Who Defends Artistic Expression?

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THE LATEST NEWS is that literary editors are adding what they themselves refer to as Morality Clauses to their sites. Not an aesthetic guideline for submitted work– the clause regards the writers themselves. Editors are doing background checks on writers via google and other tools. Background checks! The mindset has come full circle. We’ve entered a neo-puritan world.

For these uptight-to-the-max editors, getting along with the herd– enforcing an ideology– is their primary focus. Art is a secondary consideration.

THE EDITING POLICE

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These literary editors have taken it upon themselves to monitor the writer’s behavior– including after the work has been published. “Yep, he did something regrettable and embarrassing. We published his poem five years ago. Doesn’t matter. Yank it out!”

The entire history of literature is filled with writers engaging in bad behavior. (It once was a badge of honor.) Beginning with Christopher Marlowe– who wouldn’t make the cut in this day and age. Neither would Shakespeare. There’s that rather disconcerting speech in Hamlet when he says, “Get thee to a nunnery!” Hurtful words. Yank his works.

WHEN I fronted an activist group from about 2000 to 2008, our numbers included many outcasts, outsiders, and those who regularly engaged in bad behavior. They were from every possible ideological stripe, left to right. We had no litmus tests or background checks.

Today, we see Editor-as-Cop. “Are your papers in order? Where are your papers! Can you prove you did not engage in harassment and abuse?” (One silly lit editor argued for Rachel Custer proving she hadn’t engaged in verbal abuse.)

AT ONE TIME, the novel, poem or play itself was considered verbal abuse! Its very existence.

Has the writer engaged in bad behavior outside the walls of  our little literary project known as New Pop Lit? What’s that to me? I’m a literary editor. If he or she has broken a law, report them to the authorities.

A QUESTION: Would you publish a story or poem by a convicted murderer sitting in prison if the work were good enough? 

LAST LINE OF DEFENSE

Every other segment of society has reasons to limit or crush artistic expression. The state, the advertiser, the dependent-on-donors foundation, the speech-squelching university, the project-a-proper-image corporation. It’s the task of the artist; the writer– and the editor, the publisher, the promoter, the arts impresario– to stand up for creative expression. For the ability to be creative. The ability to surprise, stir, anger, or shock. If not us: Who else?
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit News

 

 

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How to Create Media Frenzy

THE JAY ASHER STORY

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DID THE MEDIA MOB CONSUME ANOTHER PROMINENT AUTHOR?

A few months before the Junot Diaz accusation story broke across the globe, there occurred another media meltdown over an author accused of misbehavior– this one generated by a statement made to two media outlets which did little-to-nothing to investigate the story the statement was about. The person who made the statement, director of a writers organization, was at the time herself being pressured from an online mob to “do something” about the issue of sexual harassment. She did. An author’s career was all-but-destroyed as a result.

The writer? Jay Asher, author of the #1 best-selling novel 13 Reasons Why, which was the basis for the popular Netflix TV series.

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New Pop Lit NEWS first covered the story in a general way last February, in an article we titled, “Publishing Industry Feeding Frenzy.”

(NOTE THAT the key part of the matter, an article at School Library Journal which received 199 comments, has been taken down. This is a story in itself, which we may or may not address in a separate report.)

The January 3 SLJ article can be considered THE CRUX OF THE MATTER, because this was where, for all intents and purposes, the story about Jay Asher’s behavior originated– via anonymous comments to the article. As our NPL NEWS post indicates, SCBWI Executive Director Lin Oliver felt herself under pressure from those comments.

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( Lin Oliver)

Indications are that Oliver and her staff were, at the time, unable to investigate the matter. She reacted regardless, making statements to Buzzfeed News, then to Associated Press, that Asher and another writer had been removed from her organization. (Jay Asher denied he’d been removed, and denied the harassment allegations themselves.)

That was it. A face-saving response to two media outlets. The result? A media feeding frenzy.

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How bad was it?

Here’s an incomplete list of media stories run on the matter in a three-day period, from February 12th through the 14th. (Many of the outlets reprinted the Associated Press article verbatim, with-or-without attribution. Others modestly reworded it while saying the same thing.)

buzzfeednews.com
apnews.com
people.com

vanityfair.com
businessinsider.com

indiewire.com
ew.com
teenvogue.com
theguardian.com
publishersweekly.com
usatoday.com
thoughtcatalog.com

nme.com
mashable.com
nylon.com
independent.co.uk
narcity.com
popbuzz.com
slate.com
bustle.com
seventeen.com
fortune.com
jezebel.com
nydailynews.com
hollywoodreporter.com

vulture.com
hellogiggles.com
foxnews.com
globalnews.com
clevver.com
billboard.com
mynorthwest.com
sltrib.com
wtnh.com
perezhilton.com
wionews.com
popculture.com
thewrap.com
country105.com
kare11.com
tvweek.com
mtv.com
9news.com
canoe.com
enstarz.com
lifezette.com
triblive.com
complex.com
ksby.com
wpxi.com
wtop.com

cosmopolitan.com
ibtimes.com
wftv.com
post-gazette.com
zimbio.com
chron.com
bookstr.com
wbal.com
refinery29.com
deadline.com

videtteonline.com
fox23.com
tristatehomepage.com
tvguide.com
betches.com
thebookseller.com
popcrush.com
girlfriend.com

cbc.ca
popstaronline.com
booksandpublishing.com/au
breitbart.com
yalovemag.com
sanluisobispo.com
cuestonian.com

Talk about destroying a career! All of these sites prominently displayed a photo of Jay Asher, with properly hyberbolic headlines: variations of “13 Reasons Why Author Jay Asher was booted from a writing organization over sexual harassment claims.” One of them picked that up a notch, with: “13 Reasons Why author becomes literature world’s Harvey Weinstein.”

