So, let’s talk about censorship and transgression.
I wrote about transgressive behavior earlier today, notably why it’s important for minority identities and subcultures, and how it winds up benefiting the majority of society in the end. I think it’s an okay read, even if it does gloss over quite a bit - I mean, I had to get to the point somehow!
Today, however, it came up that somebody was aiming to fund a book through Kickstarter to teach the art of seduction via quite a few creepy and objectifying lessons, boiling down to: Men, you are Men, and they are Women, and so if you want to Do The Sex with Women, here are the steps to woo that alien species. It was bollocks, and I think that this was easily recognized by just about everyone I talked to. Not once did it come up amongst any of those I follow on Twitter that it’s ever okay to “just put her hand on your dick” in order to force the issue of sex.
Let’s set the content aside, though. We can all agree that it was, at the very least, a poorly executed attempt to cast someone’s Reddit posts into book form, and at most, a (and I quote) “De-facto rape manual”. Let’s set that aside, and lets talk about the importance of transgression to oppressed or minority identities, and lets talk about censorship.
An oppressed or minority identity - say, LGBT, or women, or PoC - has a few options to try and seek change in their status, aiming nominally for equality. They can petition politely, I suppose, and write open letters or talk amongst themselves about how they wish things were better, but that accomplishes little: the former doesn’t necessarily challenge anything, and the latter isn’t heard outside their discussions. They could commit a terrorist act, but I think we can all agree that that tends to accomplish the opposite of the intended effect. Or they can structure their behavior around transgressive (that is, acts outside the boundaries of what’s considered normal in a given society) acts and behaviors in order to get their point heard.
It’s not a new thing, by any stretch. A protest is the basic transgressive act, and it can take the form of modifying fashion, sitting silently, yelling loudly, or even a boycott. These are the ways we have at our disposal to transgress - literally step across - the border of what’s considered conforming into non-conformity and prove our points. Polite, non-transgressive discourse requires multiple participants, after all, and the comfortable majority has no incentive to begin a discourse with a quiet minority, least of all in a capitalist system.
So here’s what happened: some entrepreneur decided to start a Kickstarter in order to produce content on a controversial subject and received both a personal and professional (through Kickstarter) backlash. This description is vague enough to target both Above The Game and Tropes vs. Women intentionally. What happened specifically in that backlash portion is where things differ: Above The Game induced a protest and a rash of complaints to Kickstarter about the perceived appropriateness of such an organization to fund such a book. Tropes vs. Women caused Anita Sarkeesian much the same, plus a rash of death threats and a virtual “Beat up Anita” game on top.
Both Kickstarters were transgressive - the point of Kickstarter is to fund disruptive projects, after all - and both responses were transgressive as well: most public campaigns such as these are. The difference here lies in what way the participants view their transgressions. The transgressions of the author of Above The Game and those who responded to Sarkeesian’s project, coming from the majority, occur well within the confines of that majority. That is, it costs those involved almost nothing to perform a transgressive act because, even though it’s weird and a little out there, and probably goes against what some would consider polite behavior, it still fits within that majority viewpoint. The opposite is true of the other parties, though, because it costs them rather a lot to transgress from the minority viewpoint: they’re going against all that is right and good in the eyes of those on the other side, and the other side has a lot more power in their hands. At the same time, their transgressions mean a whole lot more to them, by virtue of the fact that this is their attempt at what they view as equality. This is their way to try and change the world.
This is nothing new, of course. This describes the same tension, when viewed from a more classical critical theory point of view, that occurs when any minority struggles against any majority, in the small scale. However, it needs to be put out there, because of the censorship question, and how it ties in with feminism, a force often vehemently accused of censorship.
Censorship is a mechanism to prevent the flow of information by silencing the source. There are, of course, some ways to interpret this petition to not let Above The Game be funded as censorship, but here are the reasons which I disagree.
- Censorship is the prevention of the flow of information. The point of the campaign here is to prevent Kickstarter from funding the publishing. The flow of information began back on Reddit, and although the author removed the posts, it will continue to flow there as long as there is a sink for that information, an audience. My opinions on the content aside, I don’t think I would stifle the guy from posting the content to the ‘net, or even funding his own publishing.
- Kickstarter has meaning to its users beyond a simple funding scheme. The propensity toward disruptive and social activism projects lends credence to this. The business has come to be a means for the voice of the small to reach the ears of the large (some notable exceptions, of course), and so when that medium is challenged, people react (see some of those notable exceptions, for examples).
- The leveraging of capital against interests as a form of protest is not new. In fact, the boycott, embargo, and blockade have been around for thousands of years. Neither have they gone out of style: just look at the recent Chik-Fil-A boycott regarding connections to Christian organizations opposed to LGBT rights to see a recent example. It’s a transgressive (read: noticeable) means of making one’s displeasure known in a system that automatically tunes out the displeasure of a minority group.
Given these three points, a boycott of something in a medium that carries additional meaning seems to be a fairly obvious solution, and the only thing that complicates this fact is that the book has not been published yet: the fight is over whether or not this medium should fund the book. While I could see that as a form of censorship if the author were not surrounded by potential other funding sources (Offbeatr was recommended as a source that not only exists, but also might be quite fitting), I can’t given the possible funding and distribution channels available.
Beyond even that, in order to evoke change in the world from a disadvantaged point - that of a minority or oppressed group - one must be able to use what tools they have, and in this case, that tool is financial leverage. By putting financial pressure on an organization through boycott, either by not purchasing products already made, or by refusing to purchase products that have yet to be made, we are transgressing only on capitalist tendencies and still working within the law. It’s a protest basically blessed by Western society as a tool of the free market, should such a thing actually exist.
The tl;dr version of this boils down to a few quick points: no one’s freedom of speech was restricted, because the real problem that we’re facing is a that something that works against so much of what so many of us stand for is coming to us from a respected channel.
That’s the protest.
Do I think the book’s awful? Yes.
Do I think it objectifies women and perpetuates rape culture? Definitely.
Do I not want it around me? Certainly.
Do I want to censor the creator? Absolutely not.
However, do I have the very same right, the ability, and more than enough will to spend my own breath making my displeasure heard in order to try and enact the change I want to see in the world? Of course.