Another dickhead’s got a lucrative book deal. Can we calm the fuck down? Yes, everyone who’s ever written for publication is used to the momentary flash of rage when someone stupid, obnoxious or famous for stuff other than writing, gets a big bag of money from a publishing house – or even when someone reasonably talented, whose work we otherwise quite like, gets a massive great big bag of money from a publishing house, to be honest, but the reaction to this particular dickhead’s deal is a little bit worrying for other reasons.
Twitter’s been exploding with calls to boycott the entire publishing house unless the deal is withdrawn, demands for bookshops refuse to stock the title or any title the company publishes; writers published by the same company have either announced they may pull their own books or have expressed anxiety that they, though blameless, might be clobbered by such a mass boycott.
Calm the fuck down. This is wrong on so many levels. Yes, horrible man, almost certainly going to be a horrible book, but his ridiculous bullshit is already out there and accessible to any likeminded wingnut, dickhead or inadequate, noisy bully who wants to read it, free of charge. Publishers, even now, quite routinely spend vast bags of money on books by actual (and very unpopular) politicians (or at least, their ghostwriters) and asshat newspaper columnists who got where they are by saying dumbfuck nasty things about targets generally unable to hit back. After an initial flurry of attention, often mostly negative, the things end up in the remainder bin within a few weeks and then disappear. It’s unlikely to be very much different this time, even though the dickhead in question is quite accomplished in terms of attention-seeking. So the first bad thing about these howls for banning and punishment is that they are absolutely food for the dickhead’s massive ego. People like him can’t stand to think that no one really gives a toss about them, so they make all this ludicrous noise, flailing around looking for something even naughtier to say, the minute they feel that attention is waning. Of course, they claim not to mean it, and consider their score even higher when they get to insist that it’s satire (despite the fact that they are clueless about what satire is and how it works) and that their critics have no sense of humour or are, indeed, victimizing them.
It’s also the case that getting all fired up about the dickheads is rather taking our eye off the ball. The dedicated authoritarians and money hoarders and power-addicts regard the ‘provocateur’ types pretty much as useful idiots. They might be a bit amusing and all that, but their job is really to take the flak, while the grown ups get on with doing the actual business. People worrying about tossers like Roosh V can be distracted by his tantrums while people with even more profound contempt for women get themselves installed into positions of legislative power in order to remove reproductive rights and support rapists against ‘lying gold-diggers’. It is, of course, easier and more tempting to shout and rant on Twitter and call for Something To Be Done when it’s a matter of ‘entertainment’.
The trouble is, the real bad guys are really quite happy when people on the more progressive side of things start calling for censorship, which is exactly what these demands for S&S to halt publication are. Want it illegal for people to publish books you disagree with? Of course you do. There, there. We can get rid of all these nasty books saying there are no gods, that sex outside of marriage is good fun, that gay people have rights and that white governments condone racist wars… The one by that naughty right wing columnist? Yes, of course. In a minute. Let’s just ban the evil that is feminism, first…
There is no absolute freedom of speech: of course there isn’t. A book will be withdrawn from publication if it contains provable libel, for example (as will a newspaper article, etc. Even if it sometimes takes decades for this to be achieved.) You can – and should – also be denied publication or even prosecuted for making credible threats, harassing another person – or for publishing alleged factual information which is dangerously wrong. But expression your opinions, particularly in a ‘satirical’ manner, however stupid, unpleasant and poorly-informed, is a right everyone should have.
(There’s quite a good analysis of how publishing houses work regarding this sort of thing here)