I’ve been covering the App Store censorship story for some time in this blog, but it took a Norwegian victim for it to gain traction in our local main-stream media. The comic “Wakan Unwanted” by Lars S. Nygård and Seth Piper, distributed by Oxicomics, was rejected by Apple’s App Store for being ‘extremely racist’.
What was missing in the general press coverage was an independent assessment of the actual comic. Few things annoy me more than discussions that begin with “I haven’t read the work in question, but…” So when the illustrator (Piper) offered me the chance to read “Wakan Unwanted”, I took him up on his offer. And frankly, I can’t see where the App Store bureaucrats are coming from.
“Wakan Unwanted” is the story of the wanderings of a black protagonist through a steampunkish, alternate-history American West. The tagline “It’s December 1870. The adventures of the last black man in America are about to begin” says it all, really. The story is brutal and the language crass, but no more so than your typical spaghetti western. The main character is portrayed in a heroic light. While some might take offense at the back story of an African-American genocide, there are enough decent white people to go around.
As far as I can tell, the only thing that could have triggered the accusation of racism is the frequent use of the “n” word. If this is the case, the reasoning is disingenious indeed. While the word is deeply offensive when used in a current setting, there is no denying that it is part of our history and literature. It is certainly defensible to use the word in a graphic novel set in the American West in 1870s, even more so when the general tone of the work is evidently non-racist.
The imagery in Wakan Unwanted is not racist by any reasonable standard.
In Norway, accusations of racism are no small matter. Public statements that denigrate people on the basis of skin colour can potentially land you in jail for three years. The writer and illustrator are not comfortable with being labeled racists (and by extension criminals) by a global corporation, and in the Anakata Comics blog Lars writes:
We strongly believe that the folks over at Apple are misreading Wakan Unwanted. We have sent them some more background materials as well as an outline of where the story is going. Hopefully, this will clear things up.We strongly believe that the folks over at Apple are misreading Wakan Unwanted. We have sent them some more background materials as well as an outline of where the story is going. Hopefully, this will clear things up.
Let’s hope it will. But to me, this case is yet another reminder of the fix Apple has gotten itself into by including the infamous clause 3.3.12 in its iPhone SDK Agreement. By granting itself über-editorial power, Apple is condemned to repeat mistakes like this in its quest to rid the App Store of “obscene, pornographic, offensive or defamatory content or materials of any kind”.
The loss to the content producers affected is obvious. But ultimately, Apple also stands to lose. If not money, then credibility and reputation in its core “creative classes” market. Say what you will about censorship, but hip or cool it is not.