Saturday, February 25, 2012

Censorship - Another Slippery Slope

Got a long note from Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords–me and probably several hundred thousand other people–regarding a policy change for publications there. It seems that PayPal, through which Smashwords channels its money, coming and going, is asking them to eliminate certain books from their list.

Here's the gist from Coker, in regard to PayPal's concerns:

"Their hot buttons are bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica."

PayPal swings a big and heavy stick, and Smashwords doesn't want to be whacked.

"Your ebook Your Way" might have to be altered to "Your ebook Our Way ..."

I'm not the guy to stand up and argue for any of these taboos. And if you are writing such, you won't get many sympathetic ears when Smashwords starts pulling those books from its list, but–and you knew there was a "but"–that line is going to be drawn by somebody. There will be obvious offenders, and easy targets. 

There will almost certainly be many shades of murk, where vision won't be so clear.

If you have a rape scene in your book, who decides if it is done for dramatic reasons or titillation? If somebody mentions in passing that the bad guy probably buggers sheep, will that be enough to get a book pulled? If, as in a book I wrote long ago, the villain is a child-molestor who dies a horrible death? True, there wasn't anything graphic nor intended to titillate in that character's actions, and in the end, the villain was duped by somebody pretending to be something she wasn't; still, it's a new can of worms, and I expect there will be some noise made. 

As Smashwords reaches countries all over the world, and as moves a lot of books worldwide, social mores in Africa or India or the Middle East start to come into play. At the very least, it is going to be like the Chinese curse: If you are a writer, the times are going to be interesting. 

Stay tuned.


Randy Packer said...

Good timing. There is a picture on deviantart right now causing some controversy over the art vs porn thing, and reading the comments of the people supporting the porn side of things is sadly revealing of the mindset.

Sorta makes for a sad saturday morning, but the photo of a happy model kinda makes up for it?

soooo not safe for work...and likely to be removed shortly:

Till said...

What's wrong with these pictures? Nothing there you wouldn't find in any collection of Luis Royo art.

Remittance Girl said...

Hello Steve, thank you for your post.

Here is the problem of generalization that happens when 'labels' are what we focus on:

The Tin Drum, by Günter Grass, The Lover, by Marguerite Duras and Lolita by Nabokov are classic works of literature that all represent underage sex erotically.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess narrates rapes through the eyes of Alex, the perpetrator.

Equus, by Peter Shaffer, was an award-winning play that examined the psychoanalytics of a boy who is erotically obsessed with horses.

All these works that now sit in our canon of modern literature could have those 'labels' affixed to them. They are not 'about' pedophilia, or incest, or bestiality. But those works do deal with those subjects and not pejoratively.

It is easy to say you won't defend a book that contains those taboos, but then you will have to include The New Testament. Because the first part of it is essentially about a 13 year old girl who is impregnated by god.

Labels seldom work as a way to fairly represent anyone, or anything.

Steve Perry said...

R. G.

The works about which you speak were written with a different intent in mind. It's what divides pornography aimed at naught but sexual arousal and something with redeeming social value. It's the old I-know-it-when-I-see-it definition from Justice Potter Stewart, of the Supreme Court.

I come from the days when you couldn't use the work "fuck" in a book, and if you were caught selling the Tropic of Cancer over the counter, you could be arrested and sent to prison. There were people who spent years in a federal lock-up for writing or showing things we get away with in woman's magazines, newspapers, and on this blog these days.

But that was the law, not corporate policy. Freedom of speech is not absolute, never has been. You can't stand up in the crowded theater and yell "Fire!" And that freedom is from governmental stricture.

And as I pointed out, who draws the line and where is tricky; nonetheless, there are things that are simply indefensible -- malum per se. If you advocate sedition and revolution by means of murder and mayhem, and instructions on how to do both, a publisher who puts it forth will and should be held to account. If you offer that molesting children is allowable and put up photographs of yourself doing it? You should be hauled off.

Photos of yourself raping people? Same deal.

You can go on about "labels," but if you say these are valid expressions of your free speech rights, you are missing some of your marbles.

Fiction is a horse of a different color, I agree. But if you make your living writing child porn aimed at pedophiles, I'm not the guy to stand up for you, sorry.

The basic difference here is that Smashwords and PayPal are private organizations, corporate entities, not governmental ones. Your right to free speech is not being banned -- you can still write the book you want and sell it on the corner; you just can't distribute it via these companies.