13 April 2012

A Fresh Assault on Literature: Mastercard Steps into PayPal's Shoes

As you (almost certainly don’t) know, I have a strange love of patterns. Not the sort of patterns which are stable and predictable, patterns which leap around while maintaining a central theme, graffiti-esque amalgamations of ideas and emotions tied together only in the abstract. This post will break a pattern of beautiful and artistic narcissism on my part, but it will do it because I must once again make a stand in hopes of breaking a very different sort of pattern.

Over the past several months, we’ve had one attack on our freedom of expression after another, a string of violations as gratuitous as they are invasive. Some, like SOPA, are governmental in nature, broad stroke assaults under the guise of piracy or something equally hot button and gimmicky. These have received attention on a large scale, so we shall move briskly past them. What hasn’t, and what is worse in its way, is the economic strangulation of ‘objectionable’ writing.

I’ve spoken vehemently and repeatedly of this on G+, many comment sections, and of course the inimitable meatspace, but apart from my Lockpick Pornography post have not done so here. A new instance of it has sprung up, though, giving me both an opportunity and an obligation to do so.

Mastercard has in the past few days decided that they wish to strangle erotic content which covers ground they do not wish to see explored. They are doing so by refusing to process payments for any online outlet which allows content they dislike, and their position in the market allows them to make great strides in assaulting our freedom.

This is not the first time, but it is my hope that a show of grassroots force will mean it is the last, or at least the last for a while. PayPal, as many of you know, did something similar in the past, a policy activists like me fought back against and saw overturned. However, where PayPal did it through the banning of broad themes, Mastercard has taken a rather more Orwellian approach by banning specific words outright. Below appears the list:

Alcohol, drink, liquor etc.
Asphyxia, asphyxiate, asphyxiation etc.
Bled, Bleed, Bleeding etc
Drugged, Drug
Force, Forcing etc
Hypnotize, hypnotise etc
Incapacitate, Incapacitation etc
Intoxicate, intoxication etc
Lactate and variants
Menstrual, menstruate etc
Molest, molestation, molested etc
Murder  (and variations)
Mutlilate, Mutilation etc
Passed out
Pedophilia (and various alternate spellings)
Rape, raping, rapist etc
Scat, shit, fecal, bukake etc
Fetal, foetal etc
Sedate, sedative sedation etc
Sleep, slumber
Smother, snuff
Violate, violating etc

Now, what many of you are thinking is, “That stuff sounds fucking terrible… maybe Mastercard is doing the world a favor.” Now, yes, much of it sounds terrible (though, menstruate?), but the thing about it is that this is art. Erotica is art, and as art it must of necessity be unrestrained, must be able to deal with themes which are unpleasant, even sickening, in order to do it’s job.

If you doubt that, look to the Dirty Minds vs. Debit Cards series which Eden Connor curated on her blog during the PayPal incident. It shows that the writing and reading of such material has tremendous potential to aid in healing for those who have experienced these things in the worst possible way. The stories you find there are those of people whose lives have been directly and measurably improved by this material – for someone like Mastercard to deny that to the web is repugnant in the extreme.

Yet this is not truly relevant. Even if this material had no potential to heal, no artistic merit, no reason to exist whatsoever, the fact of the matter is that this work harms no one, indeed effectively does not exist for anyone who does not actively choose to seek it out and engage with it. There is no reason for Mastercard, PayPal, or anyone else whatsoever to be indulging their own narrow morality by attacking it.

Now, those of you who have read my work are perhaps wondering why I feel this is my fight. After all, my content is not erotic in nature, and while some of these words do appear in my work, the fact that it is not erotica will likely spare me Mastercard’s wrath. In short, you are noting that I have no immediate dog in this fight.

In answer to that unspoken question, I’m here because we as writers have a transcendent right to sell our work, to share it with those who want it or need it, to bring light to the abysmal darkness which is the human experience with the products of our minds. With that right comes an overriding responsibility to defend that right not only for ourselves and our readers but for all artists, all consumers, all mankind everywhere. It is my sincere hope that this message will inspire you to act, to spread this message and those like it to all those lovers of art in its myriad forms such that we may continue to show the corporate puppeteers who dream themselves our overlords that we will not and cannot stand idly by while they enforce themselves on those who seek freedom.

The contact information for Mastercard may be found on their website below:

If you have any more information on this issue, better contact information for Mastercard, petitions or open letters to sign, or even if you just want someone to rant to about all of this, by all means email me.

03 April 2012

Derivative Bullshit, Emphasis on the Bullshit; Or, Why Horrible Things Can Still Be Art

Image Source: www.collider.com

This is Not a Review… mostly. But in order to make my point I’m going to have to do a little reviewing. If you are a NaRB purist, I will understand if you choose to wait until next Tuesday to find another Not Review. Today’s book is not a good book. It’s barely a decent book. In fact, it perpetuates the single worst trend in the modern era. I’m talking about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. What it is, however, apart from a shit Popsicle, is an object lesson in the power of derivative works.

For those of you who don’t read things written in the past 50 years, and who could blame you, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is Austen’s Pride and Prejudice except with… zombies. Now, those of you who have followed my work closely already know that I consider zombies the single worst fantasy/sci-fi monster in the entire world. In fact, I’m going to go on record, at hazard of reputation, as saying that never at any time in the past, present, or future has there been or will there be a worse monster than the zombie, or indeed a worse character of any kind. They’re boring, pointless, not scary in any way, and have no legitimate message to convey whatsoever.

However, they are emblematic of all that’s wrong with modern fiction; to wit, idiotic pandering to a demographic which, in a just world, wouldn’t exist in the first place, a demographic which a cursory genealogical study would demonstrate serves only to drag down the human race into a festering cesspool of incest and genetic degredation, a demographic which is so utterly without merit that its survival instinct has been subverted by the perverse desire to be cannibalized by the resurrected corpses of its betters, nature having turned against her own in sheer madness at the consistent failure of evolution which marks their reproduction. Yet the fact remains that in doing so it accomplishes something that very little else has. By juxtaposing the Victorian culture espoused so beautifully (if interminably) by Miss Austen with the far more modern (Don’t link me to zombie texts from the 1800s that wasn’t the same and you fucking know it) concept of zombies and pseudo-Eastern martial arts, and continuing to explore the themes of womanhood and feminism as Austen herself did only taken much further in accordance with modern concepts of them, Grahame-Smith created a true work of art. It demonstrates the shifts in society, both positive and negative, setting the beauty of history alongside the freedom of modernity and standing back with its arms crossed daring anyone to see past its fa├žade of childishness to the artistic core within.

This teaches us two things. The first is that allowing derivative works has a tremendous potential to advance art without undermining the original (after all, I seriously doubt people have quit buying Pride and Prejudice in favor of Seth Grahame-Smith’s fetid tome). This leads us to a copyright debate which I won’t launch into except to say that there is a difference between allowing someone else to create something new from the work of a dead author and allowing anyone to publish the work of whomever because fuck people who want to make money off their work.

The second is that a book doesn’t have to be good to be art. It doesn’t have to be enjoyable or well-written, it merely has to convey a message beyond the obvious, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does so in stunning(ly shitty) fashion.