Those Who Would Protect Us From Art

I wrote about the morality of fiction earlier, a couple of things I’ve read recently brought me back to the question from the another side. In that post I was talking about morality of fiction in light of the inner processes of the author. But really, when most people talk about the morality of fiction, they seem to talk about morals enforced from outside, either by social pressure, or in extremis, the heavy hand of the state.  (At the risk of Godwinizing this post, such talk has always made me think of Entartete Kunst.)  Such impulses always seem to come from some misguided effort to “protect” society, or some subgroup, from “bad” ideas.

The perennial example that’s back in the news is, of course, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which, along with To Kill a Mockingbird, is being considered for removal by the Accomack County Public Schools in Virginia for “the books’ use of racial slurs.” It’s almost a cliche now to point out the deep irony of banning these books in the name of racial sensitivity.  The battle here is so well-trod that I think even die-hard advocates of free speech sort of glaze over these stories, despite the implications of erasing uncomfortable parts of history.

Perhaps more alarming is when art is censored because it illustrates uncomfortable parts of our present. Not fiction here, but the implications are chilling:

Organisers of an art exhibition celebrating freedom of expression have found themselves removing one of the exhibits after police raised concerns it was “inflammatory” and warned it would cost an extra £36,000 to secure the event.

The artwork in question was a series of tableaux entitled ‘Isis Threaten Sylvania’ that used children’s Sylvanian Families dolls to satirise the Isis terrorist group.

In the work Sylvanian Families dolls are seen enjoying a picnic or a day on the beach, while other black-clad dolls, some of them armed, one carrying a black flag, gather on the sidelines.

Consider the various elements here: A “freedom of expression” exhibit was told by police that an artwork satirizing a terrorist group was too “inflammatory.” Note that none of the typical complaints of xenophobia apply here. The work was not targeting Muslims as a group, or Islam as a religion, the scenes were all anthropomorphic animals, so no racial bigotry was on display. The only group critiqued here was, in fact, ISIS. One wonders who is being protected by hiding this work, and what are they being protected from?


The end of free speech

It’s done.

When the creative class itself packs their bags and calls it quits, it’s over.  This is where we end.  Any tyrant now knows that they can suppress any artistic expression they don’t like just by making some threats.
The temptation is to retaliate.  Make fun of North Korea and Kim Jong Bad Hair Day.  Punish them by making them the butt of the joke.  But it doesn’t fix the problem.  You see, they’re already a joke.  They’ve been one for years. Satire clogs the Internet as we speak, and will continue to do so.  But that’s just pretending the fight’s still happening when we’ve already lost.  It doesn’t matter how many memes you post to Facebook.  Hollywood, the heart of American cultural dominance in the world, has caved to a tin-pot dictator of a country that has to kidnap filmmakers just to have a film industry.  A cartoon from College Humor isn’t going to make up for that.  A biting Jon Stewart critique isn’t going to make up for that.  Hell, George Clooney can’t get a petition signed condemning the hacking and intimidation of Sony.  George-effing-Clooney.

Worse, the movie industry as a whole has just let everyone know that if you want a film banned in the US, just make a threat.  They’re all almost inviting a bomb at a multiplex now. Good work all.

Now Sony has a perfect right to do what it did.  So does AMC, Regal, et al.  So does Paramount for pulling Team America as a last minute replacement for the Interview.  But this cannot continue if we don’t want our popular culture to be at the mercy of any regime that can afford a hacker and a bomb.

So how do you give Hollywood a spine? Stay home this Christmas.  Don’t pay to see the movies they deign to show us this week.  Make it cost them to cave into these threats.  Rent a movie, watch Netflix, and send an e-mail to your local Regal, AMC, Cinemark letting them know why they aren’t getting your money.  Let Sony Pictures and Paramount know why you aren’t paying to see their other moves.  Boycott the whole pantywaist lot of them until they grow a set and tell Kim Jon Un to sodomize himself, or they go bankrupt, divest, and are replaced by studios and theater chains with corporate cultures that will.

Yeah, this will save your business model.

