Can't possibly agree more with these authors over the idea of an app that bowdlerizes e-books. I have been working on a couple of (I hope) creative writing projects here and there, and so I suppose I'd have some sort of dog in the fight should I decide to publish any of it. Even the small stuff I have published on Amazon, the annual blog roundups and Asshole compilations, it would be annoying to think that someone was reading them with one eye squinted, ever on alert for Those Terrible Words.
What a way to go through life, needing everything cleansed, sanitized for your protection. Life generates in the soil, and in art, the most interesting signs of life can be found in the things that take you out of your comfort zone, that provide at least a frisson of danger and menace, of unseemliness.
I can't begrudge an app maker his opportunity to turn a buck; I'm sure the people who buy and use the app to its full capacity will love their squeaky-clean reading experiences, as sparkly and dull as a mass-produced Kincade litho, the light beaming just so on the cobblestone, whilst the dappled waterfall courses just beyond, glistening in the sun, a unicorn astride a perfect rainbow at the edge of the image.
Obviously spectra shift; just as most professional Democrats now lionize the eminently moderate, reasonable conservatism of Ronald Reagan, simply because Reagan (like Nixon and Eisenhower) would have to run in that party these days, so too do artistic boundaries shift. Music and movies re-align much more quickly, of course, due to the ephemeral nature of those media and their promotional mechanisms, and also because Americans read less frequently, and less challenging material. (In the aggregate, of course -- I'm not talking about you, Gentle Reader!)
But the thing is, as Chuck Wendig (and go check out The Kick-Ass Writer if you're so inclined, good stuff throughout) points out, the problem with the pecksniffs is that they have somehow conflated profanity as being inversely (or at least obliquely) proportional to overall quality. And that's just not true, not in general anyway.
I should probably do a couple of different word counts here someday, when I have the time (which will be roughly the 12th of never; mark your calendars), both in total count and in the usage of (let's say) Carlin's seven words, plus any others I've conjured in my more inventive moments. The thing is, I (and I assume every other person who writes regularly, regardless of whether they are professional writers) strive to use words with intent. Whether the word is fork or friend or fuck, rest assured that while there may be a clunker or a forced one here or there, ninety-nine times out of a hundred it is placed with intent. This is true as much for "regular" words as for "profane" ones.
Profanity, the pecksniffs and bowdlerizers should understand, is useful in its emphasis and versatility, its immediacy and impact, its ineffable rhythm. I can describe a villainous person in a hundred words or more, beat around the bush, try to convey my perception, or I can cut to the chase and say this guy's a fucking asshole. Boom. Even your pearl-clutching Aunt Minnie knows by-gawd right away what that is all about. There is no misinterpretation possible. The intent is clear, as is the degree of intent.
Look. As a parent, I get it, to a certain extent. We try to strike a noble balance between protecting our kids from the ugly shit that a small but noisy chunk of humanity (or something perilously close) has to offer, and raising a sheltered veal that's unprepared for at least recognizing said ugliness when the time comes to fly from the nest.
And it's not like the Clean Reader folks are forcing anyone to buy their app, not like a fascist, theocratic state is forcing the peons to use the app. This is not Saudi Arabia, folks, despite what some of our fellow morlocks and their anointed dogsbodies might prefer.
But to me, redacting or changing the words of a writer, even an f-bomb, whether from Chuck Wendig, Stephen King, whoever -- that's a desecration. King's a great example, in fact; I've enjoyed his writing since I was in junior high school, and it would be hard to think of a modern contemporary writer who throws down the word fuck with more passion, precision, humor.
Certainly some writers, like hack comics, rely on it to a gratuitous extent. Changing one of King's fucks would be like removing a couple of key notes from, say, Clapton's Crossroads solo, or penciling a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Most of it's there, but something's off. Remember when they tried to syndicate The Sopranos on A&E? What a monkey-fuck that was.
Lesson: If it ain't broke, don't fuck with it.