To BowdlerisePronunciation means to alter existing programs, plays, etc. so they are less rude and/or offensive. Commonly, this takes the form of swapping "curse" words for euphemisms. The term is used in a negative sense, by those who think the alterations are often done with a ridiculously high fear of lawsuits and/or need for political correctness. Sometimes it's understandable — different countries have different standards, and sometimes all it takes to change a show from something for teens to suitable for kids is the removal of a few swear words, darn it. Others are fairly reasonable for broadcast, such as toning down violence since Children Are Tender-Hearted. Such modifications are also understandable when the work is being adapted into a play that will be performed by kids, not just watched by them.
But true Bowdlerizing starts when you actually lower the quality of the art or story in some way in the editing, sometimes as little as spoiling jokes or perhaps making villains not look quite as evil, but escalating to damaging the plot, making dialogue confusing, and making heroes look pure and shiny. And at its very "best", it can make a situation less acceptable. In many cases (such as the airing of R- and NC-17-rated films on broadcast television or the release of sexual, violent, or edgy material in countries where such things are known to be forbidden), the viewer/listener/reader is often left wondering why a release in such a venue was even attempted.
Censorship starts at editing out blood splatter and profanity. But it escalates pretty quickly. Beer may become water even when it's adults drinking — even villainous adults. Cigarettes and cigars might be removed even though it's a bad guy smoking. A six-round revolver can become a water gun or slingshot.note Then they start warping entire characters to the entire show so that a character is Ambiguously Bi, as if a good guy being gay might encourage kids to be gay — when ironically a good guy being bi might just encourage a kid to experiment. Then when a situation presents itself where death should be a given, it's always avoided or explained away, removing the idea of consequences stemming from dangerous activities. A girl hits a boy because he got her dirty, instead of because he might be groping her. A scene of a parent hitting their child is completely removed, making it look like they are running away over nothing.
If they really can't remove a death, they might try to remove emotional depth from it, so somebody doesn't seem to grieve that much over their best friend/lover dying — so now you're encouraged to stifle your emotions. Other emotional conversations may be edited, so characters seem to be friends rather than in love. Vital discussions might be removed because they take place in a bar, leaving plotholes. And at its most extreme, there may be the removal of entire episodes, and you might never even get to see the final season of your show because it's Darker and Edgier.
Named after Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), who first did it on The Bible and William Shakespeare's plays; for instance, changing Ophelia's drowning from suicide to accident. It's worth noting that Bowdler himself created his "Family Shakespeare" versions as a way to introduce Shakespeare's plays to audiences who would otherwise be barred from experiencing them at all, and actively encouraged people to seek out the originals. Sadly, this cannot be said of most modern Bowdlerisers. Before him, the French Duke of Montausier published "ad usum Delphini" versions of works for the Dauphin (heir apparent) of France. "Ad usum Delphini" is now a synonym of this trope.
Cultural Translation can often contain elements of Bowdlerization, especially due to Values Dissonance. See T-Word Euphemism for a mild form of bowdlerization. See also Cut-and-Paste Translation (which specifically refers to Bowdlerization in translated works and refers more to the final product than the process) and Disneyfication (which generally goes further, in not only removing content but adding new, "kid-friendly" content). See Bluenose Bowdlerizer for when it happens here on the wiki.
The inverse of this trope is American Kirby Is Hardcore. Yet another related trope is Bleached Underpants, where a creator self-censors his work to appeal to a broader audience. There is also a Censored Title, for when a work seems to be Bowdlerized, but only the title is for marketing purposes. If the censoring is done In-Universe, that's Narrative Profanity Filter.
See also Culturally Sensitive Adaptation.
Tropes that often or always arise from Bowdlerisation include:
- Abridged for Children: If works are edited to remove material unsuitable for minors, though it's just one reason why that trope may occur.
- Adaptational Modesty: Making a character's general dress sense more modest in an adaptation, and/or cutting incidents that had them naked or in underwear.
- Adaptational Weapon Swap: When certain weapons are considered risqué or psychologically toxic for children (like brass knuckles or nunchucks), adaptations or reboots will trade those weapons for something parents will "approve" of.
- Bloodless Carnage: Removing blood and gore altogether from battles and otherwise violent scenes, even if they would do serious damage to living entities involved if they were to occur in real life.
- Black Blood and Made of Bologna: Covering up extreme gore and blood through digital editing or redrawing the carnage so it's less shocking.
- The Body Parts That Must Not Be Named: Resorting to euphemisms to avoid any of the common words for, uh, the bathing suit area.
- Censored for Comedy: Parodies of Bowdlerism, often showing how poor censorship can make something seem even dirtier.
- Clean Dub Name: A name is changed overseas because it accidentally sounds obscene in a certain language.
- Curse of the Ancients: Replacing curse words with old-timey slang such as "consarn it!" or "dagnabbit!"
