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Where does respect stop and censorship begin?

Atlin Merrick Natalie Conyer She Said/She Said

Natalie Conyer and Atlin Merrick share thoughts on writing, in their She Said/She Said series, entries alternating between Improbable Press and Clan Destine Press.

NATALIE: Last month, Hachette New York cancelled plans to publish Woody Allen’s memoir. Allen, as you remember, has been accused of sexually abusing his daughter. Hachette’s decision came after Ronan Farrow, Allen’s son – whose expose of Harvey Weinstein was also published by Hachette – protested. Hachette staff walked out in sympathy and staff at other publishing houses supported them.

I’m conflicted about this. I understand why Hachette cancelled the memoir, and agree that by publishing and marketing Allen’s story, they could be seen as validating it. But I grew up in a country where books were banned and I’m sensitive about freedom of speech, and wonder where respect stops and censorship begins.

Woody Allen is by all accounts a predatory shit and reviewers say his memoir (since published by Arcade) confirms this view. Yet if we banned art by awful men we’d have no Picasso, no Naipul, no Wagner.

Excluding artworks on grounds of cultural appropriation too, makes me nervous. I hate the thought of tone-deaf artists ransacking vulnerable cultures: again, I grew up in a country savaged by colonialism. But if we went down that road, how would we feel today about releasing The Merchant of Venice or Othello?

Where do we draw the line? Should there even be a line?

Also, who gets to decide? Who says whether something is or isn’t inappropriate, and why? Allowing bad people to profit from their crimes (think Chopper Read) is undesirable but so is the social cost of suppressing texts on ideological grounds.

Shouldn’t the judge be at the back end instead? As a reader, I want to be able to decide whether a work is good or bad – technically, spiritually, politically. It’s part of my job and part of my contract with the writer. I don’t want someone else to filter what I can or can’t read.

I’d love to hear your view.

More from CDP:
The Responsible Reader: The Mirror & the Light
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

ATLIN: While I hear Natalie's concerns, Allen was not censored; no authority banned his book's publication. Censorship allows for no recourse—censorship drives a book underground, to be published illegally and in secret.

This was never going to be a problem for Allen because, in a world of thousands of publishing houses, there was bound to be a press as predatory as he is. And he found that press; his memoir is freely available. There are always options for rich, white men.

For me the crux of the thing is this: history is endlessly full of the stories of rich men, of their belief, their journeys, their self-justifications. Yet, like the homophobic, racist, misogynistic bore at a party, we don't have to listen to their stories any more.

People are tired. They're tired of rich abusers being handed a microphone so they can explain why their abuse wasn't, tired of knowing that absolutely the dozens or hundreds of people who've been hurt? They will not be handed the microphone next.

So no, I don't believe Allen was censored. And the respect? It was given to the people he's abused.

When someone is rich and white, male and straight, American and famous they have every recourse. All of them. The people hurt by the Weinsteins and Allens? They have next to none.

If we're throwing a party I'd like to invite some of these folks; I want new stories. Will they be better? I don't know. I do know I've heard enough, more than enough, a lifetime of enough from powerful white men. People are tired of listening to the bore at the party; they're weary he keeps showing up.

Who's in favour of giving him the wrong address?

Atlin Merrick is the publisher of Improbable Press, an imprint of Clan Destine Press. She's the author of The Night They Met. Natalie Conyer grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and now lives in Sydney. Her award-winning debut crime novel, Present Tense, is set in Cape Town.

Natalie Conyer's award-winning crime novel: Present Tense      The Night They Met by Atlin Merrick

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  • Verena on

    “Yet if we banned art by awful men we’d have no Picasso, no Naipul, no Wagner.”

    But try to imagine what wonderful art we could have instead if we banned awful men! Imagine the space they claimed wide open for everybody else!

  • Ana on

    A publisher can choose not to publish for any reason. If they choose not to publish someone’s work, it’s a business decision, not censorship. There is no law stopping Woody Allen from self-publishing or finding a different publisher who is willing to publish his book. Unless his book ends up actually legally banned by a country, then it is not censorship.

    Natalie brings up another point, that there are many famed artists who have done terrible things. Should we tolerate them? Would our society not lose something of cultural value if we scrubbed them and their work from the public eye? I would instead propose a counter-question: what have we lost by allowing these people to carry on? For every famous abusive artist, there are usually many people who had potential, but who were put down. What happened to the actors, writers, musicians, and artists who could have made fantastic cultural contributions, but who quit because of a famous asshole? What amazing music and art is missing from our world because these abusers were allowed to prosper?

    This is true of bad apples in any field. There are famous scientists who have made huge contributions to their fields, but as soon as you look closer, you’ll find a trail of people who quit science completely because of these assholes. I’d wager that we lost more than we gained.

  • Teraza Salmon on

    I wouldn’t touch anything of Woody Allen’s with a borrowed barge pole; I didnt like him before his personal life became public knowledge and I like him less now. I vote with my wallet – the only morality that businesses understand. They don’t care is the bottom line. Very few of the big companies got there by being ethical and ALL they are after is profit.
    Is there a way of stopping this and making this a kinder world? Yes. Vote with your wallet. Don’t be lazy. Do your research and support smaller ETHICAL companies.
    I’m split between your two opinions but staff have a right to be ethical and it takes a lot of guts to stand your ground, knowing you could be fired for it; and others are behind you, wanting to get into the “glamorous” industry.

    Let him be published and be damned. I don’t need to read it as (doing my research) I know roughly how his writing will be. Censor on the side of spellcheck and obvious hate-mongering.

    You can’t affect people. You can only affect how people affect you.

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