A Swift rewrite of history

I’ve got nothing but admiration for Taylor Swift, from the time she was an inner-directed young teen straight outta Wyomissong who knew she was destined to be a professional country singer, to when she exploded into a pop mega star unafraid to take on record companies and concert producers. And Katy Perry.

Taylor Swift in concert. (Photo: Teen Vogue)

She managed the difficult transition from country to pop, taking  her legion of fans — mostly young women — with her. Her DNA told her success comes directly from her fans and she wrote the social media book on how to embrace them.

She treats them well, gives loads of money to charity, loves animals, and has never had a drug, alcohol, or shoplifting arrest. She seems to be as clean as the stereotypical All-American girls who are the heart of much of her music. 

In 2018, she made a memorable move — she switched over to Republic Records and negotiated to own the master rights to all the music she creates going forward.

She then got busy rerecording her old songbook, mostly recreating soundalike versions, with some minor musical improvements.

My admiration for her took a small hit when she altered one lyric, in order to — I don’t know — soften it, make it more PC, or even Woke.

It is a minor change to her “Better Than Revenge” song, but I am troubled by ex post facto edits to an existing work of art. 

“Better Than Revenge” was a vindictive shot at a woman who steals another’s boyfriend. 

“She’s not what you think, she’s an actress / She’s better known for the things she’s done on the mattress.”


Taylor wrote that when she was 18, and she got blowback from some quarters about “slut shaming.” 

In the rerecorded  version, the edgeless line is: “He was a moth to the flame / She was holding the matches.”


Well, does the author have the authority (no pun intended) to change her own lyrics? It seems so.

In recent years there have been a rash of rewrites, usually not by the authors, but by their publishers or heirs.

In February 2023, controversy erupted when Puffin began reissuing multiple books by Roald Dahl with language that had been sanitized or sensitized. 

The changes included removing the words “fat” and “ugly” — because they are hurtful? — and all references to “female” were mysteriously altered to “woman.” 

When the changes were attacked, Puffin said it would publish unexpurgated versions of the 16 books that were altered as “The Roald Dahl Classic Collection” while still selling the corrupted edited versions.

That seems fair, giving the readers a choice, something that was not made available to fans of Dr. Seuss.

Six Dr. Seuss books — including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo” — were discontinued  because of alleged racist and insensitive imagery, said the business that holds the author’s rights.

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises said in a statement that coincided with the late author and illustrator’s birthday.

The other banned books are “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!,” and “The Cat’s Quizzer.”

They were sent down what George Orwell called the memory hole in his prophetic novel, “1984.”

Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is actually an anti-racist novel, but because the word “nigger” is liberally used, along with “slave,” some people were uncomfortable, leading to the book often being banned. (Some people may be uncomfortable with my using the actual N-word used by Twain. It’s a quote, we’re adults, get over it.)

In 2011, Alan Gribben, an English professor at Auburn University, edited the book, removing the offensive words.

“The book is an anti-racist book and to change the language changes the power of the book,” fumed Cindy Lovell, then the executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Mo. “He wrote to make us squirm and to poke us with a sharp stick. That was the purpose.” 

Even Ian Fleming was not immune from the blue pencils of the blue noses.

This year, his James Bond spy series is being reissued, but not identical to the way they were originally published, according to the website Mental Floss.

Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., hired “sensitivity readers” who suggested edits including the removal of some racial slurs (though others remain) and cutting mentions of race where it was deemed unnecessary. 

The books will also use a disclaimer that reads: “This book was written at a time when terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers were commonplace. A number of updates have been made in this edition, while keeping as close as possible to the original text and the period in which it is set.”

I would have preferred the book being left alone, with a disclaimer saying the book reflected the time in which it was written and the use of certain terms now considered offensive gives an accurate picture of an earlier era.

The “sensitivity” changes are white washing and they distort the art and distort history.

As Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Dan DeLuca wrote about Taylor’s cleanup on aisle 4, “She does her art a disservice by giving in to the temptation to go back and make everything nice and inoffensive to suit current sensibilities.”

One final example: In the 1942 film, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” the biography of vaudevillian and playwright George M. Cohan, there was a scene of his family doing a brief dance number in blackface. 

I was stunned to see Mom, Dad, Sister and George performing in what once was considered to be OK.

It is not OK any more, but the scene belonged in the movie for historical purposes and I applauded The Movie Channel for keeping it intact.

I saved it in my library, but somehow it disappeared.  

A short time later it was on some other cable outlet, and I recorded it.

The blackface scene had been deleted.

Down the memory hole.

10 thoughts on “A Swift rewrite of history”

  1. Will Orwell’s 1984 be the next book to be edited by sensitivity readers? Will they expunge the term, “memory hole”?

  2. Stu, what is disappearing are people of thought, who understand these various works (books, movies, etc) are an important part of our history and culture. They need to exist, and people of thought need to discuss them, especially with our children, at home and in classrooms.

  3. We cannot erase our past as we march towards our future. All we can do is learn from it’s errors in an effort to not repeat them.

  4. Sadly, few people know that Leonardo DaVinci had to repaint the Mona Lisa because in the original, she had a huge grin with all her teeth showing, which offended the Italian dental union. And Michaelangelo’s statue, David, had to be redone to shorten his schwantz as it offended the less endowed males in the area. And I won’t even go into detail on the new Bible with all the offensive parts removed (10 commandments, etc.). The new, sanitized America — Kumbaya.

  5. Another example of censorship to appease the easily offended. I am waiting for the re-write of some “Gangsta Rap Songs”, like straight out of Compton. I wonder if censorship will effect Rap Singers.

Comments are closed.