By Michael Cavna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2010; 8:37 AM
As literary apps go, Apple knows when to admit a wrong and replay the situation -- when, in hacker's terms, to take a Mulligan. Still, the incident is plump, if not stately, with irony.
More than 75 years after the high court ruled that James Joyce's "Ulysses" was not pornographic or obscene, the corporate judges who preside over Apple's app store deemed inappropriate some portions of the graphic novel "Ulysses 'Seen.' " But now, just in time for Bloomsday celebrations today, the company has admitted its mistake:
Apple, no longer balking at his Martello Tower nudity, will take Buck Mulligan and the rest of artist Robert Berry's "graphic" graphics. All of Berry's illustrated telling of Joyce's famed day in Dublin is now available as an iPad app.
"Silly, of course, that a company as large and as in-the-news as Apple would so completely miss this comparison," Berry tells Comic Riffs of the historic irony.
"When we were asked to remove images based upon nudity, one of my partners took the call," Berry says. "His argument that the novel already determined this stuff and won this argument 75 years ago was apparently lost on the Apple representative. Apparently the people reviewing content [then] don't have a lot of info about what they're involved in.
"It begs the simple question: Should someone who's completely unfamiliar with Joyce's novel be making decisions of how a new media adaptation might work at the app store?' "
Taking this a step further, Berry poses the question: "Who decides the way we see new content on these very exciting new devices: The artist reinterpreting them for a new and exciting venue, or the grocer or newstand seller who knows nothing about the content but talks incessantly about the kind of product they have to offer?"
Berry does think, however, that Apple has gotten a bit of a bum rap in this case, as accusations of "censorship" swirl anew. "Yes, the guidelines were restrictive and debilitating to innovative new projects," Berry tells 'Riffs, "but they never acted as a censor, never told us what we could or could not say. ... We didn't believe these were good guidelines for art, but respected their rights to sell content that met their guidelines at their own store. Apple is not a museum or a library for new content then, so much as they are a grocer."
Apple also reversed its decision on Tom Bouden's graphic novel of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," allowing it upon resubmission. Bouden's app features several panels of men kissing.
"With 'Ulysses' and "The Importance of Being Earnest,' we made a mistake," Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller tells Comic Riffs. "When [the art] of these graphic novel adaptations was brought to our attention, we called the developers and offered them the opportunity to resubmit. Both [graphic novel apps] are now in the storne with the original panel drawings."
Meantime, Berry notes: "If Joyce's book teaches us anything, it might be that art gets made by people knowing, and sometimes pushing, the known boundaries of conventional tastes."