Censorship in our Brave New World

There appear to be some issues with self published eBooks being taken down from some online stores amid accusations of “indecent and immoral content.” Instead of being taken as a case-by-case basis, some proprietors have determined it best to remove all self-published material, regardless of subject. The original complaint was against allegedly distasteful erotica. So now fantasy, historical fiction/romance, science fiction, etc. all have to take the brunt of these accusations. Every self-published author is now apparently some sort of depraved, sick individual. It’s not even a matter of quality control.

It’s a matter of content. So who gets to censor, and who gets to set the standards?

One site in the UK has actually taken their page down until they manage to remove all self-published material from their shelves, and has a holding page up with this statement:

A statement from WHSmith:
Last week we were made aware that a number of unacceptable titles were appearing on our website through the Kobo website that has an automated feed to ours. This is an industry wide issue impacting retailers that sell self published eBooks due to the explosion of self publishing, which in the main is good as it gives new authors the opportunity to get their content published. However we are disgusted by these particular titles, find this unacceptable and we in no way whatsoever condone them.

It is our policy not to feature titles like those highlighted and we have processes in place to screen them out. We offer over one million titles through our eBooks partner Kobo, many of which are self-published titles. Due to the massive amount of self publishing a number of these titles have got through the screening process.

We are taking immediate steps to have them all removed. While we are doing this we have decided to take our website off-line to best protect our customers and the public. Our website will become live again once all self published eBooks have been removed and we are totally sure that there are no offending titles available. When our website goes back online it will not display any self published material until we are completely confident that inappropriate books can never be shown again.

We sincerely apologise for any offence caused.

In the mean time if you have any questions for our customer support team you can contact then here (customer.relations@whsmith.co.uk).      

What a statement–“until we are completely confident that inappropriate books can never be shown again.” It also could use a good edit. I’m a vegetarian. I’d really rather not see any books on BBQ or Slow Roasting Chicken. I don’t like guns, so I think we should get rid of all those titles as well. Oh, that takes out quite a number of mysteries, doesn’t it? Action/Adventure, too. I’m afraid of the water, so there go any nautical, Navy SEAL, or books about the Marines. Poor Patrick O’Brian! And books on pirates. My kidneys are going bad, moderately damaged. Better get all the cookbooks with too much salt out of there–it’s better for everyone’s health in the long run. And I find the idea of steak and kidney pie, well, extremely hurtful in this light as well, so out with those. I don’t particularly like the outdoors, let’s get rid of all the books on hiking. I can’t afford to travel, so I find it offensive that there are other people always talking about all the places they’ve been or are going to visit. Out with all the travel books on other countries.

Ridiculous, isn’t it? Why should I choose what anyone else can read? We have freedom of speech, at least supposedly, in the United States. I can only assume that the UK would as well. I’ve never been there. Can’t travel, remember? It sort of sucks sometimes, being one of the 99%. But I do have some rights, according to the constitution. Oh, but wait, we have politicians here who can’t remember how laws are made, what am I saying? I imagine they’d love to hop on this censorship train. The Tea Party may be more at home going by ship, though…

I didn’t have a question for WHSmith, but I did have a comment:

The only offense that has been caused here is the blatant censorship exhibited by a kneejerk reaction to a limited number of titles, not the entire body of work that is self-published.

This reaction is akin to making a blanket statement about an entire ethnic group or population. It is the equivalent of profiling by law enforcement. It is morally and ethically questionable, and smacks of an Orwellian mentality.

If paper burns at a temperature of 451 degrees Fahrenheit, what happens to eBooks? Luckily, you’re even saved that issue with a single click of a delete button.

Who makes the decisions of what is and isn’t acceptable? Who are our moral  police? In our “Democratic” United States, it appears that the ones who think they would be responsible for a task such as this would be the GOP and the Tea Party. Anyone who is following current politics in the United States knows just how moral and ethical they are.

As opposed to folding under pressure to appease the madding, misled, moral unintelligentsia in the quest to retain their almighty pecuniary tributes, I would urge you to consider where your actions will lead. Is it a moral and ethical place, or is it a place full of landmines and Molotov cocktails? Who will join you for happy hour then?

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
–Martin-Niemöller-Foundation

Sincerely,
Wendy Clements
Writer

Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
Oscar Wilde

Hm. I would address this question to any online bookseller. I used to be a bookseller, for an independent bookstore. A real store. Yet even I mourned the death of Borders. It was one of the few places left for people to gather, talk, drink overpriced coffee and be surrounded by books. Granted, they never had the books I wanted, but still… I live in a university town. Our Borders closed. We have two branches of a used book store that has the potential to be a very good bookstore, another used bookstore which is loved by the community and provides wonderful events, and a couple of specialty bookstores. And the christian bookstore. We have a Barnes and Noble, however rumor has it they’re pulling the same sort of stunt on their online faux brick and mortarless presence. I haven’t verified that. The same claims were made of Amazon. I haven’t verified that either. Oh, wait, yes I did. Finn Marlowe now only has two books up. Not His Kiss to Take is missing. It’s at Smashwords, though–free.

I don’t know how many books are missing from Amazon. All self-published titles will be from WHSmith. Truthfully, things are so vague, other than “unacceptable” titles causing “offence” that I don’t even know what they’re talking about. There are plenty of books published by traditional, big 5 publishing houses with material in them I find offensive–some worse than what I’ve ever read in the self-published works I choose to read. Note the word in the last sentence. Choose. Choice. No one is forcing people to buy books of erotica. I think people are making that decision themselves. I don’t think they magically jump from WHSmith’s page to readers’ Kobos of their own volition, while managing to smuggle the money out of the readers’ accounts at the same time. Do these people who find the material offensive force themselves to read it so they can state their case first hand, or do they just read the blurb and look at the cover? Because really, blurbs only give a slice of the pie, American or British.

Books are such an easy target, and they look so innocent, but they scare some people to death. They might talk about something different from the status quo. They could be revolutionary. Although I don’t think it was a book that started either the French Revolution or the American Revolution. It just takes some people, as Jon Stewart put it, stringing these long words together into completely incomprehensible sentences that don’t even obfuscate the true meaning because there wasn’t any there to start with. See, I can do it too, except I think mine made sense.  Keep people confused. Confused people are easier to lead. When it becomes frightening is when it’s the misinformed leading the confused–a few very loud, dramatic, flag waving Palins to drown out the voices of reason and sanity.

The Tea Party is really such a waste of good tea–I only hope it isn’t Irish Breakfast, because that’s my favorite. They give tea a bad name, and I really think it would be such a nice thing to institute in the United States–afternoon tea. Some time to relax. Take a break from the frenetic pace of our lives. Read a good book. Instead we have people vying for the role of Mad Hatter. Maybe he’s available for the role of book censor. I don’t know what his political leanings are, or what his personal tastes in reading material are, but he has heard a lot of, “Off with their heads!” And I believe he possesses the requisite questionable sanity.

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
–Oscar Wilde

i read banned booksBenjamin Franklineyechart-banned-books

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