Censorship is stupid

posted in: Life and things | 5

Recently there has been some consternation amongst my writer friends. It seems that Barnes and Noble has decided to take what it perceives as the moral high ground and not only ban erotic novels that do not meet its ‘decency’ standards, it deletes the accounts of offending authors. See article in Publisher’s Weekly. To quote, ‘The content policy in question states that titles subject to removal include “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.”‘

This is not the first time something like this has happened. A couple of years ago Kobo had a similar purge, tightening-up its content. It’s interesting that these often-draconian measures are applied to writers of (erotic) romance, but any small author who has written romance novels might well be caught up in the ritualistic cleansing. One author I know who normally writes science fiction romance had her perfectly innocent non-romantic Young Adult novel pulled because it had the word ‘sister’ in the book’s description. That happens when you use software, not people, to make judgement. I’ve also heard in the current debacle that author accounts are being cancelled because a book that had been published in the past, but was no longer available, was deemed retrospectively unsuitable. And if an author had one offending title out of (say) ten novels, that was too bad. Author cancelled. The article in Publisher’s Weekly was updated to suggest management has had a second think on the issue, and has agreed to reinstate some of the closed accounts. I should hope so.

Popular book distributor Draft to Digital has informed authors that:

Going forward, Draft2Digital is no longer able to accept or distribute books that feature the following subjects:

  • Rape
  • Incest (included step brother/step sister, or any familial relationship)
  • Paedophilia and underage sex
  • Bestiality
  • Pornography
  • Content that promotes hate towards a religion, race or ethnicity, or sexual orientation
  • Any content that our distributors deem objectionable or in violation of their content restrictions

Please take note especially of the last line. It means they can refuse to accept anything they like. At the end of the day these retailers are censoring what they will sell, and I suppose that is their right. Personally, although I find all of those topics (except the last one, which says nothing) distasteful, all of them happen in our world. Adults should be able to read what they please. I suppose people who write those books will have to market their work at select vendors.To a large extent writers of erotica are already in that situation.

Let’s look at that quote again. “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.” Instead of pointing a finger at the bible, maybe I’ll just mention that B&N should be pulling Game of Thrones off all their shelves, and cancelling Mr Martin’s account. Except that won’t happen because Mr Martin’s novels sell rather too well. Oh, and didn’t Ruth Rendell write a murder mystery about an incestuous couple? (Yes, she did) That’s probably a bit mainstream, too. Will they have to remove Nabokov’s Lolita from the shelves (again)?

Nazis burning books
By Unknown – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1253020

What particularly bothers me about this growing trend to regulate what we the public gets to see is that it’s part of a greater wave of control. Back in the 1930s the Nazis carried out their own form of censorship by burning books. “The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism.” The behaviour by book retailers comes very close to the same sort of mind set.

Which segues neatly into another form of censorship, the recent spate of destruction of historic statues. It hasn’t just happened in the Southern US states. Demands have been made by ‘offended’ black students to have the statue of Cecil Rhodes removed from Oxford. There’s been some talk about removing Admiral Lord Nelson from his column because he participated in the slave trade, and a few years ago I wrote an article about a move to have Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s statue removed from Hoorn. (He was known as the Butcher of Banda, a tyrannical governor of the city of Batavia -now Jakarta – in the 1620s.) And now in Australia we have statues of Captain Cook being defaced.

It’s idiotic, an attempt to white-wash history. It’s like the Catholic Christians destroying Mayan and Incan buildings and artefacts. It’s like the Taliban destroying the statues of the Buddha, or ISIL destroying the monuments in Syria and Iraq. We’re still ruing the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. What priceless knowledge have we lost from all those actions? You can bet the Taliban and ISIL won’t be saying sorry any time soon.

The latest assault is the resurrection of the move to rename Australia Day, which is commemorated on 26 January, the date when the NSW colony was founded by Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet. Some aboriginal leaders and left-wing sympathisers want to rename it to Invasion Day. Maybe Australia Day should actually be 1 January, because it was on 1 January 1901 that Australia became a nation, and not just a number of separate states. But it’s a bit busy at that time of the year.

I hasten to add that I’m glad to see that aboriginal history is taught in schools these days. When I was a child very little was said about the original inhabitants of this continent and their struggles. But let’s not white-wash them, too, seeing them as innocent nomads, living in harmony with their world. Massacres happened on both sides, and the aboriginal tribes fought each other. Most aborigines these days live in the cities, just like we whites. And most of them are of mixed race.

Maybe it’s time we Westerners stopped apologising, recognise that mistakes, sometimes egregious mistakes, happened in the past, and move on. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. Provided it’s still there to learn from.


5 Responses

  1. Piper McDermot

    It’s a particularly insidious kind of stupidity, this selective banning of what is deemed (by gods knows who, exactly) to be “unsuitable” because, as is so obvious, the like of Game of Thrones and countless other “name” authors should by the same yardstick also be unsuitable. And yet…there they are, happily making sales through B&N et al.

    It’s insidious because it’s more of the same kind of deception we are already subject to in our mainstream news media of all types, including entertainment – the deliberate and systemic control of what we are allowed to know, what we are led to believe, and what is the preferred thought patterns for the unwashed masses.

    Keep the indies out, is what it amounts to. Keep them in their place. If a select one or two somehow manage to break out of the place we designated for them – obscurity – well, then we’ll find another way to bring them in line. Nice juicy publishing contract? Here ou go – but here’s what we want you to write.


  2. Meredith Gurr

    The “sheeple” phenomenon is alive and well and, coupled with humankind’s propensity for allowing history to repeat itself, including a rational approach to all forms of censorship or revisionism (i.e. NOT based on political correctness), a way forward seems further away than ever. Technology is changing so fast that many people can’t keep up, but as a society we appear to be regressing just as quickly.

  3. K

    More books for BANNED BOOK WEEK for the bookstores!

    Your headline said to all; it is STUPID and fosters uneducated judgmental condemnation from people who don’t bother to do their own research to form their own opinions.

  4. Marj

    An excellent article. There are hundreds of thousands of books that would be wiped off if we took notice of all those prohibitions. TV shows and movies as well. There goes Criminal Minds, for instance, and NCIS. Even ‘Neighbours.’ What about documentaries that speak of abuse of minors by priests? Oops, gone.

    Even more sinister is that it sounds like they are dabbling in politics, as well. ‘Content that promotes hate towards a religion, race or ethnicity, or sexual orientation’ – oops, the Koran says to kill any infidel ‘wherever you find them.’ Surely that should be gone. But I think it is only the lesser Islamic books that advocate throwing gays off tall buildings. I assume they will not really look at religious books, though they probably will remove any book that seeks to shine a light on these less nice things about the religion.

    To speak of a subject is not to encourage it. To advance knowledge should always be encouraged, even if some do not want some things to become widely known.

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