Censorship versus ‘sensitivity’ is an on-going intergenerational issue, in the media, online and generally – globally. Older generation’s view the upcoming generations such as millennials and Gen Z as sensitive and soft whereas those who fall within those generations consider themselves well informed, emotionally attuned and ‘woke’. Either way, neither seems to be able to agree on what is purely censorship versus sensitivity when it comes to ideologies and content produced at a different time to speak to a different era. From a dictionary standpoint, censorship can be defined as the “suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.” Ideally content that is censored should form part of this definition and should be removed from society due to its potentially harmful nature.

Recently, two authors have come under such scrutiny and have had the republications of their works censored – these authors are Ian Fleming, the author and creator of 007 aka James Bond, and famed children’s author Roald Dahl. Both are extremely well known in the literary world as well as the pop-culture world for the adaptations that their literary creations spawned. For further context, Roald Dahl is known as one of the “one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century” with more than 21 children’s books under his belt and almost fifty literary works including screenplays included in his total works. Ian Fleming on the other hand wrote and published 17 books, 14 of which were part of the James Bond series. Twelve of his Bond novels can be considered novels while the remaining two of the 14 were comprised of short stories.

Earlier this year, it was announced by major publishing houses that the most recent iterations of both authors’ novels would contain significant “changes to the language” after a review by a panel of ‘sensitivity readers’. In Fleming’s case, the updated and censored versions largely pertained to what the sensitivity readers deemed ‘racist language’ as well as a significant number of derogatory remarks. While some have celebrated the move to censor both authors’ works, especially for mainstream and children’s consumption – it has also caused a fair amount of uproar and has once again sparked the debate around the validity and productivity of “cancel-culture” as both authors are long-gone. The middle ground option would be to adopt the Warner Bros methodology when it comes to showcasing largely outdated episodes of the Looney Tunes in that the cartoons should be represented as they were originally created whilst acknowledging the problematic prejudices of the past, rather than pretending as if they did not exist.

In reality, whether you sit on the side of sensitivity or censorship, both authors have literary works beyond censoring in that the parts that could or should be censored are so deeply intertwined with the main story line, and therefore make it impossible to remove entirely. Critics of the censorship also contend that by censoring the works completely, the essence of what makes them what they are will be washed out too. That is not to say that we should think of both authors’ as saints when clearly their work and writing says otherwise, but rather perhaps, acknowledge them for what they were when they were published, and aim to do better now.