As the curtains close on long-running Australian music quiz show, Spicks and Specks, the ABC has released a music trivia app for users of Apple’s iOS devices to commemorate the show as it completes its final season. But Apple’s censoring of the word ‘spicks’ in their iTunes store has elicited a strong reaction from local press.
In the US, the word (spelled with or without the k at the end) is a racial slur against people of Hispanic backgrounds, and Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary sends a very clear message regarding its usage for those learning English: “Do not use this word.” But it also specifies the offensive meaning to be US-only. In British English the usage of the word in the phrase ‘spick and span’ dates back to at least the sixteenth century.
Albums and songs with the word in their titles are censored with asterisks in the iTunes store, whether or not their use intends a derogatory meaning. The Bee Gees album and title track, Spicks and Specks, from where the quiz show takes its name, is censored. (For some reason the artist Spick’n'Span is not.)
The public discussion on the story at Macworld Australia contains sentiments to the effect that Apple is displaying typical American arrogance and imperialism by asserting its values on other cultures. Comparisons are drawn to Aussie products such as Coon cheese, but we will have to wait for Coon to release a cheese-based app to see the American response to that one.
Macworld Australia‘s Editor-in-Chief, Dave Bullard, explains that while it may at first seem to be a narrow-minded move from Apple, it should be remembered the success of the iTunes store is due in no small part to Apple’s rigorous screening of content. “Customers go there because they know all the apps will be of good quality, safe from viruses and malware, and guaranteed to work well with Apple’s devices and other software running on them. And, just as important, there won’t be any content that could be offensive to anyone,” Bullard tells Marketing. “The fact remains that Apple’s stance is what the majority of Mac, iPhone and iPad users want.”
“That said, I do think that Apple should have different guidelines for different countries. Spicks and Specks should be fine for Australia, but if the ABC wants to release the app in the United States then it should expect to be censored there. Similarly, while the word wog is accepted in Australia, you’d expect it to be censored in the UK.”
The ABC has called on Apple to review its automatic censorship process for local markets.
*Disclosure: Macworld Australia and Marketing are both publications of Niche Media Pty Ltd