The AmazonFail Backlash is an LGBTD Issue

–I was born in a system
That doesn’t give a fuck
About you nor me.

Zomby, “The Lie” (sampled from Sizzla, “Born in a System,” via Ricky L, “Born Again”)

The story of #amazonfail that’s being told:

Over a holiday weekend, somebody in France who works on Amazon’s internal database made one simple mistake. As a result, thousands of books were incorrectly flagged as adult, removed from the Sales Rank list, which made it difficult to find these books using Amazon’s Search function, which uses the Sales Rank figures to weight its results. A few authors found out about this, and, through the power of Twitter, a huge outpour of rage and anger sprang up on Easter Sunday. By Monday, after some frantic work during a holiday a weekend, Amazon issued an apology and fixed the glitch. End of story.

But the story hasn’t ended, even though the above explanation has been adopted by the general public, and perhaps the majority of the LGBT community, as well as some of those who had been most active on #amazonfail. I think we’re actually at the beginning of our fight to get to the bottom of this. First of all, this didn’t start over the weekend. As was fairly widely reported on Sunday, Craig Seymour, author of a memoir of his years as a gay stripper in D.C., experienced similar problems in February. He’s recently reconstructed a timeline of his struggle to get Amazon to take any notice. (For the record, Craig Seymour adheres in large part to the above story.)

Amazon’s fail did not begin over the weekend, or even in February, but in the summer of 2008. On July 13, 2008, a Kindle reader asked in an Amazon forum,

I’m just wondering why more lesbian ficiton writers haven’t made their work available on Kindle? Is there some drawback that is alluding me? Most books are available as e-books, why not Kindle?

Author Francine Saint Marie replied, two days later,

Hello there,

Almost all of my titles are published on Kindle and they’re selling, but Amazon refuses to post sales rankings for them. Without a sales rank, a title can’t make the “popular category” lists, and that makes it difficult for the target audience to find it. I have tried to resolve this issue, but Amazon won’t budge on it. My own research indicates that there are other titles in this genre also not ranked, but which, like mine, are definitely selling. Thus, I would have to conclude, based upon my own experience, that the Amazon/Kindle is simply not a very lesbian-friendly marketplace…

You can find both my paperback and Kindle titles by clicking on my name. Still others can be found by searching for FSM in the Kindle store. (On each of my product pages you will find an “also bought” list; those usually will be my other Kindle titles, too.)

Good luck on your quest and very best regards to you–
Francine

Saint Marie has posted her story on AfterEllen, and thankfully, it seems to be disseminating somewhat. I explained in my last post why the so-called “apology” is anything but.

It’s what’s happening now that’s really frightening me. The shitstorm on Twitter, people are now saying, was totally uncalled for, and those who participated in it should be ashamed of themselves. In particular, it’s an excellent case study of how homos (or “liberals” in general) are hypersensitive pansies who will irrationally support any random cause that comes along and sounds sufficiently scandalous. 

I’m a Victorianist, which means that instead of wasting all my time puzzling over this #amazonfail bullshit, I’m supposed to read nineteenth-century British novels. In Victorian novels, if women acted in a manner that might put patriarchal authority into question, they could be labeled “mad,” and put into an asylum against their will. Towards the end of the century, it was more likely to be the specific diagnosis of hysteria than the catch-all accusation of  madness–and this could lead to a “rest cure,” such as that depicted in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In the twentieth century, this pathologizing of any form of resistance towards the status quo was more likely to find its target in gays and lesbians. In the twenty-first century, this pathologization continues. Women were liable to be dismissed as acting from irrational hysteria in the nineteenth century, and queers, in this beautiful twenty-first century of ours, face the same charge. We don’t need to give a fuck about what queers have to say, because they’re probably getting their panties in a knot over nothing.

Or: if gay and lesbian were unfairly classified as adult, then that’s just because gays and lesbians are more likely to seek “adult” content; they’re more likely to go for porn than normal people. This is how somebody responded (in part) to one of my comments on Mary Hodder’s guest blog on TechCrunch:

The least persuasive argument here is that “anti-gay books weren’t flagged”. But that’s because they aren’t sexually explicit. Let’s ask this question: does an anti-gay screed get a title GLBT in the first place? I doubt it, because what member of the GLBT constituency, going to that section of the bookstore to find their tribe and buy books, is going to want to have a nasty anti-gay book staring at them? The prudent bookstore would put that back in some other category like “sociology” or “health” or something.

