I rarely talk overtly about politics on Dear Author but I think it is fairly obvious that we support gay marriage. I have a few very close friends who are gay. I once mentioned off handedly that my daughter had gone to Chick-Fil-A for a school project on restaurant reviews and my friend looked at me aghast and said he was surprised I would financially support that company. After an awkward silence as I tried to tell him that I didn’t, my friend apologized and said that he didn’t care if I did or didn’t go to Chick-Fil-A.
For those who are unaware, Chick-Fil-A is a fast food chain in the United States that has come out publicly against gay marriage. That evening I went home and talked to my daughter about why we didn’t go and eat at Chick-Fil-A because if we did we were essentially supporting people who were trying to prevent our friends from obtaining rights that she and I took for granted. When my daughter wrote her review for the restaurant she included that while she enjoyed the food she disapproved of their policies.
Just last week, Guido Barilla chairman of a pasta manufacturing company Barilla announced that Barilla would never feature a gay family. His explanation is even worse.
I would never make a spot with a homosexualfamily. Not out of a lack of respect but because I do not see it like they do. (My idea of) family is a classic family where the woman has a fundamental role.
He also reportedly said he opposed adoption by gay parents and that if gay consumers “like our pasta and our advertising, they’ll eat our pasta, if they don’t like it then they will not eat it and they will eat another brand.”
I like Barilla pasta. They make a whole wheat, multigrain pasta that we’ve bought for a few years now. But I can’t imagine having a box of that in my house and inviting my friends over for a meal. There is a restaurant in town whose owner has made terrible comments about Asians and my friends don’t go there with me and if they go at all, they never mention it to me. We all make buying decisions based on personal feelings and books are not exempt. When it comes to entertainment from deciding not to support Orson Scott Card or avoiding an author who has a street team that is designed to harass reviewers until they remove their one star reviews, some of us decide that we’d rather try one of the other thousand authors out there than support the author whose actions or activities are anathema to a reader.
The business of books has become increasingly personalized. Look at the existence of street teams. Street teams are comprised of readers who go forth and leave reviews and promote books of a particular author to another reader. Sometimes they do more such as descend en masse on a blog or an Amazon review to inform the reader who wrong she was in her response to the book. Sometimes they work in tandem to downvote negative reviews and upvote positive ones. These street team members take on this role willingly because they love both the work and the author herself.
Many new authors believe that the role of reviewers and bloggers is to support an author and those that do not are hateful, spiteful individuals who have no happiness in their lives. Here is the key. Support of the author. Blog tour requests are sent to bloggers and require you to agree to be part of the tour without having read the book. In fact, some tours do not give the blogger an ARC unless they agree to the tour first.
Authors are told by their publishing houses and their author friends to go forth and make friends with people in the community. Give of yourself and in return these readers will feel invested in your success. Your success is their success and your failure is their failure. Thus the strong, rabid response. The cult of personality creates both love and the converse – hate or at least dislike. By making the promotion about the author as opposed to the object, the attending rise of objection to books based on author personalities is natural. Because if you are to support the authors that you love; you also don’t want to support the authors you don’t love.
Reading is deeply personal and online readers who are prone to leave reviews, either negative or positive, are readers full of passion. When they love something, you’ll hear about it and when they don’t love something, their opinions are just as strong. Is it any wonder in this increasingly intimate online environment between readers and authors that there are conflicts based on personal behavior?
But a personal boycott is not censorship because the reader isn’t saying author A with the bad attitude shouldn’t be published (or maybe she secretly does but she doesn’t have any control over that). Censorship is about the suppression of speech. Deciding not to read a particular author or buy a particular author does not suppress the author’s right to publish (particularly in this day and age). Concerted boycotts can have that effect but only if the numbers are large enough which is highly rare in the case of a reader and an author.
A personal boycott can happen for any number of reasons and it happens to all kinds of artists from the Dixie Chicks to Dane Cook. Whether you agree with the personal boycott depends largely on where you fall on the side of the issue. For instance, if you believe that comics should have free reign to make jokes about anything they want then a personal boycott over Dane Cook who enjoys making rape jokes might seem small to you. If you believe that singers should be able to make a political stand then the Dixie Chicks punishment for criticizing George Bush might seem small to you. If you believe that book should be judged solely on their content and not their creator then personal boycotts are the anathema, not authorial behavior.
All of those opinions are right because they are personal and non violative of another’s individual rights whether it is the First Amendment to free speech (and the right not to be censored by the government) or whether it is the right of the individual to support who and what she pleases.