Why We Need Problematic Books: In Praise Of Dangerous Fiction
'This Book Is Problematic' Has Been The Rallying Cry For Too Long In Reading Communities
Problematic literature is superior to ‘safe’ media.
‘This book is problematic!’ ‘I would’ve liked this book more if it weren’t for the toxic relationships…’
‘Problematic’ and ‘toxic’ are used in book loving communities by a vocal minority. Whether it’s Chaucer or a contemporary Young Adult novel, literature is filtered through ‘is it problematic’ lenses. Books earn the problematic label for many reasons: glorifying ‘bad’ things, positive or negative representation, and the ‘message’ the media presents.
This is done through a ‘critical theory’ eye, seeking to make the world more ‘equitable’ in regards to race, gender, sexuality and class. To learn more about critical theory and its flaws, you must visit New Discourses.
Media bearing the ‘problematic’ scarlet letter are censored and derided. The rise in ‘problematic’ media awareness increases cancel culture, mob rule and online bullying. Snowy Fictions covered the controversies surrounding Blood Heir and A Deadly Education.
This post exists due to Disney, Amazon and Dr. Seuss. Over the past few months, an uptick in censorship occurred in Anglosphere media. This was justified as a protest against ‘racism’ and ‘harmful stereotypes.’ This behaviour is not new. All throughout history, the censor hides behind morality. It is moral to oppose harmful things, such as prejudice and discrimination. But power decides what is ‘harmful’, and what isn’t.
Never underestimate how much evil is done in the name of ‘goodness’. Literature suffers under cancellation and censorship. The value of a ‘problematic book’ is eroded after censorship. One removes the violence in American Psycho, and gone are the uncomfortable truths, the challenges to conventional thinking and the dialogue with the wider world. The best literature is provocative and uneasy. Publishers and writers must remember this.
A Note On Amazon
Amazon will not sell, promote or platform books portraying ‘gender identities’ as a mental illness. This includes satires, novels, academic papers and journalism. This is ridiculous for a variety of reasons. We don’t know everything about gender dysphoria, mental illness and the treatment for transgenders. For Amazon to act, with complete moral certainty, that a book can’t argue a certain point is wrong. Amazon, like any censor, will not stop here. They will remove more books, and justify their decision due to ‘racism’ or ‘homophobia.’ But it goes deeper.
Amazon has a vast monopoly over bookselling. As a result, publishers will not release books that are ‘too controversial.’ Writers will not bother releasing, or even writing stories critical of fashionable orthodoxies. Censors respond with ‘no one is stopping you from promoting it’ but that is a lie. Amazon, and the censors behind them, know exactly what they are doing. We must stop pretending censors are misguided or have ‘good intentions.’ They don’t.
The witch burners of today are not happy until everyone obeys. If they desire submission, the dissenters must suffer. Censors know this, and are happy to ruin your finances, your reputation and your livelihood. Once you are on your knees, there is no plan for you to walk. Never think the censor has your best interests at heart. Your heart, your mind, your soul, are just tools to crush their opposition.
The Need For Problematic Books
Problematic books have uncomfortable truths, engage in debate and challenge common orthodoxies. From Rushdie’s The Satanic Versus to Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, literature thrives when it causes offense. The uncomfortable truth in Mark Twain’s writing isn’t that racism is ‘correct.’ Rather, it’s the realistic depiction of how racism exhibited during Twain’s time. The same is said for Lolita. Crimes against children are ghastly, but Nabokov’s point is that.
Remember: depiction is not endorsement. It is foolish to shape literature into a utopian vision of equity. Anyone who studies history will warn you of how much evil can occur in so-called ‘utopia.’ From the Khmer Rouge to the Soviet Union, do not trust anyone promising perfection. Because man is not perfect, he is flawed, and thus, the books written mirror that.
We need problematic books, because they challenge us, are reminders of inner demons, and force us to become better versions of ourselves. After reading American Psycho (dropped from its original publisher), one witnesses the flaws in shallowness, materialism and sadism. Bret Easton Ellis makes the reader uncomfortable, because they both know the inner Patrick Bateman lurking within. Thus, American Psycho is a powerful reading experience.
But the censor can’t accept any challenge or reminder of their own imperfection. And thus, they must control. To paraphrase George Orwell, if you control the language people use, you can control their thoughts.
Regardless of how ‘offensive’ a literary work is, there is no justification for its censorship or removal. It is fanatic to remove a book’s right to exist. No matter the message within it, all fictional works should exist. Fiction represents our ‘subconscious’: all our unsaid fantasies, emotions, thoughts and fears. Censorship denies this representation, opting for falsehood.
If an author objects to a literary work, they are free to write their own tale. Likewise, readers don’t have to buy or keep it. But no one is free to tell others what they can or can’t write or read. Those who want to control your language aim to control your thinking.
Dangers Of Censorship
The end result of ‘problematic’ labelling is censorship, whether it’s self-censorship or censorship from a business or government. There is not a single moment in history where a censor stops. It starts with one book, like Mein Kampf. It expands to any inconvenient work of political philosophy. Eventually, it reaches fiction.
But it’s not just the publication of dangerous ideas that’s stopped: it’s the writing of them. An author will not write a controversial story and submit it to publication if they worry about the damaging effects on his or her career. This is called ‘self-censorship.’ Forget books about ‘taboo’ subjects: the treatment of Apostates under Islam, autistic girls identifying as trans, demographic change, Chinese power over Hollywood. All are gone under censorship, because the writer may have an opinion the censor does not like.
Censorship does not stop with Dr. Seuss, because the goal of censorship is to never stop until the one wielding it decides everything. From what you think, who you associate with and what you do. All actions and thoughts are decided by the power-hungry.
Therefore, censorship is repugnant, and we must exercise caution in how we treat books at whatever stage in publication or history. We need problematic books. May we write it, may we read it.