- Digital Bikini: Using digital editing to add clothes to naked people or to make someone's clothes less revealing. Can be used in conjunction with Family-Friendly Stripper, though it has also been used in conjunction with bath and shower scenes (at least when Cartoon Network aired anime), hot springs episodes, or any scene of half-naked characters in a locker room-type setting (both animated and live-action).
- Distanced from Current Events: Editing, delaying, or banning something (mostly TV shows and movies) due to the plot being similar to a real-life current event that may be considered to be done in poor taste. Harsher in Hindsight is similar, but only applies to past media that somehow "predicts" future bad events.
- Edited for Syndication: Most of the bowdlerization does occur after a TV show is put into syndication or makes its rounds on the international market.
- Family-Friendly Firearms: Replacing realistic weapons with more fantastic or less lethal ones.
- Family-Friendly Stripper: Strip clubs and other sex establishments have the workers in relatively "innocent" skimpy clothes (usually a bikini) rather than being naked, topless, or in some kind of overt fetish costume.
- Flawless Token: The villain or Butt-Monkey can't belong to a race, ethnic group, religion, or social class that has historically been persecuted. Even when the group the hated character represents hasn't been persecuted, this trope may still come into play if the group the character represents wields a lot of power in society and threatens a boycott of the work. (However, if a character becomes a villain because of persecution, that's usually okay to show.)
- Frothy Mugs of Water: Replacing alcohol with non-alcoholic drinks (usually juice, soda, or water) and hand-waving the drunken behavior as "acting crazy" or "being a jerk".
- Get Back in the Closet: Gay stuff is treated harsher than straight stuff.
- George Lucas Altered Version: The creator of a work making excessive revisions to it since its original release, usually to update and upgrade special effects, but sometimes to bowdlerise too.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Replacing sensitive words with their "safer" variants ("damn" to "darn", "hell" to "heck", "ass" to "butt" or "rear", etc). Witch with a Capital "B" is the same thing, only it focuses on toning down the word "bitch".
- Hide Your Lesbians: Homosexuals with Plausible Deniability.
- Never Say "Die": Characters can't mention anything about death and the afterlife because it may be too upsetting; even ghosts might be seen as too creepy for kids. In many cases, the word "kill" can never be used, even if it's in a comedic context.
- No Smoking: Characters can't enjoy a cigarette (be it tobacco — or, in more extreme cases, cannabis, crack cocaine or meth), lest more impressionable viewers imitate what they see.
- No Swastikas: Removing offensive imagery (usually swastikas or anything having to do with Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime).
- Orwellian Retcon
- Scunthorpe Problem: Trying so hard to block dirty words that your software censors the same strings of letters when they appear in perfectly innocent contexts, due to lazy programming ***umptions.
- She's a Man in Japan: When a transgender character is changed to cisgender, or one character in a same-sex relationship is changed to the opposite sex (though this can also be for different reasons, such as the producers making a mistake or for language translation reasons).
- Tamer and Chaster: Sex scenes and Fanservice are toned down or outright omitted in adaptations and sequels in order to pull in a family audience.
- Translation with an Agenda
- Thinly-Veiled Dub Country Change: Sanitizing a work created in a foreign country of any and all references to its country of origin, with references to the destination country shoehorned into their place.
- Video Game Perversity Prevention: Video games have censorship systems to stop players using editing options or crafting systems in offensive ways.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Comic Strips
- Live-Action TV
- Myth and Legend
- New Media
- Professional Wrestling
- Video Games
- Western Animation
- Real Life
- The nude saints in the Sistine Chapel The Last Judgement had their genitalia painted over with garments after Michelangelo's death, leaving the schmuck who agreed to do it to forever be known as "the breeches maker." After a restoration effort in the 20th century, the fresco survives unbreeched.
- That picture of the David statue with the boxer shorts on the main page? It was clearly done in jest, but something like that actually happened. A plaster cast of the statue was made as a gift to Queen Victoria, and since this was one of the more prudish times in history, they felt that male nudity might offend someone, so a plaster fig leaf was made to use during the Queen's visits.
- The Museum of Reading in England has a replica of the Bayeux Tapestry on display. It was created using a drawing of the original as a guide. However, the drawing put shorts on a figure who was originally naked, so the replica does too.
- Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf has been a notably example of this trope:
- Due to the accident that happened in April 6, 2013 on China where a boy accidentally burnt another two of his friends while trying to imitating a scene from the cartoon itself, starting with Paddi the Amazing Chef, ropes were changed into jelly pudding-shaped rope or laser rope (made by Wolffy), the pot that the wolves used to cook the goats lacks the fire (in the later seasons, the pot never appeared again), Wolffy wears the safety hat when get launched into the sky, and Wolnie's uses of frying pan attack has been reduced (also applies in the last two films). In a few scenes, Don't Try This at Home messages were added, although it disappeared in the later seasons.
- Also applies to Mighty Little Defenders. The National Radio and Television Administration forced Creative Power Entertaining to edit the fighting scenes to make them more suitable for kids. They also forced CPE to change some of the weapons.
