Cancellation culture is terrorizing literature

During the first lockdown, author Anthony Horowitz released a children’s book online titled where seagulls dare – A comedy detective novel for teens. It was so popular that it will now be published in hard copy this week, with Horowitz donating the proceeds to charity. So far, that sounded like a nice little human story, but then it got weird: Horowitz says his publisher asked him to do a massive rewrite of some parts of the story, and take it from the text Remove jokes. Publishers fear the jokes could be “misunderstood in the current climate”.

As Horowitz said at the Hay Festival last week: “It’s not about cancellation. It’s not about anger. It’s about the fear that all creative people have to feel now if they’re going to write. I believe writers don’t Should be intimidated. We shouldn’t be forced to do things out of fear of taking Twitter by storm.

I can relate his experience to mine in publishing.I recently wrote a novel, unpublished, titled straight man. It follows a male, heterosexual protagonist who reaches middle age and finds himself still single and childless (this is not autobiography – I am happily married with three children). The story details his problems with women, and in fact, with other straight men, that led to his isolation. The protagonist is complicated and annoying in parts of the story – which is clearly “problematic” (a term used for anything that makes the publisher uncomfortable in some indescribable way). I haven’t gotten the notes from my own publisher, but Horowitz’s story doesn’t bode well.

Just a little explanation for people in the publishing industry who have read straight man For me: “I cried at the end…but if you’re going to publish a book about how straight men feel about sex, men and women in 2022, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.” This comment got me thinking Two things about publishing in the “current climate” that I find so odd.

One is that literary publishers absolutely fear controversy. It’s as if they thought that a bad reputation online for one of their books would cause them to go out of business in a short period of time. Curiously, all other forms of publishing on the planet right now—except the kind that publish books—are driven almost entirely by controversy. Publishers and publications actively seek it out because it piques their interest in the product. Online news outlets are chasing clicks, and they’ve all found that the easiest way to get clicks is to stir the pot. This is so obvious that it even feels redundant to point out. Look at Twitter – the way to get likes and retweets is to say the so-called unspeakable things. Yet many traditional publishers still act like they’re going to be locked in Room 101, crossing the line if they dare to publish something vague.

Another thing I find strange is that there is a strange, blanket assumption that goes something like this: “Only women buy books.” There are several problems with this way of thinking. One is that it is clearly unreal. Statistically speaking, women will buy more books than men in 2022, and rightly so. But the notion that men are not interested in books is constantly being refuted, usually when a lot of what men want to read actually comes out. No matter what you think of Jordan Peterson, he’s already sold a lot of books on the issues facing single men.

The really “problematic” — at least in my opinion — is the assumption that often arises here that women are only interested in reading stories involving middle-class women, in big urban areas, and grappling with small problems. It’s a reflection of the silliness of rom-com movies — a genre that once contained some of the witiest scripts, but has recently morphed into a genre that only deals with not serious at all, and deliberately avoids difficult themes. This strikes me as a seriously sexist way of thinking about the range of women’s thoughts and feelings, which in my experience is broad. But, I thought, as a straight man, what do I know?

None of this would be so worrisome if it weren’t for literature being extremely important to Western culture – more so than I think it’s acknowledged most of the time. Over the past few centuries, the complexity of human thought and emotion has been conveyed primarily through fiction. These ideas are often difficult and need to be studied in depth rather than pushed away because they are “problematic”.

I most agree with Anthony Horowitz when he said that writers shouldn’t be intimidated – we shouldn’t be afraid that what we say might offend others. Sometimes, people need to be offended, and I’m afraid. We’re starting to ignore this, and unfortunately, at least for now, a large part of the publishing industry seems to be ignoring it too. Don’t be afraid of Twitter, the publisher – it can be your friend. And don’t let the fear of thugs stop you from posting unpolished truth every once in a while.

Nick Tyrone is a journalist, author and think tank. his latest novel, patientnow out.

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