Cultural events earlier this month brought to light, on two continents, the problem of maintaining the integrity of art and literature under the onslaught of political correctness.
In Sweden, a controversy has erupted over the re-broadcast of a 1969 television adaptation of the Pippi Longstocking books, the children’s classics authored by Astrid Lindgren. The Swedish national TV station, SVT, announced that it is revising a scene from the 1969 television series about Pippi which she says her father is “king of the Negroes,”a direct quote from one of the stories. Believe it or not, this has set off a contentious national debate.
The family has approved the station’s desire to change the TV version, but is keeping the term in future editions of the books. In 2006, the family added a preface explaining that today, the word is considered “offensive,” but that when the books first appeared, “Negro was a common expression for people with black skin who lived in other parts of the world than ours.” That’s a sensible solution. Period and context is important in art and literature: the urge by some to constantly purge the world of any reference, word or attitude in past creations that seem out of place now leads to a form of cultural self-lobotomy. Erik Helmerson, a columnist at Dagens Nyheter, an influential Stockholm newspaper, called the changes a form of censorship. “I’m very sensitive to the fact that people are offended by the N word,” he said in an interview. “I’d never use it myself.” He even called revising the TV series “a huge interference into freedom of speech.” “Where do we draw the line? What do we cut and what do we keep? Who should decide? Who needs to be offended before we cut a word?” Continue reading