the material Senator Coburn objected to from Schindler’s List. The meaning would be lost. And the true suffering of the African-Americans and the Jews would soon be forgotten.

This dilemma was not lost on Huck: “It would get all around, that Huck Finn helped a nigger to get his freedom; and if I was to ever see anybody from that town again, I’d be ready to get down and lick his boots for shame. That’s just the way: a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it. Thinks as long as he can hide it, it ain’t no disgrace.”

Parents and teachers, take note.


Published in the Joplin Globe on January 10, 2011


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