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FIRST-PERSON: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ gets edited

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) — A Canadian anti-smoking activist, who is also a self-published author, has leapt into the Christmas wars by producing an updated version of the classic holiday poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (better known as “Twas The Night Before Christmas”). The new version edits out two lines that reference Santa Claus smoking a pipe.

Pamela McColl of Vancouver, B.C., began selling her book this fall under the title “Twas The Night Before Christmas: Edited by Santa Claus.” As the title implies, McColl has St. Nicholas himself editing out his smoking, because he has now, after 189 years (the poem was first published in 1823), finally kicked the tobacco habit.

Though I know the origin of the jolly ol’ elf is found in St. Nicholas, a 4th century Greek bishop who was known for his anonymous generosity, I still do not care much for the modern Santa. The main reason for my lack of good will is that popular culture allows him to upstage the birth of Jesus, the real reason for the season.

I also do not like smoking in any shape, form or fashion. It is a nasty and unhealthy habit and should be discouraged.

So why am I writing about someone who has edited a poem about Santa so as to portray him as stopping an unhealthy habit? I write because the sanitizing of “Twas The Night Before Christmas” reveals the inconsistency of the entertainment elite.

In the mid-2000s, several companies were selling sanitized versions of movies, both current and past. The leading company at the time was CleanFlicks. The company would sell DVDs with objectionable content like foul language, violence and nudity removed. Along with the edited version the company would sell the original, unedited version of the film.

The reason for selling the original along with the sanitized version was to comply with copyright law. The thought was that if a consumer could purchase an original version and then have it edited, the company would save them time and trouble and offer the edited product upfront along with the authorized version.

Conservative consumers who wanted films free of filth bought the concept even though purchasing the original and edited versions together cost a little more. Companies like CleanFlicks, CleanFilms, Play It Clean Video and Family Flix did very well. Hollywood was a winner as well. People who would have never purchased movies rife with objectionable content now were a new source of revenue for filmmakers.

Hollywood, however, was not pleased. It seems directors of the films fraught with gratuitous sex, nudity, profanity and violence did not like the idea of consumers choosing to not watch their perverted artistic expression. So the Directors Guild of America sued, and won. A federal court ruled in the summer of 2006 ruled that companies offering sanitized versions of movie releases on DVD must cease and desist production, sale and rentals of edited discs. Additionally, the judge ordered the companies to turn over all existing copies of their edited films to the studios’ lawyers for destruction within five days of the ruling.

The Directors Guild claimed the suit was about protecting the integrity of its members’ original productions. “So we have a great passion about protecting our work, which is our signature and brand identification, against unauthorized editing,” then-DGA President Michael Apted told Reuters news service.

Apted’s argument rings hollow when you understand that the DGA also is opposed to ClearPlay, a company that sells a DVD player that works with the original DVD to mute or skip over objectionable content. With ClearPlay, the original production is unaltered.

Congress passed the 2005 Family Movie Act that protects ClearPlay and other software-based filtering companies. In its statement concerning the win against editing companies, the DGA indicated it “remained concerned about this exception to copyright protection” represented by ClearPlay.

What does the Directors Guild lawsuit against companies that sanitized movies have to do with the editing of a classic holiday poem? In both instances you have the desire to remove offending material from an original work.

One on one hand, the entertainment elites rallied to protect offensive content, in essence saying to consumers if you want to watch our films, you must take them unaltered, filth and all. On the other, an age-old classic removes an incident of smoking and a protest is, at best, nominal.

While I understand that “A Visit From St. Nicholas” is in the public domain for copyright purposes, I wonder how its author, Clement Clarke Moore, would feel about his work being tampered with? When in doubt, perhaps we should assume he would want it untouched.

It is a bit disconcerting when the tentacles of political correctness can even squeeze content from what is deemed a holiday classic; all the while the popular culture and the entertainment elite ignore the censorship.

The politically correct are consistently inconsistent in the stands they take.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, www.baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Kelly Boggs