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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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,