Monday, December 20, 2010

The Erotic E-Book Saga: To Ban or Not to Ban?

If you've yet to come across the latest Amazon e-book saga, you can read about it here.  Selena Kitt, the author of the book that was deleted by Amazon because it contained scenes of incest, writes, "I don't condone or support actual incest, just as someone who writes mysteries about serial killers wouldn't condone killing."  Bravo, Selena.  In fact, as soon as I read the news, I checked to see whether Nabakov's Lolita, which, if you don't know, is an erotic masterpiece about a man who molests a young girl, was available on Amazon Kindle, and indeed it is.  Is child molestation worse than an adult brother and sister having consensual sex?  Of course it is.  But it's a story, goddammit, just like Red Dragon is the story of a serial killer and Frankenstein the a story of a violent monster.

I'm afraid Kitt's experience is partly due to the literary double-standard that made the racist opera Madame Butterfly socially desirable for many, and got punk rock banned and sneered at for its "offensive" lyrics.  If publishers are going to make a stand against "immoral sex", they need to be consistent about it -- kicking popular culture while kneeling unquestioningly at a literary shrine, comes across as prejudiced.  Apparently, when Kindle readers had the copies they'd bought deleted/made unavailable by Amazon, their complaints were greeted with rudeness.  What gives Amazon the right to judge our own choices as readers, especially after we've bought the book?  To quote Violet Blue in a letter to Amazon*:

"I think what bothers me the most is the privacy issue for readers -- this is actually HUGE.  Especially with the egregious irresponsibility in their customer service representative department.  Amazon is monitoring, watching and deciding for you what is sexually appropriate for you -- their customers..."

While we're on the subject, I wrote my own incest story after watching the BBC's Midsomer Murders, which, I admit, contain much to enjoy.  In this particular episode the murderers turned out to be an adult brother and sister who were secretly having a wild affair.  The characters were portrayed as completely immoral, with no nuance whatsoever, and I lost my rag because they seemed so damn unreal!  It was as if the writer had thought, "Hmm.  If we're going to have a pair of incestuous characters, they're going to have to be evil through and through.  No motivations.  No complexity.  No nuance.  They'll be totally unrelatable."

I was so shocked at the superficial treatment of what is a most complex subject, that I decided to write my own erotic story.  My brief?  To create a scenario in which a brother and sister fall in erotic love, not simply because they "lapse morally" but for complicated and relatable reasons.  I didn't want the reader to be able to say, "Well, they're obviously damned to hell!"  The result was Sol, which you can read here, in Clean Sheets, or listen to here, at the Good Vibrations Magazine.

We're entitled to our own opinions on the matter of incest, but I'm absolutely against having my moral choices edited for me and double-standards are unacceptable.  I questioned the morality of Lolita at the age of nineteen when I studied the book at uni for a Crime and Fiction course.  And back then, I was far more prissy, too!  I searched myself morally and eventually decided that the story was important and could do a great amount of good:  Only when we're brave enough to relate to sickness can we truly begin to heal it.

Plus, if Amazon want to become the moral guardians of the book world, perhaps they should take a look at the Shakespeare they stock.  There's forced sex, murder, disgrace, violence, swearing, wife-beating, daughter-beating, religious slander...  The list goes on.

I mean, holy cow.
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*I found this excerpt from Violet's letter here, in Jacqui Cheng's article at ars technica.


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