Archive for the ‘ Media & Internet ’ Category

Peaceful Non-Violence Is Great! Maybe Cops Should Try It.

baltimore-burning-police-carProtests in Baltimore turned violent last night, with store windows smashed, cars burned, and the National Guard called out. A curfew will be imposed tonight, and for however many nights the governor decides to keep the city occupied with troops going forward.

The spark for this flare-up, let’s remember (I won’t say “cause,” because a single event never causes widespread civil violence; the underlying conditions must already be desperate before ordinary people start picking fights with armed police and soldiers) was the unexplained death of a young black man, Freddie Gray, in Baltimore Police custody.

Freddie Gray was chased, tackled, beaten, and restrained because he ran away from the police. That was all it took: he ran, therefore he was worth chasing. And tackling. And beating. And as a result, he died in police custody, his spine mostly severed — by what, or whom, or how, we don’t know, other than that it occurred after the police attacked him. The department has not been in any particular rush to explain itself.

In that context, “peaceful non-violence” and similar such phrases are one hell of a moral high ground to ask protestors to take. We are talking about a community that is under constant siege by an armed, state-sponsored paramilitary force, and has been for some time. The decision of Baltimore police officers in the case of Freddie Gray to default straight to armed pursuit and brutal violence, before any suggestion of a crime or threat to police officers could possibly have been perceived, was not an unusual outlier.


Comfortably insulated by wealth, education, and some small degree of media outreach and knowledge of how to make mass communications work for me, to say nothing of my lily-white skin, it’s very easy for me to personally choose non-violence. So I do. And I genuinely think it’s the right choice, and ultimately would be for anyone and everyone.

But you will not hear me clicking my tongue and asking why those Baltimore rioters can’t be more like dear old Dr. King (bless his sanctified, whitewashed history) and just stay non-violent. Their world is not non-violent. Their oppressors are not non-violent. They are on the losing side of a war. We’re really going to be surprised when their resistance turns asymmetrical, and even Pyrrhic?

You can’t call on people to respect a community that you yourself do not respect. The city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland have made it plainly clear that they do not care what life is like in the projects and slums of West Baltimore. If you can’t understand how people can think that smashing windows and burning cars in their own neighborhoods could possibly make things better, it’s because you don’t understand that it couldn’t possibly make things worse.

I’m all for non-violent responses to violence. But it sure would be nice to see the police give it a try before they and their sponsors in the government start insisting that the people on the other end of the batons turn the other cheek.

Progressives: Maybe Be a Little Less Gleeful About Deliberate Economic Harm

rainbow-indiana-outlineI’m as upset as the next person by Indiana’s right-to-discriminate bill (and no, it’s not the same as similarly- or identically-named “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” bills), but I think that anyone who claims to be on the side of tolerance needs to take a long, hard ponder before joining in any cries to #BoycottIndiana.

Pulling dollars out of Indiana, or at least threatening to, has been the de rigueur gesture of Corporate Social Responsibility this last week (see: Salesforce, Angie’s List, etc.), and that right there should tell you everything you need to know. If the cudgel being wielded in the name of righteousness is corporate dollars, how righteous do you honestly think the cause is?

States are not privately-held companies. Assuming a state could be effectively boycotted (an uphill battle to say the least), the harm would fall on everyone in the state, purely because they happened to live there. Guilt by association. Nor would it fall equally — a campaign that wreaked serious economic harm on Indiana would punish its neediest citizens most, both through the shrinking tax base (leading, inevitably, to cuts in social services) and through reduced employment opportunities.

When you cheer the decision of a corporation to pull jobs out of a state because that state passed legislation the corporation did not approve of, you are cheering simultaneously for the use of economic violence as a persuasive tool, and for the empowerment of corporate money as democratic leverage.

I’m hardly immune to the knee-jerk satisfaction of “well, good, serves you right for being a bunch of backwards bigots.” But the “you” that’s being served is an entire state full of diverse individuals, not the legislature or the governor. They’ll be just fine, I assure you, even if Indiana drops to 50th in the USA on every economic measure imaginable. Out of a job, maybe, but do you really think they’re going to be competing for their next posting with the general workforce, whose opportunities their mismanagement diminished?

