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There’s nothing SF writers hate worse than being proved right. That’s because our predictions that come true hardly ever turn out to be the positive ones.

I should say right off the bat that SF writers aren’t actually in the business of making predictions, which is a good thing. Our record in that department is lousy. True, Heinlein predicted the credit card and the microwave, but he also predicted we’d all be using rolling roads by now and taking our slide rules with us into space. Clarke predicted space elevators and space stations, but had us sinking in fifty feet of sand on the moon. William Gibson may have predicted multi-national computer hackers in NEUROMANCER, but he didn’t see either Facebook or middle-school cyberbullying coming.

That’s because prediction like the psychics claim to do isn’t what we’re doing. Our job is to extrapolate, an entirely different thing, to look at trends and possibilities and say, “If this goes on, here’s what’s liable to happen.” But even though we’re not trying to be John Edward or Jeane Dixon, some of what we write about does come to pass. In my short story, “Samaritan,” I had apes being taught sign language, returning to their zoos, and teaching the rest of the primates to sign, which actually happened a couple of years after the story came out.

That’s about the only good thing I’ve ever predicted that came true. Everything else–from over-the-top ridiculous Christmas décor (“deck.halls@boughs/holly”) to duct-tape-fashions (BELLWETHER), has been stuff I’d rather hadn’t have happened.

Especially all the stuff I proposed in REMAKE. When I wrote the book back in 1995, CGI was limited to a few space ships blowing up, but in the years since nearly everything in the book has come to pass, from CGI-constructed stars to resurrecting dead actors. And messing with the classics to suit current sensibilities.

In REMAKE, my hero’s job is the “clean up” classic movies, removing the smoking and drinking and other no longer socially acceptable things from CASABLANCA and NOW, VOYAGER and IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. And now here’s Sony announcing they’re going to release “clean” versions of movies for viewing by “a wider family audience,” removing graphic violence, offensive language, sexual innuendo, gore, and “adult content,” (whatever the heck that is) from such movies as SPIDERMAN, GHOSTBUSTERS, MONEYBALL, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.

It’s hard to see exactly what that family audience is doing watching CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (you know, the one about the Somali pirates who kidnapped everyone on a ship and began murdering them) or Judd Apatow movies in the first place, which makes me wonder if this wasn’t done more to sell movies to the religious right, who’ve responded enthusiastically to the idea, praising the initiative, which would make watching “high quality films without crude scenes and language” possible and protect them from the “worldly influences” of most films.

But, that aside, there’s still the issue of whether people should be able to mess with someone else’s work of art. The people defending the initiative say movies aren’t works of art, but products, and as such, can be endlessly retooled to appeal to the public, like Coca-Cola and iPhones. As one blog put it, censoring out profanity in a “sometimes disposable diversion like STEP-BROTHERS” is hardly akin to modifying “a historical and timeless work of art.”

Actually, that’s exactly what it is. Every movie (and book and poem and painting) is some artist’s creation, and the only one with the right to change it (or give permission to change it) is the author.

This is not a new issue. Look at all the attempts to censor and/or bowdlerize everything from Mark Twain’s THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN to Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET. (The word “bowdlerize,” in fact, comes from Thomas Bowdler, who changed Ophelia’s death to an accidental drowning and changed Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damned spot!” to “Out, crimson spot!”) And it’s not the first time for the movies, either. Even before Sony’s initiative, there were numerous filtering and expurgating programs out there, like VidAngel and Utah’s CleanFlicks and the ClearPlay DVD Player (all currently being sued by the movie industry).

The cleaning up is always done for the best of reasons. When five of Emily Dickinson’s poems were submitted for publication in the local paper, the editor helpfully “fixed” all the punctuation (eliminating those awful dashes!) and changed her “near-rhymes” into real rhymes, completely butchering them. In like manner, groups have cut WHEN HARRY MET SALLY’s famous orgasm scene out, left the main action scene out of THE MATRIX, and made the two women in the award-winning CAROL “just friends.”

Which is the other reason fiddling can’t be allowed. It’s the slipperiest of slopes. I mean, since you’re taking the smoking out of CASABLANCA, why not get rid of the scene where the Nazis shoot Peter Lorre? It’s “graphic violence,” and so is Rick’s shooting the Nazi at the end. And that ending’s such a downer. Let’s fix it so Rick and Ilsa fly off together instead. Only that’ll change that other scene in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY where they discuss CASABLANCA’s ending, too, so that’ll need to be taken out, too, and while we’re at it….

Luckily for those of us who want the movies left alone, the response to Sony’s initiative has been furious. Judd Apatow went ballistic with a decidedly non-clean tweet, followed by Seth Rogan’s slightly less profane message: “Holy sh*t please don’t do this to our movies. Thanks.” Andrew McKay objected and the Directors Guild went to battle, demanding Sony take down the movies already released and get directors’ permission before altering any others, and they’ve now
pulled back, but you can be sure this’ll be tried again, especially since modern tech makes fiddling with film–and books–so easy.

Which was what I was trying to say in REMAKE. And it, by the way, was supposed to be a cautionary tale, not a how-to manual!

Connie Willis

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