In recent weeks, there has been an attack on certain types of indie erotica. It started with Bookstrand, a site I investigated but never used, banning first some of the more fringe types of erotica and finally indie authors altogether. OmniLit/AllRomance ebooks, a site I do use, was next. Same story, erotica gets its own ghetto without any subclassifications and certain kinds of erotica are now unacceptable altogether. In addition to the underage sex, incest, bestiality, necrophilia and rape erotica, so-called pseudo-incest (featuring stepsiblings or stepparents and stepchildren) as well as barely legal erotica featuring 18 to 20-year-old women is now unacceptable as well. Oh yes, and BDSM is apparently a no-go as well.
More under the cut. And since we’re talking about erotica here, the content might bother more sensitive people:
Smashwords was targeted next and unlike AllRomance and Bookstrand, Mark Coker was pretty open about what the problem was, namely with PayPal, the online payment system we have all used at some point in our lives. Apparently, PayPal is being pushed by the credit card companies to get rid of the some of the more out there forms of erotica. Alas, Smashwords did not fold so easily and is trying to come to an agreement with PayPal that is less restrictive.
Now I don’t write erotica, even though some of my stories were originally published in a magazine specializing in pulp erotica. Nonetheless, I find these developments troubling. First of all, because while literary descriptions of pedophilia are illegal almost everywhere (unless they are called Lolita and were written by Vladimir Nabokov, of course) and necrophilia, bestiality and incest are illegal in practice in most countries, though not necessarily in writing, I don’t see why erotica featuring people who are not related by blood or erotica featuring characters who are clearly over the age of consent even in the US should be a problem. The acts described are clearly legal, so why is writing about them suddenly not allowed. I never really understood the prohibition against rape for titillation, though I personally can’t stand that stuff, because prohibiting rape for titillation would eliminate the whole bodice ripper era in one swoop. As for BDSM, sometimes it seems that half the erotica on the virtual shelves is BDSM.
Besides, who died and made PayPal or respectively the credit card companies supreme guardian of public decency? And am I the only one who finds it troubling that I can buy a gun using PayPal or my credit card (in the US at least – Germany has tough gun laws) but not a steamy novel? Because last I checked, no one was ever killed by reading erotica, even of the more sordid variety. Guns, on the other hand, kill thousands of people each year.
Those links are, as internet parlance puts it, “not safe for work”, by the way.
I’d been following the online discussions about this issue for a while and was bothered not just by what was going on, but also by how cavalier many indie writers reacted to the whole issue:
- “Well, I find this stuff disgusting, so it should be banned.” (Here’s one example. There are others)
- “Bookstrand/AllRomance/Smashwords/PayPal is a business and has the right to decide whom they do business with. And besides, Capitalism is wonderful and Communism is evil and if you don’t agree, you’re an evil Communist.”
- “It’s not censorship, because it’s not the government who is doing the censoring here.”
- “No one is forcing you to write erotica. Why don’t you go and write something else?”
But what really prompted me to post was this post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Now I’m a regular reader of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog, I admire her a lot and I probably wouldn’t be indie publishing at all, if I hadn’t read her blog. Which is also why I was so shocked to tune in for the latest installment of The Business Rusch and read what basically amounted to “Shut up and write”. Because those stupid thudding writers who complain about censorship (and of course, it’s not censorship at all, because PayPal and the credit card companies have every right not to want their brand associated with that nasty porn) are just supporting someone else’s agenda anyway. And don’t even get me started on the whole “If you really wanted to, you’d find an alternative” stuff which completely ignores that many of the supposed alternatives are not viable for non-US writers.
So I decided “Fuck all that” and write a loud and angry thudding post, like a stupid thudding writer: Because making whole classes of content unavailable for sale is censorship, regardless of whether it’s initiated by government or by a corporation. Besides, non-governmental self-control bodies are just as effective at censoring and removing undesirable content as official government censors. The Hays Code, the Comics Code Authority and Germany’s Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle (voluntary self-control, though it’s neither voluntary nor self-control) are censorship organisations, plain and simple. For a current example of how large swathes of the mainstream media, both publicly controlled and privately owned, try to manipulate public opinion and suppress dissent, read the Gauck posts on my main blog.
Besides, even if this attack on certain kinds of erotica was apparently originated by PayPal and the credit card companies, the real background here is that a certain vocal subset of Americans have got their heads in a tizzy about porn. After all, it is telling this crackdown on self-published erotica happens at a time when the three Republican presidential candidates with the highest chances all promise to crack down and preferably ban pornography. A crumbling infrastructure, high unemployment, two wars, a recession that shows no sign of ending, an enormous budget deficit and the three most promising Republican presidential candidates worry about porn. Really, someone has their priorities all screwed up here.
This is probably what bothers me most about all this, namely that a vocal minority of Americans are trying to push their morals on the rest of the world. Now “Daddy’s little girl” erotica is not my thing at all, I don’t find incest or rape or bestiality even remotely sexy. But I don’t think that adults writing or reading about it is wrong.
Besides, I already censor my own works to comply with American morality. I write historical fiction. Sometimes, my characters have sex and sometimes one or both partners are young, because ideas of sexual maturity were often very different in the past. Besides, the age of consent in Germany is sixteen, but I already up the ages of some of my characters to eighteen or nineteen to comply with the American panic about underage sex. But if eighteen or nineteen-year-olds having sex is suddenly taboo as well, will I have to up the ages of my characters to 21, even though they behave like teenagers, because that’s what they are?
And don’t get me started on trying to arrange the letters on the cover of The Spiked Death, so they would cover up a bare nipple and a bit of pubic hair – on a historical painting that no one in Germany would find the least bit objectionable. As for the content – the story is about a villain who gets off on kidnapping young women, chaining them to walls and torturing them. Cause if you’ve read my stuff, you know that a lot of it is violent. Characters are tied up, they are threatened with torture and execution, because that’s what villains do. Sometimes there’s a sexual component to the violence, sometimes the villain or his henchmen grope the heroine – because again, villains are villainous. And just to point out that it’s not just Americans who are trying to push their morals on everybody else, in the UK certain kinds of “extreme porn”, mainly snuff and asphyx porn as well as bestiality and necrophilia, is illegal to possess after a guy who was into that sort of stuff strangled a young woman. I have stories where characters are threatened with hanging or garotting.
Yes, I know that it’s only erotica that’s under attack at the moment and I don’t write erotica. And none of my stories contain anything that you couldn’t find in a George R.R. Martin/Joe Abercrombie style gritty fantasy novel, a Bernard Cornwell historical novel or a vintage bodice ripper. But if erotica that doesn’t depict anything illegal is suddenly no longer okay, then my works or anybody else’s could be next. And this is why we have to speak out.