They’ll be headed to a private consulting firm or law office somewhere, snugly cushioned by more piles of money used to prop up social ideology. You know — the same piles Salesforce and Angie’s List and all the others are currently beating Indiana up with, while the tolerance-loving left cheers an economic assault on the democratic process like it’s a good thing.

So maybe take a deep breath and a step back, think long and hard about how much you love the threat of economic punishment when it’s wielded against, say, labor unions, or foreign nations, and ask yourself whether you’re really that happy that a handful of our benevolent corporate overlords have deigned to lend their weight to your opinions — or about how much more their weight seems to matter than yours.

Because make no mistake here: what we’re seeing are rich, privately-held corporations threatening to punish a local economy unless the local leaders change local laws to fall more in line with the corporate owners’ values. And that’s something that should alarm anyone who believes in freedom and tolerance, or at least anyone who still sees American democracy as a mechanism for safeguarding those ideals.

“Clean Reader” Censorship App Sources Its Texts from Page Foundry – So Complain to Page Foundry, Not an App Store

UPDATE: As of 11:25 AM, 26 March 2015, Page Foundry has announced that they will no longer be providing the Clean Reader app with the Inktera bookstore catalog. Thank you to any and all readers who took the time to contact them and expression your opposition to the unauthorized alteration of authors’ works. Original post follows.

TLDR: If you’re upset about the “Clean Reader” app, which sells ebooks and then automatically censors words it deems offensive from the text (without the permission of authors or publishers), email the leadership of Page Foundry and ask them to stop supplying Clean Reader with its texts. Their contact information is as follows:

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, or what to say to these fine gentlemen (and, potentially and hopefully, fine women, behind that company-wide address), read on!

clean-reader-appFirst the background, for those who need to be brought up to speed: a truly odious team of mom-and-pop developers (literally) have come up with an ebook retailing app that automatically censors out “bad words” from the ebooks it sells. Depending on user settings, you can go from censorship as mild as just scrubbing the F-bombs all the way up to (and I’m not kidding) blanking out uses of “breast.”

This was, to hear the developers tell it, their solution to their Precious Little Snowflake child being sad because a book she liked had bad words in it. Authors are, understandably, pissed (excuse me, “peeved”) — to soothe this couple’s delicate sensibilities and inability to have a fucking conversation with their child about what a word means and why a writer might choose to use it, their work is being modified without permission.

This is something we all should be offended by. Clean Reader’s censorship in particular happens to be of an especially patriarchal, misogynist, and anti-sex variety — most of the censored words have to do with sex or bodies, especially women’s bodies; the app replaces “vagina,” “pussy,” and “cunt” with “bottom,” apparently on the theory that women’s parts are especially naughty but everyone has butts so those are okay. (I also think it tells you a lot about the minds that wrote this app that their approved, non-offensive substitution for “nigger” is “Negro.”)

But even if you have some sympathies with the developer’s breed of morality (which, don’t), you should at least be able to agree that retailers have no business censoring the entire body of a written work without the author’s permission, even via a wink-wink-nudge-nudge endrun that inserts the censorship for the reader after the purchase has been transacted.

So by all means, snag the app (it’s free) from the Apple or Android store and leave a bad review — it’s soothing, moderately useful, and a good first step.

That said, Clean Reader can only exist because it sources its texts from Page Foundry’s Inktera catalog, a collection of titles that Page Foundry sells to various distributors. Contacting them and expressing your concern that their works are being censored by one of their clients is a much more effective approach than contacting the developers or leaving a bad review.

Don’t just get angry — get involved! Send an email to the leadership of Page Foundry, who can be conveniently reached at the following addresses:

Be polite, be direct, and let them know that one of their clients is engaging in activity you find morally reprehensible. It sounds stupid, but this is how change actually gets made. They are reading and responding personally, at least as of this morning, when I got a very nicely written (but naturally noncommittal) reply from their CEO. So…write a fucking letter! You are also welcome to copy-paste the one I’ve written below, which I sent earlier today.

Sample letter follows:

To the Leadership of Page Foundry:

I am a concerned customer writing regarding your association with the “Clean Reader” app for mobile devices (

The Clean Reader app sources ebooks for sale from your Inktera bookstore, then applies a filter over words that the app deems offensive after a work is downloaded.