- The official YouTube uploads of episodes 341-380, as well as the Great War in the Bizarre World arc, were edited to make them less violent, including removing violent scenes (including cutting the scenes with Wolnie beats Wolffy with her frying pan repeatedly in episodes) and changing weapons to look less realistic.
- Notably, in episode 353, the scene where Paddi burns Wolffy's tail outside the Wolf Castle is heavily edited and cut.
- Also the official YouTube uploads of Joys of Seasons episodes have removed the scenes with Wolnie beats Wolffy with her frying pan repeatedly or change knives into vegetables. Obviously a change.
- The German version of Space Crusade, the simplified Warhammer 40,000 offshoot, greatly stressed how humanitarian the Imperium was and rebranded all their ordnance as non-lethal weaponry (giving them nonsensical names in the process) that merely paralyzed or otherwise incapacitated enemies instead of outright killing them. This was done to appease the Moral Guardians who didn't want to see violent content in what was considered a children's game (and who presumably would have gotten a stroke had they read what the setting was actually like). However, it has to be said that if one ignored the part from the manual that didn't refer to the rules and stats, it was otherwise indistinguishable from the normal game.
- This is one of the reasons why sets in the Yu-Gi-Oh! Card Game get release schedules that get released months later, as the Western card designers needed time to redesign the cards. This is the reason why for a long time in Yu-Gi-Oh! the Official Trading Card game had huge advantages over the Trading Card game because the Official Card game was always one set ahead.
- From Strike of Neos onwards however it seems averted, because Western card designers decided that they would design cards that will remain TCG exclusive to balance out the problem.
- Many of the cards that originally portray religious symbols, nudity, violent weapons and gore were modified for overseas Trading Card Game and anime. You can see the list on this page with examples like Monster Reborn, which turned the ankh into a stylized crystal, and Destiny Board's message, which was changed from "DEATH" to "FINAL".
- Similarly, the Dark Magician Girl has her bust reduced by editing out cleavage lines, the pentagram brooch replaced by a red jewel, and a single shot in her first appearance edits a close up of her legs to include a mini-skirt (which is gone in the next shot, and from that point on is never seen again). Then again, you can see why some of the cards imagery was toned down. Check out the original art for cards like Last Day of Witch, Final Flame and Soul of the Pure. ...Oh, and Fiend Comedian.
- She's just one of many who have their busts reduced for the international release. While most of these edits also involved covering up cleavage, some, such as Lady Ninja Yae and Helios -- The Primordial Sun, are purely for the sake of reducing bust sizes, and Deep Sea Diva doesn't appear to have gotten any smaller but has had her clothing slightly recolored to de-emphasize them. Apparently large breasts are considered Harmful to Minors even if they're fully covered.
- This phenomenon however only happens with OCG original cards (probably because 4Kids motivates them to do so, they need to feature those cards in their original TCG form on the anime after all). There exist a few very sexual TCG exclusive cards (such as this one, Lady of the Lake), that give a whole new light to the matter.
- Some artwork also modifies characters' agonizing faces in pain and changes them into looking peaceful/calm, and removing implications that they're dying, like from drowning or having their souls drained out from their bodies. References to black magic don't get a pass either, where the Oujia Board from the Destiny Board card has been removed and changes people who look possessed to have them meditate instead. Guns or references to it are also cut out.
- The TCG itself gets toned down. In the OCG, it happens quite frequently that decks can heavily OTK. To prevent such very fast aggressive decks being played in the TCG they get banned or limited right before they get a release. A good example of this would be Temple of the Kings, a card that was banned before the structure deck that contained that card was released.
- There is also a difference between the way the OCG obtains cards and the way the TCG obtains cards. In the OCG it's perfectly possible to buy a set and have the set to turn out to have 9 commons. If you turn out to have such an unlucky set in the TCG it's always due to a printing error, as the TCG sets usually will have 1 rare card. Whilst it is debatable whether or not this is actual bowdlerizing, one can't deny that it makes buying sets look less like gambling.
- Examples from Magic: The Gathering
- In the Red Rising board game, members of the Pink caste are described as "Companions"; the book made it very explicit that they are often sex workers.
- The Digimon trading card game had to censor some card artwork in the sixth booster set: Sistermon Noir was replaced with Sistermon Ciel (something that already happened before in Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth - Hacker's Memory), BaoHuckmon's art was edited to remove Sistermon Noir in the background (Sistermon Ciel was already in the picture in this case) and both Deputymon and Gundramon have the smoke coming out from their gun barrels removed (albeit the latter still keeps the shots coming out from all his other gun barrels).
- French Baguette Intelligence: In The Million Dollar Puzzle - Reflection on Intention, Fuck Cares announces that he had to change his name to 'Faux Cares' to avoid getting demonetised, but that didn't stop him from naming the Judge 'Fucking Goddamn Fucker'.