Last year I wrote an entire novel set in Indian country, that vast part of Canada which is accessible mainly to aboriginals, whether Innu or straight-up “first nations”. I ground to a halt when I realized to my complete horror, that is would never pass muster in a publishing house today, especially given my regrettable (in retrospect) enthusiastic participation in the issues of the day. Which already place a decent publishing contract difficult if not out of reach, since most editors in New York and London would consider me and my (entirely regrettable) opinions, anathema.
Writers, published ones, are no longer allowed to ‘speak their truth’ if they write about anyone not specific to their race and sex. This is a silencing on a grand scale, a medieval Church scale, a jihadi in today’s Muslim countries scale. Seriously have you ever tried to watch a tv series out of the Greater Middle East? Crapola on steroids.
Literature is undergoing The Great Silencing.
I understand the resentments of people-of-color when they read about themselves in a white novelist’s work. I spent a good fifteen years in the arts community and a couple novelists have filched trivial elements of my life to create characters and reading about those characters, was a deeply unpleasant feeling. How much greater more soul destroying it would be if you were someone struggling against felt or real prejudice and see some fat rich white guy or gal cashing in on your pain? The pain is yours, not theirs. Plus they have been doing so for hundreds of years. This is real.
This is a silencing on a grand scale, a medieval Church scale, a jihadi in today’s Muslim countries scale. Seriously have you ever tried to watch a tv series out of the Greater Middle East? Crapola on steroids. There is no truth there, just superficial image-making.
I add two paras from Lionel Shriver’s piece in Prospect Magazine, here:
As for adult literature, it’s impossible to gauge the degree of politically correct censorship going on behind the scenes at publishing companies and literary agencies. Editors and agents are unlikely to assert directly that a submission’s content is too hot to handle. Having tackled divisive subjects or deployed characters who don’t hew to the rules of identity politics—rules that are often opaque, or at least until you break them—authors are left with uneasy suspicions about why their manuscripts might be attracting no takers, but with no hard evidence.
Equally impossible to gauge is the extent of writers’ collective self-censorship. The tetchiness and public shaming of “call out” culture has to be influencing which subjects writers feel free to address and which they shy away from, as well as making many writers reluctant to include a diverse cast. Does the edict to eschew stereotypes mean a black character can never be a drug dealer? (So much for The Wire, then. Or Clockers, both created by white men.) Rather than tip-toe through this minefield, plenty of writers must be playing it safe with characters, topics and plots that won’t get them into trouble. But this caution is invisible. Literary roads not taken are mapped privately in a writer’s head, behind a screen, with the drapes drawn. We have no record of what a host of individual authors have decided to avoid.
That’s what I mean about the Great Silencing. I would ask this question to those who are tempted to censor. Who the hell are you to decide the direction of the culture?
And to those people of color, I ask: what if we whiteys had not spent the last three hundred years writing about the wrongs done those discriminated against? What if all those (usually male) novelists hadn’t made people feel how awful it was? How do you know that you are not creating the next great wrong? You don’t. Art must be free, speech must be free. Let the freaking market decide. The culture has already turned towards you. Let. It. Ride.
Because, make no doubt, without the entire (sometimes hideous) panoply of human life on display, we on a fast road to tyranny.
I add the usual disclaimer. There are four separate Indian bands represented in the bloodline of my blended family, starting in 1783 when one of my ancestors married into the Mohawk. I have Venezuelan cousins, and my grandchildren have Jamaican cousins. So politely, piss off with your accusations of racism.
If we learned anything this week, it is that it is virtually impossible to censor the hive on the net. The media attempt to crucify a bunch of Catholic schoolboys was stopped by a titanic blowback by tens of thousands of unconnected individuals that only crashing Facebook and Twitter for four days could have stopped. One expects massive reordering in the media business over the next six months, as bosses figure out how to prevent the next horror show. This will only add to their current attrition. The Washington Post reported yesterday that Buzzfeed, HuffPost, Gannet, Vice, Vox, Mic, Refinery 29, etc have shed up to 10% of their staff recently. At Conde Nast, the once titanic Vogue is losing $150 million a year, and lynchpin Glamour, which once had a circulation of over a million has gone digital. I wouldn’t want to be sitting in a newsroom these days. Attrition is across the board and the only survivors are small operations who are hitting the actual news with regularity, and these, at present, are almost exclusively on the right and 100% digital. The Atlantic is now supported by Steve Jobs widow, and it will be a while before she gets tired of losing a hundred million a year. But she will tire of it.
I won’t belabor the media shaming of last weekend, but when I went through on-the-job training at Time Magazine before it was turned into a piece of garbage, both errors – #CovingtonBoys and Buzzfeed’s claim that Trump told his sleazy lawyer to lie to the FBI – would have led to the wholesale firing of every single individual involved. Today, of course, that would have meant that every single newspaper, magazine and network news show would have lost 80% of their reporters, editors and fact checkers, not that these latter exist anymore.
People on the right have for the past five years panicked at the attempts of the millennials in Silicon Valley to censor right-of-center thought and posters of said thought. Facebook alone has 15,000 moderators trying to work out what is acceptable speech. This has led, hilariously enough to the demand for regulation and even trust busting by ‘public intellectuals’ who have built their careers on calling for less government.
Over Christmas, the New York Times explained to us rubes just how diligent the digital emperors are in rooting out disallowed speech:
The guidelines for identifying hate speech, a problem that has bedeviled Facebook, run to 200 jargon-filled, head-spinning pages. Moderators must sort a post into one of three “tiers” of severity. They must bear in mind lists like the six “designated dehumanizing comparisons,” among them comparing Jews to rats.
In the December issue of Wired Magazine, an essayist compared Alex Jones to Voldemort and attempted to prove that Jones had to be de-platformed because he was evil. The writer then proceeds to call for a culture-wide disallowing of thought with which he disagrees.
Legislators, courts, users, and the platforms themselves have to be involved. There are some precedents we could use from older technologies. Some updated version of the fairness doctrine, which required radio and television stations to devote time to issues of public importance and seek out a multiplicity of views, could be revived for the digital age. We could come up with a kind of Fair Credit Reporting Act that gives users a right to challenge a platform banishment. There could be antitrust actions against centralized platforms (along with user protections), or upstarts could offer alternatives (with better business models). As with most social problems, we have to accept that there is no single, perfect solution, no avoiding trade-offs, and also that inaction is a decision too.
Good luck with that baby-people. The insults, mockery, job losses, humiliations, of the last few days indicates that there is no stopping humans addicted to the dopamine hit of truth-telling. Maybe try some.
Just found out I am shadow-banned on Twitter, which is shocking, since I a) rarely tweet b) have 250 followers which is nothing and c) consider myself the very soul of reason, with a side of fiscal responsibility and d) am, in person, the mildest of mild-mannered people, with little but a sense of humor and astonishing good looks to recommend me. That’s some awesome censorship, guys, getting down to the short strokes.
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