Tag Archives: censorship

Here We Go Again… An Open Letter to TheKernel.com

It seems porn is big news again, thanks to the Kernel.com. This online tech gossip magazine has added itself to the list of “news” organizations criticizing Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and others of allowing self-published authors to go too far with the content they made available for sale.

Did these people go too far? I don’t know. I have my own opinions about what constitutes objectionable reading material, but I also uphold the view of Voltaire on the subject of freedom of speech:

“I may detest what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.”

However, I also have my own views on what constitutes censorship and at what point freedom of speech and freedom of the press cross the line. In keeping with this, I sent this letter to Milo Yiannopoulis, editor of theKernel.com:

To: Milo Yiannopoulos, editor, TheKernel.com
In re: How Amazon Cashes In On Kindle Filth
17 Oct 13
Dear Sir:
This sensationalistic tripe that you fatuously call “news” and allowed Jeremy Wilson to post on your website is really nothing of the sort. However, it is a clear, heavy-handed attempt to impose the moral views of a few on the whole by playing to sensationalistic and ludicrously overblown fears about what should and should not be available to consenting adults to purchase with their own money. Worst of all, you and your author have caused direct, measurable harm to a legion of self-published authors whose only transgression was writing erotic stories, as well as e-retailers, on a global scale. In doing so, you have effectively tarred all independent and erotic authors with the same brush.
Many self-published authors’ works have no or little erotic content at all, and erotic is not pornographic. Erotica and pornography are not and have never been the same genre, no matter how hard or loudly mudslingers and thoughtcrime apologists have tried to file them in the same pigeonhole. The differences are readily apparent to anyone with a shred of understanding of what constitutes each genre, an understanding your author clearly lacks and which he should really make an effort to educate himself on before applying such a broad-stroke treatment to authors who dare to portray sexual matters in an honest manner, such as Selena Kitt. Additionally, with every such “story” of this type that comes down the pike and is subsequently picked up by the mainstream media, authors are forced to wonder at what point they can expect their own work to come under fire because they wrote in a scene with consenting adults having sexual intercourse.

There is one point, and one point only, I cannot argue with in this “article.” These books and stories absolutely should not be displayed next to children’s fare. The way many large e-book distributors categorize their wares has been a concern of mine for quite some time. However, this is a failing on the retailer’s part, not on the part of the author or publisher, who has very little to no control over how their books are displayed once they hit the system.

Salacious and lurid material has always been available for those with the will and means to seek it out. Your author seems to believe that pulling items dealing with “objectionable” material will be sufficient to cure the problem. However, this ignores human nature, as well as the fact that neither I (after intensive research through a number of academic databases, I might add) nor anyone else I’ve heard from has seen so much as one credible academic study establishing a causal link between reading such material and acting upon it. Indeed, it appears the opposite is true. Many of these stories allow an outlet for safe exploration of desires that would otherwise be wholly and rightly criminal without actually engaging in such conduct.
While I myself find certain scenarios reprehensible in any medium, I am also an individual of sufficient intelligence and strength of character to do my own due diligence and avoid subjecting myself to such material. For this reason, I have neither watched nor viewed Larssen’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or Nabokov’s Lolita, and I skip portions of the Bible which deal with such matter.
However, this is my own personal moral decision to make, and I do not have the right nor the desire to impose my morality upon others. While people can and should be responsible for their actions in the real world, fictional portrayals conducted between imaginary characters on a page are not, in themselves, criminal acts. Your “article’s” attempts to paint them as such not only wholly misses the point, but it speaks to a highly skewed and biased perspective which is both completely divorced from reality and disinterested in taking steps to correct its own ignorance.
While I personally choose not to read certain titles or types of fiction because they are clearly labeled as to their content, this is my own choice. It is my right, no, my duty as an intelligent representative of Homo Sapiens to follow the ancient dictum, “Caveat Emptor.” If I wind up reading something that exposes me to the type of content I make a point to avoid, this is a result of my own ignorance. It would be crass in the extreme to blame someone else for penning it, the publisher for printing it, or the retailer for selling it.
The bottom line is this: If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Don’t read it. If you must bewail the fact that some people harbor sexual fantasies beyond the mainstream, then by all means do. It’s your soapbox. However, before you do so, consider what harm is likely to come of your actions and what, if any, innocent bystanders could be caught in the crossfire of your moral “crusade.” The right to speak freely only retains its value so long as it is used judiciously. In this case, Mr. Yiannopoulos, you and Mr. Wilson both failed miserably.
– Best,

A male romance author, without apologies
“Because children everywhere deserve to feel safe”
Follow me on Twitter!
For more information on what’s going on, here are some blogs you’ll find of interest:
If you have a blog talking about this and would like a linkback, just leave a comment. :)
Here is a petition urging e-retailers to take a more measured, moderate approach to the issue:
I wish to especially thank Cassandre Dayne, Selena Kitt, and all the other authors who have brought this alarming story to my attention. I strongly urge you not to let trolls and e-retailers dictate what you can and can’t read. Unless, that is, you don’t want to read anything with a more adult plot than Horton Hears A Who, in which case…why are you here, exactly?
Until next time,
Best,
J.S. Wayne

The Censorgasm

As with my previous post, reblogging, reposting, or excerpting with proper accreditation is not only permitted, but encouraged.

Over the last ten days, distributor after distributor has fallen prey to PayPal and major credit card companies, who seem to have decided “Enough’s enough” when it comes to what informed, consenting adults can buy and sell using their own money.The problem, it turns out, boils down to covers that reveal too much and tag words PayPal deems offensive, objectionable, or even questionable.

They started with BookStrand. Just a day later, All-Romance E-books started feeling the pinch. In a preemptive strike, a number of readers and authors including myself and Remittance Girl contacted Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords. A petition telling PayPal and the credit card companies to stop using commerce to legislate morality while end-running the Constitution was started. As I write this, there are six hundred sixty-six signatures, and by the time I close this post out, there will undoubtedly be more. A flurry of furious emails and account closures hit PayPal. I flatter myself that some of those emails were sent using information culled from my previous blog on the matter. And, perhaps most damning, PayPal told Selena Kitt, with Excessica Publishing, in a telephone call that in PayPal’s eyes, BDSM is no different than rape.

Then, on Friday, came a devastating blow to indie authors of erotica, and indeed authors everywhere: Mark Coker caved to PayPal’s demands. In his letter, he even went so far as to say that some of the proscribed topical matter has no place anywhere.  On Saturday, this led to a conflagration at Dear Author when they published their Saturday roundup. (You’ll have to parse this thread carefully, because there’s two heated conversations going on: one concerning this, and a shouting match over an RWA chapter treasurer who was caught plagiarizing.)

Regardless of what you think about incest, pseudo-incest, rape, bestiality, or underage sex in literature of any kind, the fact is when you start drawing arbitrary lines of acceptability in fiction, you open the door for the lines to get deeper and narrower with regards to what does and does not fall within the parameters of acceptability. As Renee Vickers noted with characteristic acuity: “When you restrict discussion on a given topic, you also restrict discussion against that topic.” There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, but let’s parse some historically significant examples of these topics to see just where the lines need to be drawn. Just for the record, I’m not trying to equate any of these morally or on any other grounds; these examples are intended for illustration purposes only.

The Bible

Rape, incest, child molestation, bestiality, underage sex.

Oops. Looks like the number-one morality guide ever published, the Good Book’s right out of there according to PayPal. (Heh. Can’t wait to see them try to enforce THAT one. I’ll crack a beer and laugh myself sick over the backlash.)

Shakespeare

Romeo And Juliet: There’s been a lively debate among scholars for centuries as to just how old Juliet really was. However, Capulet’s request of Paris to “give her two more summers ere we think her ripe to be a bride” suggests that Juliet had probably not entered her first menses yet. This assumption puts her at somewhere between nine and twelve.

So long, Billy. It’s been vivid. At least English teachers won’t have to listen to their charges griping about the fact they can’t make heads or tails of Middle English.

Lolita

Even if you’ve never read it or are repulsed by the premise, you’re familiar with the basic idea of the story. An old man falls in love with a child and proceeds to have a sexual affair with her.

However, this story is shelved as “literature” instead of “erotica,” which means it’s safe from the purge. For now.

Anne Rice

The Mayfair Witches, especially, contained scenes and notions of incest, rape, and pedophilia, and yet this series is often held to be second only to the Vampire Chronicles as her finest work. And, of course, Belinda, which was written and IS shelved as erotica and deals with the affair between a forty-four-year-old man and a sixteen-year-old girl.

Sorry, Anne.

John Sanford’s Prey series

The Prey series, starring Minneapolis detective Lucas Davenport, delves into some very dark territory indeed. Everything from rape to child molestation is covered, and he pulls no punches.

Too bad, John. I enjoyed seeing the bad guys get theirs.

Now, why am I picking on Shakespeare, Nabokov, Rice, and Sanford? The fact is, I’m not. I am, however, trying to point out the absolute ridiculousness of PayPal’s position and their selective enforcement. They also seem to believe that children have no place in erotica, and I believe that AS PARTICIPANTS, that’s absolutely true. But let’s consider a couple of scenarios in which erotica or erotic romance books might be subject to these rules.

1) Mommy brings her new boyfriend home for the weekend. After the children are tucked into bed, they do what two people who’ve just started exploring their sexuality together do. A good time is being had by all . . . until little Susie wanders into the room with her teddy bear because she had a bad dream.

In real life, this is comic fodder. Horrifyingly embarrassing, but one of those things that just happens. But if the wrong censor sees this in a book (and yeah, they’re out there), oops! You’ve got a banned novel.

2) A woman is sexually abused as a child by her father. Years later, her boyfriend allows her to handcuff him to a bed, showing her he’s not going to harm her and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to be able to make love to her and help her conquer her demons.

Here we’ve got elements of pedophilia and rape  (not for titillation), incest (again, not for titillation, and DUH . . .), and BDSM.  The entire point of the story is that the couple is able, working together and trusting one another fully, to overcome the horrific things that happened to her as a child. But because they occur in the same story, even thought the handcuff scene is clearly everything the abuse was not, you can’t call it erotic romance. You can’t even call it erotica, no matter how lightly you touch on the abuse or how hotly you write the love scene, unless you want some well-meaning but clueless busybody telling you to take your sleaze somewhere else or even better, trying to have you locked up for distributing child porn.

Well, I guess there’s nothing for it: We’ll have to lock them all up and burn their books. As long as we’re thinking about it, let’s go ahead and make sure we can’t have frank and honest discourse about human nature in all its shades and strange desires. All authors, please report to your nearest reeducation center, coming soon to a city near you, for intensive brainwashing and indoctrination. Thank you, PayPal, for showing us the way. (Don’t worry, I don’t charge extra for sarcasm.)

For more on this and a detailed list of people speaking on this, both pro and con, you can visit S.V. Rowle’s excellent and exhaustive list of rumblings in the blogosphere.  The long and short of it is, when PayPal decided their customers are too stupid to know what is and isn’t right and wrong and elected to make their point by engaging in left-handed censorship (YES, IT IS, AND NO, I DON’T CARE TO HEAR 6,813 REASONS WHY IT’S NOT. JUST CLICK HERE TO SEE THE DEFINITION.) they overstepped their lawful authority and betrayed their customers on both sides of the transaction. There are things stirring as far as people and small presses opening new bookstores with no ties to PayPal, but these movements are in their infancy. Let’s hope they are actually able to deliver what they seem to be suggesting they can.

