In response to overwhelming pressure to remove it, Amazon has taken down the offending book. Good for them. I’ll get into the problems with self-publishing in a later post and probably mention this ill-conceived, misspelled piece of garbage then.
See more about Amazon’s decision here.
Today I read something on MSN that I wasn’t quite sure how to take, but it involves censorship, a thorny issue for writers.
According to this article by Helen A.S. Popkin, Amazon is selling an e-book in its Kindle store about dealing with pedophila…from the pedophile’s point of view.
I won’t mention the title; you can find it in the article, and I don’t want to give the writer the attention, frankly. The book apparently offers advice for people in adult/child sexual situations, to help make it safer for the pedos.
Amazon has defended its decision to sell this material by issuing a statement about why they refuse to take the book down. It reads in part:
Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.
There’s a problem inherent in this. Having sex with kids IS a criminal act, in every state. Pedophilia is a paraphilia, a psychosexual disorder marked by abnormal and intense urges toward persons or things that fall outside the norm of sexuality. Since children are not able to make viable decisions in this area, sex with kids is illegal.
But removing the book is technically censorship. And nonfiction books describing other criminal acts or advocating questionable activities, even for entertainment-–The Anarchist’s Cookbook, George Hayduke’s Revenge books come to mind—aren’t restricted.
Where does that leave writers with something controversial to say, even if it’s horrifying? And where should booksellers draw the line?
Amazon doesn’t sell porn in the Kindle store. Is this book porn? Bnet’s Style Inc. blogger Lydia Dishman reports that because it has no pictures or illustrations, it doesn’t even qualify as child porn. Thus, it’s breaking no laws and Amazon can’t be charged for selling it.
Booksellers have a right to carry whatever material they like, if they think they can sell it and they’re not running afoul of the legal system. They can sell adult pornography, graphic crime novels and other fictional works describing the sexual abuse of children. We as consumers are free to avoid or boycott the store or the writer if we like.
In my opinion, maybe the law is too lax on this kind of material. I’ve seen child pornography (in a Citizen’s Police Academy course). If I had to name the worst scourges on this earth, it would be right up there with genocide, war and slavery. I can’t imagine anything instructing pedophiles on how to conduct these activities as acceptable in any context. I’ve heard sexual abuse described as “soul murder.” That’s what it is, and that’s what it does to kids who go through it.
Is it okay to talk about it? Well, yes, we have to, in order to save children from it. There are good tips here for preventing child sexual abuse. Children whose parents or guardians don’t pay much attention to them are prime pickings for pedophiles.
Is it okay to write about it? Authors can write about anything they want. I’ve read well-written books both fiction and nonfiction that contain scenes of child rape. Makes me sick, but in the context of the narrative, the scenes were necessary to establish character motivation and show the degradation of a person’s psyche.
So should this book be taken down? Amazon isn’t going to remove it. They won’t take down the Holocaust denial books they sell either, even though they are illegal in certain countries. It’s still okay in the United States to say it never happened, even if it makes you look like an idiot.
Barring certain wartime situations or yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater when there isn’t one, one of our basic freedoms in the U. S. is the right to say or think whatever we want without fear of reprisal. If we insist libraries, booksellers and authors restrict their content to that which is sanitary and uncontroversial, do we undermine that right? I think we do.
As a writer, if you pen something questionable, remember we have this freedom. But I would take this particular incident as an object lesson. There are some subjects people feel extremely strongly about, and you must be prepared for a possible backlash if you choose to tackle them.
As a consumer, you control your money. You can vote with your wallet. You don’t have to buy the book or read it, and if you disagree with Amazon’s policy, you can walk away from them. If you have knowledge of a crime committed against someone, you can report it (and please do). Under the law, the fact that the book may be sick is not a crime.
I myself don’t plan to boycott Amazon because of this. I won’t buy the book, I won’t mention the author’s name, I will exhort anyone not to buy it out of curiosity. This twit might be able to publish it, but if it doesn’t sell, it will eventually vanish.
If you have an opinion about censorship in general, or about this particular issue with Amazon, feel free to share in the comments. Please be respectful of others’ opinions. No personal attacks or your comments will be deleted. It’s okay to disagree as long as we remember that we each have a right to do so.