It seems to me that those concerned about trying to screen out adult explicit content either consciously, with eyeballs, or automatically, with a set of tags like “GLBT” and “erotica” simply identified GLBT as a high-probability category for very explicit sexual material.

And in fact their action was legitimate because it *is* a category with a very high probability for sexually explicit material! There’s *nothing wrong* with that. It’s a free country. You can’t ban porn books anymore. You can’t ban even books with some graphic scenes in them. But if they re all in a group to in fact help customers find them better as a sales tactic and as a nod to identity, you can’t then later scream that they were “targeted” in a snafu like this.

I was born in a system that doesn’t give a fuck about you or me.* It doesn’t need to give a fuck about you or me because we’re just hysterical, oversensitive, irrational sub-people who make a huge kerfuffle over nothing. It doesn’t need to give a fuck about me or you because all we want is sex, anyways. I mean who could deny that? And we’re completely irrational when people flag gay and lesbian books as adult that are completely unerotic, because, let’s face it, there are very few books about gays and lesbians which aren’t pornography.

This mess tagged #amazonfail indicated a wound, and now that wound is suppurating. Over the weekend, we found out that gay and lesbian books could be disappeared, and nobody would care unless we raised a shitstorm. But now, the aftermath is all about reinforcing the most damaging stereotypes of queers. This isn’t a fight over censorship, it’s the fucking culture wars all over again. Instead of rendering visible the negative, dismissive stereotypes sexual minorities face, Amazon’s epic fail has resulted in the confirmation of those stereotypes.

Some commentators have noted that this outrage was connected in some way to the battle over same-sex marriage, especially due to the recent legalizations in Iowa and Vermont. For me, it was connected–but I don’t give a fuck about gay marriage, really, speaking for myself. I’ll fight (not to the death, I’m no fucking pseudo-Voltaire) for anybody to marry whoever the fuck they want, but I would never in a million years want to be married to anyone, even if unicorns turned out to be real and marriageable. But this whole equation of LGBT activism, at the present moment,  with gay marriage has not made me a happy dyke. I want to give a fuck about something that has to do with life and living rather than being normal. And the reason  why I jumped on the #amazonfail bandwagon was because it was completely different from the fight for gay marriage.** This wasn’t about being able to be normal, but being able to be. Which is still a major fucking issue. The system doesn’t want to give a fuck about you or me, as the aftermath of amazonfail has shown.

*I realize it’s heavily ironic that I start this post with an epigraph from the words of somebody who only gives a fuck about queers because he wants them to be killed. But that Zomby track is fucking killer, and don’t you dare torrent that shit, because I fucking give a fuck about brilliant underground dubstep producers.

**My other complaint about considering gay marriage as the LGBT issue is that it has resulted in the continued marginalization of transgender folk and transsexuals, discriminated against not just by the straight majority, but, all too often, by cisgendered gays and lesbians themselves. And what about people with disabilities? Are they also hypersensitive, or obsessed aboout sex? Or do they not merit mentioning at all, as is the case in the vast majority of accounts of #amazonfail?

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9 Comments »

  1. LF said

    “But this whole equation of LGBT activism, at the present moment, with gay marriage has not made me a happy dyke. I want to give a fuck about something that has to do with life and living rather than being normal. ”

    Word!!

    Also, this is a great post in general.

  2. Someone Somewhere said

    There’s some sort of stigma that anything remotely related to being GLBT is “adult.” It’s like there’s still this ridiculous “the gay is contagious, and people exposed to it will catch it!” idea going around, and parents think they have to protect their children from it. Can you imagine making a kids’ movie where one of the characters had two fathers or two mothers instead of one of each? It’d probably never get a PG rating, and its profit would be abysmal.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think people who weren’t already bigoted are seeing this as adding to the stereotype. People who are determined to think of GLBT people as overemotional or whatnot may, but they’d probably think it anyway. People will cling onto anything they think confirms their idiotic beliefs.