In the meantime, PayPal’s had their censorgasm, and they’re reclining, having a cigarette, and thinking pleasant thoughts about how they’re going to spend YOUR STOLEN MONEY. (Because they froze your account without recourse under their TOS and now it’s building interest for them instead of going where it was supposed to, namely, your pocket.) This letter, sent to me last Monday from PayPal’s corporate office, suggests exactly how little they think of all this:

Please note that in this letter, all emphasis (shown in bold) is my own. All italicized content is my own thoughts and musings upon the possible meanings and shadings of intent contained herein.

February 20, 2012

Thank you for your recent correspondence to PayPal dated February 17, 2012. Your concerns were forwarded to PayPal’s Executive Escalations office for review and response. Hmm. Now what could that possibly mean? “Oh shit, he may have a point?” “We’re debating whether to sue you for everything you’re worth and make sure you stop being a thorn in our side?” “We’re not sure what to say about this, so we’re saying nothing for the time being?” In other words, typically vague and meaningless communique from PayPal so far, with just enough of a hint of threat to give a little pause.

We can’t comment specifically on the Regretsy.com account due to our privacy policy. Eh . . . huh? Who said anything about Regretsy? That was never mentioned in the previous letter . . .  However, we can confirm that the funds have been released and we are working directly with the account holder on this matter. That’s big of you, considering it was their money AND MINE to start with . . .  We are also working with Regretsy to make a donation to help families in need this holiday season. Okay, hey, they’re at least doing SOMETHING good to try to ameliorate the damage. Could be self-serving, but if it helps those in need, I’m good with that.  We’re very sorry this occurred. Moreover, we cannot directly comment on any account that you do not own or any actions taken related to PayPal policy including both PayPal’s User Agreement and Acceptable Use policy. Hah! You wouldn’t even give me a straight answer on my own account when I HAD one! OF COURSE you’re not going to directly comment. That’s how y’all operate.

For reference, we have clear guidelines for any business who uses PayPal to accept donations. For example, we require certain documentation to prevent misuse of the donated funds and, if the recipient claims charitable status, to determine whether they are properly registered. Um . . . what? Unless they’re referring back to my original complaint, the one that led to me shutting down my account altogether, I’m not getting the relevance here. Fundraising and charity were never mentioned in the original letter I sent to them.  As a regulated payment service, we’re also required by law to follow these guidelines. !?!?!? And what law might that be, may I inquire? Where can I, as a concerned citizen and former customer, gain more information as to precisely what body of law tells you this is even remotely acceptable?

We appreciate that this can be an inconvenience, You have a talent for understatement. I can at least respect that. but we have a responsibility to all our customers – both donors and recipients; or buyers and sellers. Um, yeah. Until what’s being bought or sold looks odd, off, immoral, or wrong by YOUR standards. Then all bets are off, aren’t they, Bucky? Sure looks like it from where I’m sitting . . .  In this instance, we recognized our error and moved as swiftly as possible to fix it.  To a greater or lesser degree, yes . . . but you still haven’t addressed the underlying issue, you’ve given me no information so I can research for myself and determine what laws give you these rights and responsibilities, and I’m still not getting what the hell charity has to do with this. (See above.)

Very sincerely yours,

Executive Escalations

So, in other words . . .

Yeah, PayPal screwed authors and readers badly the last ten days or so. Whether we continue to allow this to happen is now up to every single author, publisher, bookseller, and reader. Because when they’re done with these “questionable” kinks, I’ll bet you a year’s pay they’re coming for yours. Hope you weren’t really enthralled with those Elves Gone Wild or whatever you’re into, because if PayPal has its way, they’re probably next. Don’t let PayPal’s next censorgasm come *snicker* at the expense of YOUR right to buy and read what you wish.

Until next time,

Best,

J.S. Wayne