First, it appears that Kobo has removed all directly self-published titles and many of the titles distributed by third parties (such as Smashwords and Draft2Digital) from its UK e-store. This was done in response to complaints about erotica being sold through that store. Apparently it’s only the UK store that’s involved here, so Kobo outlets in other countries including the U.S. are still carrying self-published titles.
Second, and a bit more disturbing because the distributor is much bigger than Kobo, Amazon appears to be engaged in its own overreaction to complaints about erotica, or certain kinds of erotica. An author of erotica I’m aware of has seen a book pulled by Amazon because it had a title that was suggestive of incest (even though that’s not the subject of the book).
Our culture is in the end stages of a transition from one paradigm of sexual morality to a new one. It’s not difficult to confuse that conflict between the old and new paradigms with the much older and in some ways more basic conflict between any set of sexual taboos (old or new) and freedom of speech and expression. Advocates of the new sexual morality are just as prone, it would seem, to excessive zeal and to imposing unacceptable restraints on freedom of speech as advocates of the old one ever were. To a creative person, to someone who values artistic liberty, this is not made any more tolerable by the fact that I agree with their views on sexual morality as such. These people may not be objecting to the expression of sexuality itself; they may not have the idea that women should be virgins until marriage or that sex in itself is obscene; they may not attempt to ban all expression of homosexuality. Their objections — as applied to actual sexual behavior — to treating women (or men) as objects, to exploitation of teenage children, to the abuses of the sex trade, to incest, and in general to abuses of power in connection with sex, may in my opinion be well-taken. I may agree with them completely as far as actual sexual behavior is concerned.
But that doesn’t change the fact that they make themselves enemies of art, of creativity, of the imagination, and of freedom itself, by attempting to restrain creative expression according to the same rules that apply to actual behavior.
Censorship was not abhorrent in the past merely because the standards applied to censor books, movies, and other creative expression were outdated and inappropriate to today’s world. It was also abhorrent because censorship is always abhorrent. It is not less abhorrent when applied to creative works that describe things which are forbidden by our modern, up-to-date taboos.
After all, we have plenty of ideas about wrongful behavior that have nothing to do with sex. Crime. War. Murder. Corporate greed. Religious intolerance. Would it be appropriate to censor books containing descriptions of that sort of wrongful behavior? Should we ban all detective fiction because it includes nasty behavior on the part of criminals? Should no war novel ever again be published?
But when it comes to sex, some people seem to see nothing wrong with using whatever tools they can to silence talk, to ban books, to put the creative imagination in shackles. No artist should tolerate this, not in the past, not now, not ever.
We are protected by the First Amendment in the United States, and by parallel laws in most other advanced nations, from fear that the government will impose censorship. But nothing in the law protects us against censorship by corporations engaged in the publication or distribution of art, in response to demands by the neo-Puritans among us. Unless we protect ourselves, by demanding that freedom of speech and expression be held as more precious to us than sexual purity, even according to modern standards incorporating feminism and gay rights.
We are in many ways living in a golden age of art. The Internet, electronic communication, self-publishing not only of the written word but of the visual arts and music as well, these free artists from the control of those who want to exploit them. But this freedom is not invulnerable. It must be protected.
Next week: More on contemporary fantasy, as I originally intended to write this week before I became sidetracked (or sideswiped) by outrage.
Image credit: subbotina / 123RF Stock Photo