Or, in this case, “Goodnight Moon.” From the NYT:
“Goodnight Moon,” the children's classic by Margaret Wise Brown, has gone smoke free. In a newly revised edition of the book, which has lulled children to sleep for nearly 60 years, the publisher, HarperCollins, has digitally altered the photograph of Clement Hurd, the illustrator, to remove a cigarette from his hand. HarperCollins said it made the change to avoid the appearance of encouraging smoking.
Tough one, huh? On the one hand, what's wrong with removing the suggestion that cigarette smoking is okay? On the other hand, Karen Karbo has plenty to say about that:
EXCELLENT start, HarperCollins, but why stop there? The text of “Goodnight Moon” itself is laden with messages that are potentially harmful to our youngest readers.
She goes on to suggest a number of changes, among them:
B. The blue stripes are adorable, but the reader has no way of knowing whether Bunny's pj's meet current flammability standards. Suggested change: digitally alter to include visible “flame resistant” label, in accordance with recommendations made by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Digitally removing pj's is not an option.
C. Tell me this rug is not made of the skin of a Siberian tiger. Suggested change: Digitally remove to avoid appearance of condoning hunting of planet's endangered species.
D. How long has this bowl full of mush been sitting here? A single drop of sour milk contains more than 50 million potentially fatal bacteria. At the very least Bunny is in danger of contracting irritable bowel syndrome. Not to mention mush is low in fiber.
Suggested change: Digitally remove.
E. Balloons cause more choking deaths among 3- to 6-year-olds than any other toy. Suggested change: Digitally remove.
Karbo suggests 12 changes in all, each designed to bring the book up to modern PC standards. For more on this topic, visit NPR's interview with Karbo on Talk of the Nation.
It seems like a good idea to remove the cigarette, but how far do we go? Isn't it the parents' responsibility to make sure kids know right and wrong, good and bad, etc? Does HarperCollins really need to make that choice for them? Is this really a matter of HC trying to protect children, or is it more of a perceived sales factor? Could the cigarette's presence hurt sales? Is this censorship? Things to think about, that's for sure.
And what does any of this have to do with the George Clooney movie, Good Night and Good Luck? Well, McCarthy was all about censorship for one thing. And the cigarette smoking in this movie is downright amazing. I was shocked at how pervasive smoking was in the 50s. Murrow appeared on the air with a cigarette in his hand. Cigarette commercials were standard fare. Smoking at the office? Oh yeah.
The movie, btw, is FANTASTIC. Mike and I talked about it for days afterward. It's a must buy the instant it comes out on DVD. The soundtrack is pretty awesome too.
Great piece, Lynn! I’m a bit fed up with revisionists – literature is a piece of history.
I’m with you, Terry. I understand the desire to “tidy” it up, but darn it, where’s the line? If you tidy this up, what’s next? Do we take photos of civil rights protests and airbrush out the water from the firehoses, for instance?