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Great novels are like theme parks

Kids getting chased by grownups with guns in ET

I’m wary of joining angry conversations on Twitter, says Caitlin Moran in The Times. So much of what people get outraged about doesn’t matter. But the “rewriting Roald Dahl to be non-offensive to modern audiences” thing is something that does, and a recent interview with Steven Spielberg shows why. The director says he regretted re-editing ET: in the original, the kids are chased by adults with guns; in the 2002 reworking – after several shootings in schools – guns were replaced with walkie-talkies. “I never should have done that,” Spielberg said. “ET is a product of its era.”

It’s hard to imagine living at a different point in time. Really, we should have fully immersive theme parks – “1978 Land, 1933 Land, 2002 Land” – where one could spend the day “hearing the exact conversations, music, insults and quips we would have heard back then”. But in a way, we already have such theme parks: old movies and books. Seeing how women were treated in novels by Dickens, Brontë or Philip Roth is crucial to understanding modern feminism. How can we see how far we’ve come, or understand our parents – or even our teenage selves – “if we can’t get a sense of what was normal and acceptable for them”? That’s why the erasure of old behaviour and attitudes from art is so “self-defeating”. If we take out the offensive bits, how will we see the progress we have made?