This is direct censorship without the approval of either the author or the publisher. It alters the text in a way they did not consent to, on behalf of the retailer’s personal sensibilities.

Many authors have spoken out against this, writing far more eloquently than I could — I invite you to read Joanne Harris’s thoughtful and detailed post on the subject (

Jennifer Porter also provides an excellent rundown of the filter’s grievous flaws ( Beyond being censorship, and inherently offensive to writers and readers, the app is making dangerously confusing substitutions, like replacing the word “vagina” with “bottom.” This is both anatomically incorrect and suggests that a woman’s vagina is somehow more “dirty” or “wrong” than a different part of her body, and it is only one of many examples of the Clean Reader app’s damaging, misguiding, and unwanted substitutions.

I do not believe that Page Foundry should be in the business of supporting censorship. I strongly encourage you to sever ties with Clean Reader, and to deny them access to your catalog of works. Page Foundry has nothing to gain from association with a developer whose only stated purpose is to alter written works without the consent of authors or publishers.

Very Sincerely,

A Concerned Reader

Jezebel Is All Over That Amazon Porn Crackdown Story From Two Years Ago

Hey, Jezebel! Awesome you could join us! Welcome to 2013, when Amazon went through a series of convulsions over the content in its erotica section, including a short period of blocking or banning “monster erotica” titles like that great American classic, Taken by the T-Rex.

What Amazon is or isn’t banning on any given day changes with the direction of the wind, the fall of the knucklebones, and the direction that Jeff Bezos’s tea swirls in that morning, so the monster erotica crackdown was only a major issue for authors for a week or two, after which it mostly went back to business as usual. Go to, type in “monster erotica,” and sort by publishing date, and you’ll find a couple dozen hits from this week alone, with literally thousands published in the year-plus since Business Insider mentioned the crackdown in a December 21, 2013 article that Jezebel linked to this morning (March 24, 2015, for those keeping score at home).

But far be it from intrepid Jezebel writer Karyn Polewaczyk to let the facts get in the way of a good story — she was all over that old, dried-out shit, reporting in the cheery present tense today that “Amazon Doesn’t Like Bigfoot Porn as Much as You Do.”


Absolutely the best part of her behind-the-times reportage? This darling little witticism: “Because morals matter, more than the idea of giving Bigfoot a blow jae (that’s “blow job,” but in a cool, French-ish way, kind of like when you say ‘Target’ but pronounce it ‘Tar-gay” to make 2003 seem relevant).”

Yes. Those tragic people, so behind the times and so desperately trying to seem relevant. Maybe make sure your linked sources aren’t two years old before you get on that high horse, Ms. Polewaczyk.

None of this is to say that Amazon doesn’t periodically block or ban titles for being the wrong sort of erotica, of course. Every month or two there’s some new keyword that erotica authors have to avoid, which leads to a shifting morass of euphemistic keywords where “taboo” means “incest” and everyone knows it — at least until someone who missed the memo reads something naughty and gets upset, at which point “taboo” will be out and it will become “intimate relations” or something like that.

It’s a pain in the ass (and not the fun kind) for both consumers and authors. But monster erotica hasn’t been on the chopping block for a couple years now, and that, kids, is why you don’t get your news from f*&%ing Gawker Media properties. Seriously, who does a story about a particular product being removed from Amazon, and doesn’t even go to the site and search for that specific product?

Welcome to the New Media, I guess.

Arabic-Language Pledge Super-Seriously Offends Relatives of Veterans Killed In Pashto- and Dari-Speaking Afghanistan

pledge-of-allegiance-Bellamy-saluteWell, America, this is where we’re at in 2015: we are literally offended by the existence and use of languages that aren’t English.

Or at least, that’s the takeaway from a charming little story in upstate New York, where the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic (during and part of “Foreign Languages Week,” mind you) upset people so much that Pine Bush High School issued an apology “to any students, staff or community members who found this activity disrespectful.”

In a nice Orwellian touch, they further promised that, from here on out, “the Pledge of Allegiance will only be recited in English as recommended by the Commissioner of Education” (not actually a requirement of New York’s Education Department, but good try at buck-passing), and told the senior class president who okayed the Arabic-language recitation that his services would no longer be needed during the daily announcements.

