You Know It When You See It

And here comes the next spectacular ruckus regarding indy-writers and the (relatively) non-elected, totally bureaucratic and ham-fisted powers of our universe. This one, for a marvel, does not involve Amazon.com, at whose door can be laid the last couple or three of these shindigs. This one involves Paypal, that pearl of great price … and fairly substantial fees on transactions although not to onerous as these things go, certainly better than pawn shops and payday check cashing establishments without a particle of the stigma and it usually makes up for the convenience of the transaction and who am I to object, actually? I don’t, just accepting the reality of the situation – although I have known people who do. Personally, I am enormously fond of Paypal; their security of accounts is awesome, they are unbounded by temporal national and state boundaries, and their small-vendor tools are marvelously useful to the freelance artist/writer/editor. If they are ever in a death-match against Bank of America, I cannot stoutly affirm that I would bet the farm on the former … but I would cheerfully wager at least a couple of large tubs of tomato and squash plants. (Yes, I have an enduring grudge against B of A – why do you ask?)

Anyway and back to the subject at hand, it is with sadness that I have to admit that Paypal has been forced into playing the heavy in the latest censorship-of-the-writerly set. Ghastly details here and one of many responses here. Essentially, Paypal has informed a number of online publishing outlets which use them to transfer payments that certain topics are beyond the pale, so to speak … and that unless such outlets as the ever-popular Smashwords.com, to henceforth cease and desist from publishing and distributing certain material, otherwise the benefits of the aforementioned financial institution will be withdrawn, et cetera, et cetera. Yep, 900-pound gorilla exercising their 900-poundness-pull in the social-financial arena. Here we go again.

Those verboten topics topics include (so we are informed) “bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica” which are things that at first glance and toward which all right-thinking good citizens would object, disapprove, decry and condemn . OK, then – at first glance and blush, all of these are condemned by law and man, if not by meter, and by good taste. (Which lets most of Hollywood out…)
But … how does one go about judging. No, I hate to fall back on that old standby … but seriously – who judges? And by what standard other than a case-by-case basis? This one is so broad that it can be massaged and stretched to incorporate quite a lot of material … some of it by well-established and traditional writers, or very, very best-selling ones. Bestiality – I can think of two examples off the top of my head, besides the one Smashwords writer who first brought this matter up on a LinkdIn group. His book, BTW, is called Wet Goddess – guy falls for a dolphin. One of Carl Hiaason’s books features a character who marries one. And the Twilight series features a werewolf heart-throb … which is a stretch as far as bestiality goes, but one that I wouldn’t be surprised to have someone take, just for the sake of argument. ‘Rape for titillation’ – well, there goes several thousand yards of bodice-ripping novels. ‘Incest’ – tell me, wasn’t there some ghastly memoir on the best-seller lists a while back about just that? Underage erotica: there goes Lolita

My point is – again, this is a standard so broad as to be essentially useless. Worse than useless, for it would enshrine two tiers of writers, two kinds of books: those whose writers are well-thought of, or well-established enough that they can explore any or all of these themes in their books, and get payments processed for them … and the other tier – struggling indys all … who wouldn’t. This is the indy-book equivalent of that ghastly CPSIA legislation of 2008, which sought to banish all kinds of lead contamination from anything which might conceivably come near a person under the age of 12 … and instead put the kibosh on home-crafters and workshops making kids clothes and toys, and children’s books printed before a certain date … because there might be lead in the ink.

(Just FYI – my books are up at Smashwords.com, also. I can truthfully say there is no bestiality, rape for titillation, incest or underage titillation in them. Just some rather mild erotica, and I’m not saying in which books or where – for that, you’ll have to read them yourself.)

Cross-posted at Chicagoboyz.net)

One thought on “You Know It When You See It

  1. What are the choices?

    A highly respected (and very feminist) SF writer wrote a novella in which an 11-year-old girl initiates an idyllic incestuous affair with her father. That would surely transgress – but as you note, that class of author gets away with it because she had impeccable literary and ideological credentials.

    OTOH, I’ve seen (not intentionally) amateur “erotica” glorifying child rape, torture, murder, and cannibalism. The same people who insist that none of this material ever inspires readers to perform such acts also tell us about the importance of inspirational fiction and role models – and the baleful influence of fiction that depicts traditional social roles in a positive way.

    Does PayPal (or SmashWords) want to profit from such porn? Would you want your works on sale in a store which also carries Barbecuing Little Betty?

    The same difficulty applies to non-fiction. Jihadist liars spew oceans of lurid garbage against the US, Israel, Jews, and Christianity. If Amazon, PayPal, and self-publishing services “carry” this material, they are profiting from the slander of American soldiers and enabling incitement violence against them. If they refuse, it becomes censorship – and could block legitimate, factual criticism.

    (This is another area of blatant hypocrisy. The same people who most vigorously defend “freedom of expression” for Islamists are eager to suppress “hate speech”.)

    There’s no good answer.

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