THIS, over a disputed dismissal from a writers organization because of anonymous comments on a blog!

AS A RESULT, Asher’s Philippines tour was called off, numerous other speaking appearances and book signings were quickly canceled, his literary agent dropped him, and at least two bookstores stopped carrying his books. (See Westbrook bookstore dumps books by author.”)

Jay Asher’s somewhat-less-widely-circulated defense can be found at his blog.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Should Literary Editors Ever Apologize?

IS AMERICAN LITERATURE BECOMING A CENSORSHIP HORROR SHOW?

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Some days it seems writers spend as much time taking down other writers as they do creating their own work.

WE HAVE the instance of The Nation magazine apologizing for publishing a poem. (Covered by us in “Political Correctness Backfires.”)

NOW, the Anders Carlson-Wee poem is one we wouldn’t run ourselves. It’s mediocre, poorly thought out, even goofy. The poet is blatantly pandering to his audience (literary editors, not readers) and his performance in (as Mother Jones described it) “blackface” has backfired. Anders is a writer who’s fair game to be criticized. Who begs to be criticized.

AT THE SAME TIME, The Nation‘s haste to apologize for running the mangled thing was a tad unseemly. An embarrassment– running, rushing, gushing to apologize. Their action sets a regrettable precedent for literary editors everyplace.

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Writers, editors, and publishers fought for many years– decades, centuries– for the right to publish anything. ANYTHING. Have the battles over Ulysses, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, “Howl” and other cases become lost from historical memory? Today, after a wave of sensitivity trainings, we see editors and writers afraid to upset anyone in any way.

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A CASE IN POINT is that of poet Rachel Custer, whose poem “To the Woman in a Plague Mask Outside the Living Room Window” was accepted by Ohio State University’s The Journal literary magazine for their Spring 2018 issue, then taken down by editor Kelsey Hagarman after she received complaints not about the poem– but about the poet. (Blackballing?)

Basic RGB

The two complainants used terms like “good literary citizen,” “negative individuals,” “negative online behavior”– which invites the question: What does this have to do with art? They also told Hagarman “–the community will be here to support you”– a statement which reeks of the mindset of a herd. Half-a-step toward the totalitarian.

(The role of the artist over the centuries has been, as often as not, to stand against the herd.)

FYI: The Rachel Custer’s poem was restored by an Ohio State administrator after Rachel threatened legal action. Afterward Hagarman emphasized to one of the complainants that it was “an administrative decision, not an editorial one.” So much for the editor backing her writers and their art!

What makes the affair more inexcusable is that both complainants, Hannah Cohen and E. Kristin Anderson, are editors at other literary journals. A quote to Kelsey Hagarman from Anderson:

“I’ve probably worked with problematic folks in the past and I’ve taken to just googling everyone.”

Problematic? Just know, writers, that when dealing with a host of literary journals you’ll be judged more for who you are, or for past statements and actions, than for your art.

(Meanwhile other literary editors have continued to attack Rachel Custer on twitter.)

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WHAT’S HAPPENING is a mob mentality, where the hungry crowd, having achieved victories, needs to be satiated again. And again, and again, growing ever larger and more narrow in viewpoint. In the name of tolerance, more intolerant. In the name of the marginalized, further marginalizing already marginalized writers. The literary art becoming more and more homogenized.

We first noted in “Death of the Alt Right” the phenomenon in regard to projects like Casper Mag (later Fluland Mag), whose anonymous editor changed his project’s name and his ideas to accommodate critics, but after too many battles closed down anyway.

TODAY’S LITERARY SCENE from top to bottom is becoming more about politics than about creativity and art. We say, fight your battles in the sphere of politics. (We’re an anti-political literary site.) One area which must be exempt is the arena of art. I could find every day examples of movies, paintings, stories, novels, poems, songs, and plays which offend me. Even anger me. Being offended is part of living in a free and intellectually diverse society. Controlling one’s anger is a key part of becoming an adult. We expect it of a five year-old.

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History shows that artistic breakthroughs come from outcasts and outsiders. Sometimes from unpleasant individuals whose work violently upsets somebody. Genius is one step from madness. Creativity is taking your brains and emotions beyond the bounds of normal or acceptable behavior.

Tomorrow’s masterpiece is UNacceptable today. Throw open the doors. Air out the stodgy museums. Allow new voices of every kind and style to have their say.

Author James Joyce and Publisher

-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS