On Februray 27th, news came out that Paypal was demanding that many booksellers, including one of the largest independent distributors, Smashwords, remove certain types of erotic content.
Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, had no choice but to comply, since Paypal is one of their main financial processing companies. He contacted authors with material that might fit into the threatened category, all in the Erotica genre. He had this to say:
"We think our authors should be allowed to publish erotica. Erotica, despite the attacks it faces from moralists, is a category worthy of protection. Erotica allows readers to safely explore aspects of sexuality that they might never want to explore in the real world... Erotica authors are facing discrimination, plain and simple. Topics that are perfectly acceptable in mainstream fiction are verboten in erotica. That's not fair. If you're going to push the limits, push the limits of great writing, not the limits of legality."
There was such a negative backlash to this news of corporate censorship (or corporate blackmail) that Paypal began to soften or at least, partially rethink its position.
As the author of the article, Nate Hoffelder, smartly points out:
"Why the revision? Well, over the weekend a number of people pointed out that Paypal’s ban would extend far beyond the reaches of this one genre. For example, it would include Woody Allen biography, history books, and even the Bible. There’s also a not so short list of works of literature which would fall under the banhammer as well (The Color Purple, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, just to name 2).
I’m not going to argue that Paypal’s actions are wrong; I did that in my last post. But I do want to point out what a slippery slope this was and how poorly conceived it was. Whoever initially came up with this ban didn’t look beyond their personal distaste for the topic."
So, you can’t censor erotica without censoring the Bible (which is full of rape, killing, mass murder, sex with paranormal entities, etc.). Well, I damn well don’t want to censor the Bible. And I don’t want to censor other books that may offend certain people’s sensibilities. And as an author, I don’t want to have to censor what I write. If what I’ve written has cultural worth, it will hopefully be read and appreciated by those who need or want to read it. If not, it will fade into oblivion (unfortunately, even the good works can).
The fear and repulsion toward the sex impulse in our culture that divides most people against themselves and creates so much guilt and shame can be traced, at least partially, to the stern, pleasure-hating, militant, Puritan ancestors that had influence in the founding of this country. This is the group that, as Gore Vidal points out, was kicked out of England not because they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs, but because they were not allowed to persecute others for their beliefs.
This strange moral hypocrisy lingers to this day. It's okay to be "entertained" by murder, torture, serial killing, war and other horrid violence, but sex is a "taboo" subject. That's what this is really about. A free sexual attitude threatens societal control and cuts down on productivity. And according to the twisted Puritan idea, sexual pleasure is, at best, a necessary evil. More likely, it is a tool of the Devil.
But those in control of our society need it to be pro-violence to make all of our military escapades not only acceptable, but heroic, whatever the real intent. Again, as Vidal once said: “The sexual attitudes of any given society are the result of political decisions.” (http://www.gorevidalpages.com/1979/01/sex-is-politics-by-gore-vidal.html)
I have a story, Sick Day, from The Romantic Adventures ofJack & Dora, where the husband ties up his wife, partly with sexual intent (I won’t say exactly why, as it would give away the plot). The public, that does much stranger things in private, needs to be protected from that? In fact, the people claiming to want to protect the public probably do stranger things in private than that. But reading about soldiers blowing people’s heads off and serial killers cutting out people’s organs and eating them with fava beans is just good entertainment?
The more you repress and push down a powerful, natural impulse (and sex is probably the big number one), the more it will grow in the underground and sprout up in a far more twisted, unhealthy form. Historically, in societies where sexuality was a much more open part of day-to-day life, there is almost no evidence of what we think of today as pornography.
If you're really interested in where the Western attitudes toward sex come from, see one of the best books ever written on this subject: Eros Denied. It was written in the 1960s by Wayland Young, a respected British Lord and member of the European Parliament, of the Western European Union, and a NATO Parliamentarian. This book will not only open your eyes about the source of our sexual attitudes, it will also take you on a fascinating journey through art and cultural history.
If you want to sign the petition, standing against Paypal’s demand for censorship, click here.
A final thought. Is Paypal’s decision motivated by some sense of morality? Is it motivated by a desire to protect the public? Or, is it motivated by a desire to protect their professional reputation in order to not lose bigger financially support (bigger than their profits from processing erotica)? The concern for commerce in our culture overrides all other concerns. In my next blog post, I will discuss the devastating affect this has on our lives, and our sex lives in particular.
Happy uncensored reading!