17 October 2013

Censorship and a confusion of sexy words!

Once upon a time happens every half-year or so, it seems, when book retailers suddenly act insane and throw out a lot of books and their authors for no sensible reason. Panic attack!

Once again someone complaining about a self-published book of erotica caused a panic in the industry. The result? Of course the book in question was burned. Then other books of erotica were tossed. Then any book that was self-published was given the heave-ho. The "reasoning" seemed to be that because erotica is generally self-published that by association all self-published books are suspect. After all, there are no purveyors of "good taste" to filter the good erotica from the back alley variety.

Naturally, there was an uproar by self-published authors of all genre, not only erotica. Unfair, they claimed, that all self-published books were taken down from online retailers Kobo and W.H. Smith in the U.K. Sales are hard enough to come by without such negative publicity and removal from the sales venue, even if, as the retail entities were quick to explain, the books would eventually be made available again "as soon as possible." We know how that goes.

Sure, this could be seen as "par for the course"; we've been through this kind of mass censorship before. A few of my colleagues declare this is not censorship because retailers can sell whatever they wish to sell, and no one is forced to sell someone else's book, erotica or any other genre. That's true; they are in business, after all. And yet, "censorship" comes not in some political definition but as more common sense jargon. Those retailers chose to make products unavailable for sale based on a hot, rushed decision made from scantily clad evidence related to a particular slutty book. (So the story goes....)

They have that right, yet I would still call it censorship because their actions were because of the content of those books, hence touching upon freedom of speech--which, of course, has never really existed except in some limited, brief conditions. They determined that others should not have access to that content. Someone deciding that someone else cannot have something made by a further someone is censorship, regardless whether a government entity is responsible for it or a business. Said another way:

Joe won't let Mary read the book Terry wrote because Joe thinks the book is not suitable for Mary. Joe does not allow Mary, therefore, to judge Terry's book for herself. Thus, Mary does not get the experience of reading the book and Terry does not get the benefit of compensation for writing the book. Joe, however, gets the satisfaction of affecting control over both Mary's pleasure and Terry's livelihood. In the end, only Joe gets off cleanly...though in a dirty way.

Well, I was not personally inconvenienced by this latest incident. And it did not seem to raise as much of a storm as the previous episode did. Perhaps we self- and indie-published authors take it as the cost of doing business. The rush to judgment, casting the widest possible net to catch any and all who may have slipped in a clever double entendre or an innocent first kiss or the simple delight of a bodice-ripped heroines pining for manly men in Romance novels is the offending act. I noted in subsequent discussions online that erotica written by better known authors (e.g., E. L. James) and published by traditional publishers (the popular Fifty Shades series) was not thrown out.

That certainly smells like a double standard. Is traditionally published erotica more (or less) sexy than self-published erotica? Which is more dangerous? Are the fantasies of midnight novelists somehow less wholesome than those of 24/7 erotica authors who are promoted onto bestseller lists by big company marketing departments? And in the final analysis, isn't all erotica the same? Aren't there only a few basic moves and all the rest mere variations on what seems, practiced over millennia, to work best? Granted, there are "how-to" books which may offer some tricks and gimmicks to dress up the behavior of the undressed. Even so, one aroused person's trick is another aroused person's fetish. Right?

I've even dabbled in some nasty bits, but I tend to "keep it real"--plausible, that is. Nothing that is physically challenging for the more idealistic acrobats of the bedroom--or, as the case might be, in a janitor's closet in a foodcourt restroom in a shopping mall...or whatever.* I tried using metaphors in my romantic adventure novel, AFTER ILIUM, but nobody figured out what was going on. Not good erotica, I suppose. Here's a sample from the big sex scene:

He continued collecting souvenirs as she directed him southward, showing him a lush garden of delicious, juicy fruit to sample, even daring him to taste the puckered kumquat. The festive banquet of Eden spread before him! Drowning in the sea of pleasure, she sighed, like the wind in the sails, and encouraged him to gather all the treasures that he could. He responded by lapping furiously at the fountain of youth, growing not younger but older, gaining maturity. And when he feared he might finally be satiated, she called for him to return to port, to push hard into the harbor until his vessel was fully docked and his wares completely unloaded. (p. 41)

It's all sailing terminology! What is so objectionable about that? Docking...harbor...unloading ware...?

So, in the end, everything remains the same: business as usual: you get what you pay for. Unless someone decides it's not worth your money. Granted, there are subjects, especially in erotica, which make me uncomfortable or disgusts me. I have a threshold. So I don't read them. I don't buy them. But I'm not about to set up a wall to keep people out. Their business is none of my business. Unless...?

On the other hand, I trust people--I want to trust that people are reasonable, that they don't like certain "filth" (rape, incest, abuse, etc., as alleged by the complaint) because of a desire to act out what they read, that they are not likely to be as bad as characters in fiction might be. Faith in humanity. Yes, we've been fooled before by people committing heinous crimes, but we must hold fast to the basic belief in the rightness of the majority of our neighbors. Or we stop being human. End of lecture.

Now, everyone please turn to Porn #69 in your hymnals....

*Did not really happen!

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.


  1. That sex scene was really... something.

    1. What, that scene? That's only a paragraph. :-)

  2. Double standards, certainly.

    I don't share Kobo's view that all indies are guilty until proven innocent. :-)
    Have a look at the kind of book Kobo is promoting. (Brace yourself before reading the synopsis; it may be disturbing.)

    The grossest aspect of this is that when people search Kobo's UK site for deleted children's books, Kobo recommends this sort of book instead.

  3. Thanks, Rayne!
    Algorithms are not always your friend.