So yeah. There are apparently people in this country who consider it disrespectful to use Arabic. Like, at all. Neither New York nor America, as the BBC so dryly pointed out in their coverage, have an official language, nor has Congress ever suggested that the Pledge of Allegiance be exclusively English-language (materials translating it into major world languages are in fact available from multiple government agencies), but far be it from the good citizens of Pine Bush, NY, to let those inconveniences stay their ire. Enough residents to alarm the local school board hate Arabic so much that they would rather not hear it at all than hear it used to recite America’s Pledge of Allegiance, is the unavoidable conclusion of this story, and that is what I believe academics refer to as “straight up fucked.”

(To add stupid-icing to this national-embarrassment-cake, apparently some of these delicate souls were “district residents who had lost family members in Afghanistan.” The major Afghan languages, for those keeping score at home in Pine Bush, NY, are Pashto and Dari; Arabic is more commonly spoken in America than it is in Afghanistan.)

But let’s not get worked up over trivial details like what languages they speak in other countries. Let’s remember the fundamental issue here, which is that we have communities in America that are so fucked-up xenophobic their school board has to apologize if students read the Pledge of Allegiance in a foreign language. And we accept these as normal communities! Like, most of us driving through Pine Bush, NY, would not be rolling our windows up and locking our doors and saying “oh, fuck, I hope my car does not break down in the middle of this primitive fucking wasteland, where using the wrong language, even to perform one of the most ostentatiously patriotic rituals this country has, can incite hatred and fury.”

We would be like “oh, hey, that’s a town.” And that shit is, as previously mentioned, straight up fucked.

Not Treason, Probably Illegal, and Definitely Dangerous: Everything You Need to Know About the GOP’s Iran Letter

daily-news-traitors-coverWhen almost half the Senate signs a letter addressed to the government of a foreign nation, it raises some eyebrows.

When that letter suggests that the President of the United States lacks the authority to conduct the negotiations he is currently conducting with said nation, it raises more than eyebrows, and for good reason — it’s an unprecedented outreach in our nation’s diplomatic history.

Still, that’s no excuse for hyperbole. As enjoyable as it is to see Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, and Rand Paul splashed across the front page of the Daily News above the word “TRAITORS,” we’re looking at neither treason nor rebellion, nor any other attack on America or its government perpetrated by sitting senators.

A technical violation of the law and a dangerous, potentially disastrous diplomatic misstep, now, that’s another matter…

Background: Wait, What Letter?

Let’s start with the facts of the case for anyone who’s been living under a rock this past week or so: 47 sitting United States Senators, all of them Republicans, signed their names to a document dated March 9, 2015 and addressed “An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The letter characterized any international agreement not approved by Congress as “a mere executive agreement,” and suggested in reference to “any agreement regarding your [Iran’s] nuclear-weapons program” that “the next president could revoke such an agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.” The full text of the letter is reproduced below:

“An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system. Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution-the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices-which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.

First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them. In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote. A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate). Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.

Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics. For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms. As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then-perhaps decades.

What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time. We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.”

The signatures follow. The entire Republican caucus in the current US Senate signed the open letter to Iran, with the exceptions of:

  • Senator Lamar Alexander, R-TN
  • Senator Susan Collins, R-ME
  • Senator Bob Corker, R-TN
  • Senator Dan Coats, R-IN
  • Senator Thad Cochran, R-MS
  • Senator Jeff Flake, R-AZ
  • Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-AK

So what the heck was this? Mostly, this was an attempt to scuttle the current nuclear development negotiations between Iran and the “P5+1″ group of nations (Germany, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States). By suggesting that the Obama administration cannot sign a binding agreement without Congress, the Senators are effectively implying that the administration has no authority to negotiate at all. The letter comes right out and suggests that any agreement Iran reaches in the current negotiations could be “revoke[d]…with the stroke of a pen.”

The goal, fairly transparently, is to discourage any concrete agreement resulting from the current negotiations. Motivations for individual Senators in signing may vary, but it’s reasonably safe to assume that most of the signatories A) favor a war with Iran, which keeps the defense dollars flowing to their home states and their campaign coffers, as well as offering a chest-thumping talking point for elections, and B) would like to deny President Obama any achievement on any front, including international diplomacy, regardless of whether his achievements might benefit anyone or whether his failures might hurt anyone.

