Monday, February 27, 2012

Erotica: Where to Draw the Line? Should a Line Be Drawn?

Erotica writers and readers are irate. PayPal, the online payment processing company owned by eBay, has issued a statement to online booksellers such as Smashwords, who rely heavily on PayPal to accept payments for their digital books, that they will suspend the accounts of book sellers who sell books with certain erotic themes. Specifically they are boycotting books containing incest, bestiality, rape-for-titillation, and underage sex (this is largely banned by most booksellers anyway.) This has resulted in a huge outcry among many writers and many readers as well. Who, they ask, is PayPal to tell them what they can and cannot write and/or read? PayPal's response is, you can read and write anything you want, you just can't pay for it through us.

Mark Coker, the President of Smashwords has issued a statement that Smashwords will begin removing erotica books that contain any type of incest (including so-called “pseudo-incest” - step-siblings/parents), any type of bestiality (not to include the shape-shifters found in paranormal stories), and any rape-for-titillation. The latter category is the one that seems to be driving a lot of people out of their minds.

I wrote awhile back about the to-me repulsive increase in so-called rape-romance and I unleashed a firestorm of anger on the part of the readers who are into this sort of thing. This all came about because of the Twitter event known as #SampleSunday that a lot of us writers participate in. The theory is this:
  1. We post a sample from one of our books on our blog.
  2. We create a “Tweet Line” of less than 140 characters which we all send to one another via email and various online groups.
  3. We all Tweet the Tweet line to our Twitter Followers
  4. We sit back and wait to get bazillions of visitors to our blogs who will be so dazzled by our writing that they will buy our books making us fabulously wealthy.

Now, the problem with this was that many of us have Twitter Followers who are people we know, like and want to remain of good terms with. This includes family, young people, members of our churches, etc. For the most part we had no problem sending out the Tweet lines of our fellow authors but then a few of us got Twitter Replies saying, “Please don't send me any more smut.” I got a few of them and I was surprised until I went back and read some of my Tweets which I - I am embarrassed to admit – had just copied and pasted without reading them. Some of them were for #erotica and included hashtags such as #bdsm and, the one that really flipped me, #noncon. I was an innocent. I didn't know that #noncon is Twitter-ese for “non-consensual sex” – i.e. rape.

My #SampleSunday pals and I pretty much laid down the law and said we would only Tweet PG-rated Tweet lines and that was the end to that. The one author who was promoting #noncon books argued for awhile, then changed Tweet lines, then quit. Frankly, I was relieved.

Here's the thing – I know people have kinks. I know sexuality is a deep, dark firepit of psychology in which some very creepy stuff goes on. I think most of us have fantasies we don't want anyone else to know about and I'm a firm believer that what goes on between me and my imagination in the deep, dark hours of the night is nobody's business. But somewhere there has to be some semblance of public decency.

I do not know why anyone is titillated by real rape. I don't understand BDSM but as long as it is consensual it's fine with me. It is the non-consensual – the #noncon – that scares me. What noncon says is “your preference for how you are treated is irrelevant.” That's some sick stuff.

How do I feel about PayPal's new stand? It's complicated but I support their right to set standards for how they will do business. All they are saying is “if you want to buy or sell this stuff that is fine, you just can’t buy or sell it through us.” That is their right as a business. Will it change anything? Only where people who want to read about rape, incest and bestiality go to get their stuff. If life has taught me anything it is that there will always be a market for the most base desires possible. It won't make any difference to me as a writer or a reader and, since the banned material is also about illegal activity, I'm not worried about what will be banned next.

The more I think about it, the more I think it is just damn sad taking a stand on all of this was even necessary. 

Thanks for reading.

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