One of the biggest dangers inherent in digital publishing is that with the disappearance of hard-copy books, future editors can modify any book for the political correctness prevalent at their time. Don’t like the “N” word in Tom Sawyer? Get rid of it. Offended by Hemingway’s references to Jews? Gone. It’s something you rarely hear mentioned as we dive headlong into digital books and e-readers, but it’s not something without precedent.
Photographers are living the same reality in that it’s gotten pretty much impossible to tell when a photo depicts an actual event or if it’s been Photoshopped. Explosions are inserted into purported war pictures for greater effect, actors’ heads are grafted onto different, buffer bodies, etc.
I got to thinking about this while watching the movie Penny Serenade yesterday. I’m a Cary Grant fan and had never seen this effort, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
By 2011 standards, the plot is offensive. It depicts a couple who decide to adopt when the wife is left incapable of having children after a miscarriage. The only available child at the orphanage is a baby girl, which the husband only grudgingly accepts – they wanted a blue-eyed, 2 year-old boy, to replace the one they lost that would have been two by then. In time Cary Grant grows to love his little girl but she is tragically snatched away overnight by a mysterious illness at the age of six.
The couple is on the verge of divorce after the husband falls into a profound depression and will not communicate with wife, Irene Dunn. A week or so after the child’s death, she is packing up to leave him. As she walks down the stairs to the front door, suitcases in hand, the phone rings. It’s the orphanage with the marvelous news that a 2 year-old, blue-eyed boy has suddenly become available. The couple smiles, embraces, and heaves a sigh of relief; everything is OK again, a more suitable replacement has been found!
Our dog died three years ago. We’re just getting over it sufficiently to consider another. These folks recover from the loss of a daughter in a week! Clearly, a movie such as this would never have made the cut today.
All this to say that books, photos, and films are snapshots of the attitudes, beliefs, and minds of people at any given time in history. They showcase our evolution. We shouldn’t be ashamed of them; they represent where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.