(NOTE: I’m going to start posting (some) political stuff on my blog again, the experiment with two blogs didn’t really work, and no one needs another political blog anyway.)

Again with the asshats I say.  And we have some wonderful hats of assness this time in the person(s) of a company known as Righthaven.  What is Righthaven, you ask?  It is a posse of out-of-control lawyers who Google on behalf of their clients’ IP rights, and if they catch someone doing something nefarious— such as quoting a paragraph with proper credit and linking back to the full article— then they sue your ass. I don’t mean they send you a nasty note, or a cease and desist, I mean they file paperwork at the court demanding $75K and you don’t find out until you get a subpoena.

How to fight this? Well, if you get sued, take their ass to court and don’t settle. Sure, it’s a pain in the ass, and expensive, but if everyone does this their whole scheme will collapse. Second, never ever ever link back to the assholes that hire these people. they don’t deserve the traffic, and a trackback may get you sued.

Where bad law comes from

Apparently, if this post causes you substantial emotional distress, Congress wants to put me in prison.

Of course, that’s not how they characterize it.

Again, we have more proposed legislation to protect the children. Which begs the question why say this, “with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass or cause substantial emotional distress to a person” instead of  “with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass or cause substantial emotional distress directed at a minor child.” Is this hard? Almost as if they want to leave the door open to prosecute such comments directed at anyone.  And a note on the language that’s really troubling, there’s nothing that says that the bullying has to be targeted at a particular person. Under this, if you intend to cause substantial emotional distress to some group (say Scientologists, to pick a random group that would never ever abuse a bad law to intimidate its critics) you’re breaking the law.

I got into a semi-heated discussion with a friend on Facebook who thought I was trivializing the problem this legislation is supposed to address by saying, in my snarky fashion, that this was a blatant power-grab by Congress to attempt to give the government the power to throw a chilling blanket over the raging fail-fire that is the interwebs. Problem is, way too many people think that way and support legislation based only on its stated intent. This includes the asshats in Congress. Especially the asshats in Congress.

So my asshat today is Rep. Linda Sanchez, not because she wants to deal with cyberbulling, but because that by supporting legislation like this she is one of three things: 1) She’s too stupid to recognize the unfortunate implications of such poorly-worded law. 2) She’s too cynical to let any legislation that purports to help the children (regardless of actual content) pass by without her fingerprints all over it. 3) She is intentionally using a tragic event as a pretext to slip in a unconstitutional power-grab by the state.

Amazon wants to protect your fragile little brains.

ADDENDUM #4: Amazon has officially owned the cock up, still insisting it’s a glitch, but their poor customer relations has insured that about 75% of the public believe it’s all BS and they intended to do it. IMO is was a glitch, but a glitch in a nasty and troubling system that Amazon uses to suppress titles it doesn’t like. So this may be a good thing, as the PR backlash might encourage people to demand they remove all the de-ranking logic from their site. (After all, what’s the point when you cannot purchase anything w/o asserting you’re over eighteen anyway, unless it’s to protect the women and the servants.)

ADDENDUM #3: Amazon seems to be trying to fix this on the down low.  No press comments, nothing on their site, but a little experimentation shows that rankings are re-appearing.  MZB’s book from below has its rank back, as does Heather has Two Mommies. The History of Sexuality by Foucault is still SOL.

ADDENDUM #2: And Dear Author points out something that very strongly implies that whatever is happening at Amazon is happening on their own servers.

ADDENDUM: A very interesting theory brought to my attention by a tweet from Toby.  Brings up other possibilities.  Could Amazon have been the target of a botnet?

Again, we have an example why is it a really bad thing to have centralized distribution channels, either state or corporate.  I pointed this out earlier with some e-book censoring going on with Apple’s iPhone application store. Well, I can’t say I’m surprised, but Amazon has decided to follow suit, and in a much more egregious fashion. They’ve decided that if your book is “adult” enough, well, they’ll just nuke the Amazon Rank for the title and make it impossible to find via search. Quoth one amazonian asshat:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature. Continue reading “Amazon wants to protect your fragile little brains.”

