Thursday, July 16, 2009

On Censorship and Genealogy

***Warning! This blog entry has been conceived while standing on a soapbox! Warning! Proceed at your own risk! :-) ***

oh, you're still here? Okay, here goes.

Some things have happened over at GenealogyWise, I'm sure you've heard so I won't re-hash. One of the outcomes is that there is now a discussion about the role of censorship on the site. Basically it's come down to the ideas of: no porn, no business, no rudeness.

Naturally, the last one (rudeness) has prompted a lot of discussion. My idea of rudeness is quite different from yours and everyone else's. I might think it's cute to call someone Mr. Poopy-pants, but maybe they think that is darn rude. There's no good answer, other than to let us all act like adults until we don't. I know, it's still subjective, but that is the age we live in now, we need to learn how to deal with it. The anonymity of the Internet, or the distance (both literal and figuratively) that exists even when we do know who each other is, makes it easy to forget to "Be Nice". I'm always surprised by how quickly comments on news stories and blogs turn into name-calling and insults. We are our lowest common denominator. We are human and messy and selfish and mean.

The 2nd one, no business, makes some good sense to me, to a point. The last thing I would want to see are those fake "family crest" businesses set up shop and start bilking inexperienced genealogists out of money. But I would love to see a way to contact legitimate businesses. Maybe a section of the site where professionals can list their contact information and specialties. But I have to go there looking for it, not have it in my face all the time.

And lastly, what prompted me to write this posting: Porn. I can promise you, my definition of porn, like rudeness, is different than yours. At first, I had no problem with the idea, ok, sure, the genealogy site won't have porn on it. Sounds reasonable to me!

But then in all the comments, it immediately went another direction. We should also not allow any nudity...if your grandma was a burlesque dancer, put some black bars on her picture before posting. If you're transcribing text from a letter or book, if there are curse words, use an asterik, like "h*ll".


I don't understand why so many of us find the human body offensive, or would consider a naked picture of a woman from 1899 (for instance) to be porn. Those naked women, usually just showing their breasts, from those old photos are still usually wearing more clothes overall than most tweens and teen girls today. So a breast is showing, who cares?

My suggestion would be to not automatically show pictures that users upload on to the site on the main page. Let a user tag a photo from their page for public viewing. That way, you'd have to actually go to my page, and flip through all my pictures to find something to be offended about. And at the same time, we won't be imposing one set of views from one group of people on to another.

As for censoring curse words...well, what do you consider a curse word? The 7 words we can't say on television? Cause I know some people who are really really good at making up new aggregate curse words from already existing words, and they aren't part of the original list.

Now, let me state, out of all the genealogy books, town history books, vital record books, and all those other books, not once do I recall coming across any sort of curse word. But if I did, if there was a court record or something from 1690 where they transribed an ancestor of mine who cursed a blue streak, well, that's history, and I'm not going to alter it. So if I wanted to transribe something, I'm gonna transcribe it. But again, you'd have to search me out to find the information so you could be offended.

Just like this blog, it's not being shoved down anyone's throat, if you think my views are horrible and wrong and irresponsible, you can stop reading and delete your link to me. That is your power. In your world, I will be silenced, and that is as it should be.

And if you're worried about the children, just remember, the more you hide something, ignore something, prohibit something, the more shiny and sparkly and alluring it becomes.

Anyway, that is my 2 cents. I will continue to use genealogywise, I think it is a cool site and a cool idea and I've already made some contacts on there that I'm really grateful for. And I promise not to post any pictures or text that will offend anyone (and I'll even use your definition, not mine, just to be safe).

But censorship makes me sad. It's letting someone else control what I'm allowed to see and know, and to me, there couldn't be a worse fate. I want to see everything, read everything, in its original form and I will be the judge as to whether I want to not look at it again because I thought it offensive.

Earlier today I saw on some other blog that someone had posted funny postcards from the 1930s. They were what I would consider "slightly risque". I chuckled and enjoyed them because it reminded me that the people who created and bought those postcards in the 1930s were just like us.

Like I said earlier, we're human and we're messy. Or at least, I am, since I can only speak for myself.

Ok, stepping off the soapbox now, it's safe. :-)


  1. A great post and a great take on the current GenealogyWise situation.

    Thomas MacEntee

  2. Hear hear!! I totally agree with everything you've said! I, too, hate censorship in any way, shape or form. I don't censor myself (lack of a filter, most say about me) when I'm talking to 99% of people (nuns not included LOL). My Son has seen and heard things that most prudes would consider awful, since he was just a little boy (he's 12 now). I have a feeling that your definitions and mine are very similar. It's amazing how much we have in common after 20 some years apart. :-) I'm glad to have you as a friend, and please, don't ever censor yourself with me.

  3. Thanks everyone, I appreciate your comments. I was a bit nervous to actually post an opinion (*gasp*) as I usually like to keep things light-hearted here in leah-blog-world, but this I had to get out!

  4. Thanks for this Leah. I think the part that really hit home with me is, "But censorship makes me sad.It's letting someone else control what I'm allowed to see and know, and to me,there couldn't be a worse fate." That's my take on it as well - let ME decide what I want to see or continue to read - but please, oh great Censor in the sky, don't bother being offended for me ;-0