    Also, unless you’re a rich, straight, white Christian man, the system will probably hate you at one point or another. Didn’t feminist books get removed too? The GLBT issue is huge, but it’s not the only one.

    I hope this whole thing doesn’t blow over.

    • Mia Chen said

      >Can you imagine making a kids’ movie where one of the characters had two fathers or two mothers instead of one of each? It’d probably never get a PG rating, and its profit would be abysmal.

      Great point. I never had considered how much these movies need to be made, and how they’ll, sadly, not be made. Kids with gay parents, kids with friends with gay parents, and kids in general need to see those movies! And if there’s an indie movie, it’d far more likely go for an adult audience, given that repertory theatres don’t exactly attract the family crowd. Wow, thinking about that makes me sad. Thanks.

      >Also, unless you’re a rich, straight, white Christian man, the system will probably hate you at one point or another. Didn’t feminist books get removed too? The GLBT issue is huge, but it’s not the only one.

      Yup yup yup. Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism, Tom Shakespeare et al’s The Sexual Politics of Disability, Frederique Delacoste’s Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry, Jaclyn Friedman’s Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape. It’s been widely reported that rape and incest survivor books were included, although I’m having trouble locating actual titles–if someone could provide them, I’d be very grateful. Plus, according to Amazon’s non-press release (Click on Press Releases on the bottom of amazon.com–no mention at all), of the 57,310 books, there was no specific LGBT focus, and a variety of categories were affected. However, I’ve yet to see long lists of books categorized “Health” and “Mind and Body” that were misclassified adult that weren’t LGBT in focus.

      But yes, I think one of the things we have to fight for in the aftermath is that this wasn’t just GL books affected. (When people say LGBT, most of the time they don’t mean the B and the T.) The focus on GL threatens to obscure a whole bunch of other groups who have been even more marginalized.

  3. […] The Amazon Backlash is an LGBTD issue on amazonfail.wordpress.org […]

    • jon said

      Ooops, sorry for the misattribution. Fixed now. Thanks for pointing it out!

      As well as a blog, have you thought about having a wiki on amazonfail.org? Join the Impact’s had great results with theirs …

      jon

      • Mia Chen said

        >As well as a blog, have you thought about having a wiki on amazonfail.org?

        Yes I have! Originally, my intention when I registered amazonfail.org was to have a place where people could have access to everything which was *actually* said as it happened, which I think will be particularly important as we get accounts like Clay Shirky’s which completely misrepresent the actual thoughts shared by me and you and so many other. The best way to collect all of these blog posts would be a wiki, I think. I had originally intended to collected all of the tweets tagged #amazonfail, but I don’t think I’ll do this out of privacy concerns. Unprotected tweets are out there for anybody to find, but there’re probably many people who wouldn’t appreciate their spur-of-the-moment tweets finding a permanent place on a website.

  4. jon said

    Totally agreed about the wiki-based collection of blog posts. From my own experience, the first person accounts in Get FISA Right‘s This time, *we’re* writing the history and the record of the coverage are valuable for tons of things.

    On recovering history of the tweets, yeah, it’s real hard to balance the concerns. It would be great to have some kind of opt-in model, where people can put forward their own tweets for inclusion, or something like that. It’s certainly worth thinking about. My guess is that there’s already a dataset out there; Ethan Zuckerman’s Studying Twitter and the Moldovan protests describes how to use the max_id field in Twitter search to get around the 1500-tweet limit, although it’s touchy and difficult.

    What about recording links to Twitter searches, rather than focusing on individual tweets? For example, here’s the queer-, feminist-, and ableism-related tweets; here’s the discussion right before @chsirky tweeted his essay. One the one hand these are interesting and important subsets of the conversation, and the only information that’s included is public. On the other hand, they call additional attention to the tweets … what are the privacy implications?

    jon

  5. Dani said

    What’s the D for? I googled LGBTD and the only explanation I found was that PlanetOut’s stock ticker is LGBTD…

    • Mia Chen said

      Disability. See this blog post for why it’s terrible that it gets left out of these discussions.

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