Pop Culture Gadabout
Monday, April 13, 2009
      ( 4/13/2009 07:44:00 AM ) Bill S.  

AMAZONIAN WEIRDNESS: While many Americans were busy deciding which Hollywoodized version of spiritual inspiration they wanted to watch Sunday, many members of the online Twitter community were abuzz with thoughts on a newly initiated Amazon policy. Over the weekend, the bookselling megalith started stripping the sales ranks from books that it deemed were of "adult content." Among the titles de-listed: E.M. Forster's Maurice and James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room. Both are works of well-respected literary authors and were considered daring in their day, though neither one is particularly smutty. What they both feature are gay themes and characters.

Turns out that "adult content," of course, appears to be coded terms for gay and lesbian literature and non-fiction works like The Mayor of Castro Street (a biography of Harvey Milk) and The Celluloid Closet. (For a fuller list of books and authors effected, check out Meta Writer.) To be sure, some of the titles included in the de-listing are much more explicit, though the policy appears to be fixated on gayness over erotic content. "Adult" books like The Playboy Book of Centerfolds remain ranked on Amazon, though it's difficult keeping up what is and isn't being snagged by the new system. At one point, for instance, Alison Bechdel's well-reviewed graphic novel Fun House was reported as being de-listed, but this a.m. it is ranked on Amazon.

Amazon's new will-nilly practice can have a negative effect on a title's sales, since, for better or worse, book readers as an audience like to know what others are currently reading. (There's a reason, after all, why publishers trumpet "New York Times Best Seller" across the cover of new paperback editions.) While it may not be censorship per se, the practice is patently discriminatory in a way that doesn't reflect well on this major source for book purchasers.

As a reader and a writer, I can't help but be worried by this poorly thought-out policy. This June, my wife and I have a book (Measure By Measure) coming out that could potentially be affected by it: a large novel following the lives and loves of a series of characters connected to a size acceptance group. Though the primary characters are straight, the book does contain several gay and lesbian characters whose relationships are treated as just as valid as those of their straight peers. To those culture warriors who see the normalization of gay partnerships as a threat to the republic even this mild form of endorsement is too much. (See: right-wing scold Michael Medved's rants against Heather Has Two Mommies.) Sad to see Amazon seemingly caving into the nattering nabobs . . .

UPDATE: Amazon is now publicly stating that the large-scale de-listing is the result of a "glitch" in a tag-generated system that's been in place since February. Me, I suspect some busy religio-cranks used the religious holiday as an occasion to overwork Amazon's system -- targeting a bunch of books they didn't like.

UPDATE II: This post offers two plausible theories as to what exactly happened.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

On Sale Now!
Measure by Measure:

A Romantic Romp with the Fat and Fabulous
By Rebecca Fox & William Sherman

(Available through Amazon)

Measure by Measure Web Page

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