Sunday, February 26, 2012

Censorship: how the latest erotica debacle affects all readers & writers

For a few days, I’ve tracked news on several targeted attempts to remove erotica titles online, from retailers like Smashwords, Bookstrand, AllRomance and Siren Publishing. Under PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy, no one can use the service for sales of “items that are considered obscene.

Last week, AllRomance, (where my historical titles appear) sent me an email that indicated a new classification system for erotica. A few days later, Dear Author commented on Siren Publishing’s push to remove erotica titles from self-published authors, which generated a lovely laughable reply. Smashwords recently informed its erotica authors that it would be removing certain titles, bowing to PayPal’s threat to sever their business relationship, whereby SW’s authors received payments through PayPal.

In varying degrees, I recognize the prevailing factors that compel each of the online retailers who have taken drastic steps against their authors. Businesses have to follow the law. I also disagree with the principles behind their actions 100%; when did PayPal begin to define what was obscene? Who's the next arbiter of good or moral taste in the business world? Remember when Amazon removed certain erotica titles in 2010? The challenge for US businesses, where hysteria over sex and hypocrisy continually evolve, is nothing new.

Voltaire once stated,I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” The graphic covers or content of certain erotica titles actually disgust me. My objections are about my personal tastes, which should not dictate the buying or reading choices of anyone else. I don’t find erotica that contains incest or sex with minors appealing. Yet, I’m a huge fan of Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy. Culling erotica titles en masse has the effect of removing books where the sex occurs between consenting adults.   

Our governmental and legal systems have typically been the final arbitrators of obscenity. While pornography is not erotica, the same standards are applicable to both. The obscenity standard allows censorship of content that some believe has little social, artistic or literary value. In Jacobellis vs. Ohio, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said of pornography, “I know it when it when I see it…”, yet American jurisprudence has long recognized that regulating taste through censorship sets the precedent for a dangerous, slippery slope.

When censorship begins to affect what we read, where does it stop? How many more challenges will Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic series face because the books deal with incest? Will someone decide there is too much violence in horror fiction someday? Will my Rule of Love, which revolves around the author of the Kama Sutra and has explicit sexual scenes, suffer the same fate as erotica titles because someone might consider it obscene?

When we allow the loss of personal freedoms for others, we’re just setting up for the inevitable, when someone takes action against our liberties. A sad day for all.

ETA: Dear Author sums up the actions of each online retailer mentioned above here

1 comment:

Anita Davison said...

I totally agree, Lisa. I don't read erotica, not because I disapprove, I simply feel I know where everything goes and what it feels like - so don't need to experience it vicariously. But there are plenty of people who do, and they should not be labelled for doing so. And as you say, who has the right to decide which books are available to the reading public? When has banning anything worked?

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