Apple keeps you safe from dirty words

knife_musicHere is a nasty little side-effect of dedicated e-readers that few people, if any have addressed.  In addition to any and all deficiencies they might have compared to print, we have a situation in some cases where there’s a single portal through which data flows.  Apple has recently given us a glimpse of what could happen if all your media came from one source (be it iTunes, or Amazon, or whatever).  Gallycat gives us the story of David Carnoy’s self-published novel Knife Music.  Apparently the guy is tech savvy (he’s an editor at C-net) so he want’s to pimp an e-book version.  He wants it on the iPhone.  He makes it easy by embedding its own reader and putting it up at the Apple App Store.

Continue reading “Apple keeps you safe from dirty words”

Breaking news, Denise Spellberg is still an asshat

I wanted to write a follow-up to two other blog posts I wrote back last summer. The story at that point was as follows: Sherry Jones writes The Jewel of Medina, a historical novel that features one of Mohammad’s wives. She sells it to Random House. Random House sends an advance copy to Islamic scholar Denise Spellberg for blurbing. Spellberg doesn’t like the book. Really doesn’t like the book. As in, let’s make panicked phone calls to Random House saying that everyone is doomed and would be killed off by crazy Muslims if they dared publish it. Random House folds and kills the book.

Now, since then, Sherry Jones has found other publishers for The Jewel of Medina and you know what? Those stupid radical Islamists don’t even have the decency to show up at a book singing. In fact, far from Spellberg’s alarmist apocalyptic prophesies that the publishers of such an evil inflammatory tome were in dire danger for their lives, the worst thing to happen to anyone because of this book was a mailbox fire in the UK and a couple of bad reviews

I said that, at best, Professor Spellberg’s reaction was disingenuous bigotry. After being so wrong, and wrong in such a stereotypical OMG TERROIZT!!! way, I think her employer should review her credentials. I mean this woman’s degreed in Islamic studies? Really?

(Thanks to the Smart Bitches for reminding me of this story.)

Update: Islamic Students reasonable. Islamic Scholar, not so much.

According to Gallycat, the students riled up by the threat of Random House’s publication of the Jewel of Medina were planning little more than a publicity campaign to e-mail the publisher and news outlets and so on. Perfectly innocuous stuff in a pluralistic society. Which makes Random House look like a bunch of wusses, and makes Professor Denise Spellberg’s frantic warnings about threats to Random House’s staff and property look even more like disingenuous bigotry, to put it kindly.

Islamic Overreaction freaks out Random House

From the “this surprises you why?” department:

Random House was going to publish a book titled The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones, a historical novel that features one of Mohammad’s wives, and has decided “oops, bad idea.” Quoth Random House in the Washington Post Op-Ed, “after sending out advance copies of the novel, the company received “from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.”

Apparently one of those credible sources was an American academic named Denise Spellberg (sage advice from the Smart Bitches, do not let this woman blurb your book) who got an advance copy and apparently got her knickers in a prudish little twist (you see Muhammad had wives, and gasp, may have had sex with them) and made a “frantic” call to the editor of a popular Muslim website (this book made her frantic) and asked him to warn Muslims about this nasty, evil, book that “made fun of Muslims and their history.” And apparently, armed only with Spellberg’s description of this “very ugly, stupid piece of work,” not having read it himself, he did exactly what she asked, warning people of the coming literary apocalypse. And, of course, offense spreads like wildfire.

But what seems to be the trigger that caused the book to be pulled was Spellberg’s own warning to her own editor at another imprint at Random House. According to Spellberg, if the book was released there was “a very real possibility of major danger for the building and staff and widespread violence.” Apparently she babbled on like an islamaphobic neocon frightened by Obama’s middle name. The Terrorists would kill them all if the book saw the light of day. Her warning was bounced around the email servers at Random House until the book was pulled less than a month later.

Spellberg might count Random House’s withdrawl of the book as some sort of victory, but I wonder if she realizes that encouraging them to stomp this book by using threats of violence is casting Islam in a much more vile light before a much broader audience than the book’s publication ever would have.