Censorship for fun and profit

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Tiananmen_square_2
Well folks, this is bound to get me into hot water with certain segments of the group again, but this story puts me in a “If-you-don’t-like-it-then-don’t-read-it” sort of mood. I could blame the fact that it’s my birthday and I’m feeling selfish, but really it’s just been a while since I got to read any really good crit mail, and that seems like it can’t be a sign of anything good (or maybe people started believing me when I said it was just a silly little blog after all).

Some of you have been following the story about Google China and their voluntary censoring of certain search terms at the insistence of the Chinese government. Google isn’t the only one of course, but if search terms yield different results depending on which restrictive area of the globe you happen to be surfing from, the implications are dangerously serious. For instance, imagine a search for “Tiananmen Square” washed clean of any pictures like the famous one above.

And I just find an interesting correlation here to another sort of “censorship” that goes on within a supposedly free market. I’ve got a bone to pick with parochial bookbuyers, stores, reps, and publishing execs who impose their narrow prejudices about potentially offensive elements on the artistry of Christian books. I’ve said it so many times before: Sanitized art is no art. Comfortable gospel is no gospel. Benign beauty is no beauty. Half truth is no truth.

But now this debate about censorship has me all riled up again. Check out the familiar-sounding arguments on either side of this debate. It’s spooky. I suppose part of me can see how the Google China censorship debate resembling the one going on in CBA shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. But the more rational part just can’t believe that in 2006 it’s still necessary to defend the value of freedom to some of the very people who fight the most fiercely to honor our ancestors’ sacrifices. The same ones who supposedly know something about the truth that sets you free. It’s just untenable to me.

What Google is saying about their “unfortunate” position sounds like so many authors who take on the lesser evil of filtering their art for the market in which they publish. I wonder what you all think about this. Is there an excuse for softening the content? Should we be striving to make small advances with the hopes of making larger ones later?

Christian publishing will be different next year, like it was again last year. What do you think your part in that will be?

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10 thoughts on “Censorship for fun and profit”

  1. First of all, Happy Birthday! Second of all, cute new pic of Ellie. And now, for my thoughts on filtering art or softening content for the market. Maybe I’m too simple minded for my own good, but Christians have been bought with a price. We are not our own. (Though I do advocate a little selfishness on birthdays.) Ideally we write whatever we write from a sanctified worldview and for the honor of Christ.
    I know myself well enough to know my motives require regular exposure in search-light land. But as long as I’m writing without some agenda–to shock, to promote edginess, to enlighten those I consider spiritually uptight–I should be free to tell a true story.
    The world I live in is messy. Its inhabitants get their hands dirty. If I write it pristine, I’m writing fantasy, not truth.
    So, to answer your question, “Should we be striving to make small advances?” I’d have to say, no, unless you mean advances in the kingdom of God. And I’m not talking about writing to an overt evangelical message. I simply mean we should write for God’s glory. His agenda. Not mine.
    Party hard, birthday boy!

  2. I believe the most difficult task I face as a Christian-worldview writer is battling mediocrity not censorship. Exquisitely told stories that don’t offend can be told and sold; they’re just harder to write.
    I’m finding that more and more Christian writers are tackling the harder issues; the true test comes in skillfully telling the hard story without compromising the call to honor God – and whatever talent he has bestowed — with every word.
    A birthday poem I now submit
    Free of bias and censorship
    May your day be gritty, edgy — real
    A long, wild ride on the Potter’s wheel
    May the post box brim with comments galore
    To test and polish our espirit de corps!
    Happy Birthday, Mick
    Susan

  3. Some readers want happy-go-lucky, it’s all sweet and mushy, snooze to a novels’ melancholy toons in your propped up Lazyboy. And sip some lemonade while your at it-cause life is short and you deserve to relax.
    I find this mostly dull.
    Shake me up and spit me out and thrill me, chill me, make me think! A story not afraid to be dangerous, not afraid to take one step closer to the cliff, is sometimes, most times, the only type of story that will throw me. Why do I want to be thrown? Cause I want to fly, and feel, and think, and live. I already live a real life, and I don’t care to indulge in characters who would read a novel that thrilled them, chilled them, spit them just to get them out of their boring stupor. Give me the goods, man.
    I see Christian novels starting to explode. And I like that. But the explosion isn’t all that matters. It’s the ability to light the fuze, blow the roof, and array the shrapnel in such a way that it pierces the heart and sends the reader on a mad chase after God and his amazing mysteries. That’s what matters.
    So go boom.
    Happy after A day, Mick Man.
    BTW–Anybody ever read the novel: My Behind?
    Mick bought it for a shiny million.

  4. you wrote:
    But now this debate about censorship has me all riled up again.
    it’s good to see you all riled up!
    my part. struggling through obscurity to keep my art true. it is hard when really “important” people tell you your work sucks (essentially) then other really “important” people tell you it doesn’t, but the industry doesn’t support your art (poor baby), so what have i changed? i keep producing my art, true to what i believe i am supposed to do, but now, as always find no place for it.
    once an exile, apparently, always an exile.
    suz.

  5. Hey Mick,
    Speaking of half-truths, I find it hard to believe you’re 6′ (even on your tip toes) unless you’re wearing a large afro wig at the time. But maybe I’m splitting hairs. I’ll give you a break on your birthday.
    Excellent topic, one that may get you a lot of criticism, but one that will snag you some friendlies as well. It seems the post-modern church philosophies are alive and well. Some great authors who have recently helped me climb out from under my protective, conservative rock are: Rob Bell, Donald Miller, David Gregory, and Anne Lamott.
    I’d like to impact Christian Publishing for good. But not necessarily in a neat, tidy, antiseptic kind of way. I pray my writing reflects the reality of a God who is too big to be defined, a Christ who cannot be contained, and a faith too vital to be frittered away on the alter of legalism.
    Lofty goals? Maybe. But then so is trying to make a living as a writer.
    Happy Birthday, Mick. Hope to see you at Mount Hermon this year.

  6. I’m unclear on how anything in the original post could be criticized. But then I’m new and have not tried to navigate the seas of publication — yet.

  7. Is there an excuse for softening the content?
    First, Happy Belated Birthday. Milk, I’m excited our birthdays are in the same month. Could you be my second Wonder Twin? :)
    Now…content.
    What do you mean by content? sexual content? I’ve reviewed quite a few–more and more every year–christian fiction with strong sensual or sexual content. I discussed my feelings about it on my gospelfiction dot come blog. But in gist, I find that kind of content problematic, if it has no value to forwarding the plot, giving us more insight on the character. If the story travels from one sex scene to the next(I just read one like that,) then I think it needs to be published under Simon or another publisher, but not a Christian publisher, because as you continue to read the story you become more detached from God and more intuned to your own carnal thoughts. This type of novel will be hard to stock in a christian bookstore.
    Outside of that I believe, wholeheartedly that our writing should reflect our generation more closely. The characters should have more realistic dialogue. And can we have books written in big cities that aren’t chick-lit or thrillers?
    Should we be striving to make small advances with the hopes of making larger ones later?
    Just had a panel interview for a print mag with authors discussing this very thing. Although everyone says they’ll take the hard road, we all know some that changed after becoming published.
    We should strive to write well and let the chips fall where God puts them.
    Christian publishing will be different next year, like it was again last year. What do you think your part in that will be?
    Well, Milk. I plan to have written something that meets my longings for a great christian book. And I hope to have my little online flash fiction journal up and running, so that more short story authors have places to express themselves. Now talking about a small advance. :)

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