Yesterday my Twitter feed was flooded with jokes about Barr’s redacted Mueller Report looking like blackout poetry. “The government is ripping you off!”
What’s funny is that my blackout poems weren’t initially inspired by the long history of erasures and altered books, but by the John Lennon FBI files that I saw on the website The Smoking Gun.
Oh, and here’s a fun little tidbit: Government redactors don’t actually use black markers! Here’s Michael G. Powell in his 2010 essay, “Blacked Out: Our Cultural Romance with Redacted Documents,” to explain:
Before FOIA officers would begin to redact sections of a document—and admittedly nowadays many of them opt for computerized forms of redaction because they are working on computer records—they make a photocopy of the document. Then, they take a red or brown marker and, more or less, highlight the segments unfit for access. Running this red marker redacted document through a photocopy machine set for high contrast produces a new document with black marks. The FOIA officer can then store the red marker document in the agency’s files, allowing other bureaucrats to see exactly what has been redacted. If a black marker was used, then anyone needing to revisit the document would be unable to see what had been redacted without arduously comparing the document with the original, side by side.
For a while, I was making blackouts this way, with a red marker:
And then scanning them and making them pure black and white:
Oh, PS: The NYTimes is still running their blackout poetry contest!