Thursday, November 15, 2018

70. Amazon, Free Speech, and Sarcasm, Satire, and Mockery

First, let me start with a spoiler. This story ends well, and I am not mad at Amazon.

One morning in late October I discovered that Amazon had removed the Kindle edition of my new book, "The Past is Going to Suck." It hit me like a shock. I was disoriented at first, and did not fully believe what I was looking at. Only the paperback edition was available. The paperback edition arrives at Amazon from a different company, but the Kindle edition is published directly through Amazon itself.

I did a quick check around the world. Amazon UK still had both editions up. So did Amazon Australia, Japan, Italy. Both editions were up everywhere in the world except the U.S.

The book had been out for 2 months, and was selling at a modest but steady rate. How the hell could it be pulled down? I found myself asking.

I received cryptic vague responses saying things like, "We are investigating your issue."

I turned my thoughts to the content of the book; Jokes, often biting, harsh jokes, but JOKES about key moments in the history of the 20th century. The jokes often target political figures of the time.

Could my book have been pulled as 'offensive content?' I wondered.

I kept trying to get answers from Amazon, but I understood that they are a gigantic corporation, and the poor mid-level PR people respnding to my emails probably genuinely did not know the real answer.

I got vague references to things like a 'known issue' or a  'technical issue' (which could not explain why it was still up everywhere else in the world).

Had someone in the U.S. complained about my book because I had joked about  - well, who knows - Ronald Reagan? Teddy Roosevelt? The Republican Party as a whole?

I never received an answer to any of these questions.

Then, after 3 days, the book was back up. Just like that, no explanation, no changes, exacty as it was before, a mystery not so much solved, as simply passed by.

I was left to speculate and wonder; Did someone's complaint cause Amazon to pull it and put it through a full review? If so, I had to admit that they must have found no fault, realized that the jokes are jokes, that in the end they found no reason to keep the book from being available.

The whole experience caused me to sit and think about my book. I knew when I was writing it that I was at times going after some people's heroes. In the age of Trump, sarcasm, satire, and mockery are sometimes met with hostility. This response, though, only makes sarcasm, satire and mockery that much more important. While I limit the scope of the book to the 20th century (forcing myself NOT to take on anything happeneing today) I was aware while writing it, that we live in a time when mockery and satire are more important than ever.

Friends who knew what I was going through accused me of being much too patient with Amazon. "Free speech!" one of my friends kept yelling at me. "I'll stay calm," I said. "I think this will work out in the end."

My patience, and my trust of Amazon proved right in the end.

Amazon is a gigantic corporation. They have to be careful not to allow biased hate-speech to infect their website (are you listening, Facebook?). I support their caution, and their conclusion that my book is only sarcasm, satire, and mockery, even though that mockery is sure to upset someone.

Humor is not just a shield, James Thurber once said, it is also a weapon.

We are living in a time when those of us prone to using mockery as a weapon must be bold and use it unflinchingly.

We live in uncertain times. What we say has consequences. And sometimes the most important thing to say is a joke, to mock, to poke fun. Bursting poeple's bubbles, and making people laugh in the process...if I can accomplish that, I think I'm doing alright.
-Peter Wick
November 15, 2018