Offensive Material = Grounds for Censorship?

This week, a popular blogger posted her letter to the board of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) because of a book that finaled in their prestigious awards, the RITAs™. The book was about a Nazi officer falling in love with a Jewish woman in a concentration camp. I can’t say anything more about the story because I haven’t read it, but you can find her letter, with all the explanation about what she found insensitive and offensive here.

Ultimately, her letter is asking RWA to find a way to “ensure that a book so deeply offensive and insensitive is not among those honored as the best in romance.”

I love Sarah Wendell. I have been a reader of her website, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for years. I’ve met her in person a few times, and she is wonderful. But in this, I think, she is wrong.

Here’s the thing: who decides what is deeply offensive and insensitive?

I’m not condoning the content of this book. I’m also not saying that we, as a genre, need to steer clear of any controversial topics, because that’s not going to do anything but make us less diverse. And we can all agree we don’t want that.

But there are so many different beliefs in this world, and many of them oppose each other. A fundamentalist Christian may believe that all paranormal work is Satanic, and find that deeply offensive. Others may believe that anything with premarital sex is offensive. Where does the line get drawn?

Contests finalists are chosen by independent judges. That’s the whole point of keeping the contests impartial, isn’t it? An organization cannot dictate which books final without interfering with the integrity of the contest.

Again, I want to reiterate, I don’t think it’s okay for books with insensitive content to final. However, I also don’t think the organization running the contest has a right to censor these books.

Rather than trying to police contests (which is next to impossible, given the breadth of submissions to the contest and the number of offenses which could potentially trigger a red flag), perhaps we need to open wider the dialogue about why someone would NOT want to write an Inspirational Romance about a Nazi officer and Jewish woman in a concentration camp. Or how to handle potentially offensive issues with more sensitivity.

Or why we have to have the discussion at all.

I don’t have a solution to the problem. But I feel strongly that censorship of contests is not the way to go.

One Comment:

  1. I haven’t read the book, and I never will…romance isn’t my thing. That being said, writers need to explore the stories that call to them, one person’s offensive is another’s best book ever. Because of this I find all the talk of limiting what books can final the true offense. If the judges read and loved it (which they must have to advance it) it met the qualification to move on. Period. Writers, of all people, need to stop criticizing the works of others. If you don’t like the subject matter, don’t read the book. End of it. They would be the first to cry foul if their work met with this kind of cencorious criticism. Write a better book showing the other side of the equation, but don’t assume that your sensibilities should resign supreme. There is room in this world for all types of books, on all subjects, with all viewpoints. That is the way that leads to discussion, discourse, and growth.

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