We’re Not at War, Iran Is Not an Enemy, and Writing a Letter Isn’t Treason

It’s unprecedented for a group of sitting Senators to formally address the leaders of another nation and suggest that the President of the United States can’t be negotiated with in good faith. But it is definitely not, despite many people’s irresponsible suggestions, treason.

Treason is a very specific crime. The Constitution lays it out:

“Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason…”

Writing a letter is certainly not, in and of itself, a levy of war. Nor are we at war with Iran, meaning they are not, by any legal definition, our “enemies.” Even if we were, it would be hard to prove that the letter represents any kind of “aid and comfort” to Iran.

So if you’ve been placing your faith in the front page of The New York Daily News (and please tell me you haven’t been), it’s time for a reality check: none of the Senatorial signatories to the “Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” have committed anything resembling treason.

On the Other Hand, Writing That Particular Letter Probably Was Illegal

Just because something isn’t treason, of course, doesn’t mean it can’t be a lesser crime.

An obscure-until-this-week law from 1799 called the Logan Act mandates fines and imprisonment for any United States citizen

“…who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States…”

The letter signed by the 47 Republican Senators almost certainly violates the Logan Act. That said, the act has almost never been used — the last indictment under the Logan Act was in 1803, and no one has ever been successfully prosecuted under it.

Practically speaking, it’s very hard to prosecute someone under a little-used law. Judges tend to be sympathetic toward the concept of “desuetude,” which argues that a law left unused for sufficiently long lapses its authority. (If you haven’t heard of the concept before, that’s because it doesn’t come up often — by its very nature, it’s only cited as a defense against very obscure laws, like the Logan Act.)

So if you’re hoping to see Tom Cotton and his fellow signatories hauled off for “not more than three years,” per the Logan Act, you probably don’t want to hold your breath. It’s not going to happen, and the Obama administration as a whole is canny enough not to risk loss of face by bringing a case they stand a good chance of losing against sitting Senators — although they’re probably thrilled to see other people floating the suggestion.

But Yeah, 47 Republican Senators Did Try Really Hard to Weaken America’s Influence Overseas

All that said and done, we’re not likely to see a whole lot of legal fallout for the open letter to Iran.

What we are going to see is political fallout, both at home and abroad.

Make no mistake: the Iranian side of the nuclear talks was thrilled to see this letter. It gave them an opportunity to portray the United States as an unreliable, untrustworthy partner — and to demand bigger concessions for even deigning to sit down with such transparently bad-faith negotiators. That’s fairly standard patter between any rival nations, of course, but it can rarely be made with a document from your rival’s legislative branch stating, right there under the official letterhead, that the rival government is, in fact, an unreliable negotiating partner.

Iranian officials have not been shy about beating up the United States and its negotiating position with the letter. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif (who holds two master’s degrees and a doctorate in international relations, and who may not have cared for the condescending tone of the Senatorial letter), acidly reminded the letter’s authors that “The conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by U.S. domestic law,” continuing,

“The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.”

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, added in a similar vein,

“All countries, according to the international norms, remain faithful to their commitments even after their governments change, but the American senators are officially announcing that at the end of the term of their current government, their commitments will be considered null and void.”

He cast the entire episode as evidence of America’s decadent and declining culture — again, pretty standard patter for Iranian officials, but rarely supported by actual evidence of a crumbling governmental structure. (Not that we don’t have plenty of that at home; it’s just not often directly relevant to Iran’s interests.)

European critics have been more muted, but it’s important to remember that these are multilateral negotiations, with Russia, China, France, Germany, and the UK at the table as well as Iran and the United States. If the deal falls through, leaving Iran with no agreement in place to curtail its nuclear activities, our negotiating partners will be eager to blame anyone but themselves. Right now, the United States, as the only country involved whose government openly suggested that the negotiations couldn’t be trusted, is making a pretty tasty fall guy.

That’s embarrassing, but for those who consider curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions an important goal, it’s also tactically relevant: the United States alone doesn’t really have the economic muscle to cripple Iran with sanctions, and relies on a fairly unified international front to make sanctions a really effective deterrent. If European and Asian nations see an excuse to openly bail on international sanctions, blaming the United States rather than Iran for rising tensions, it takes that tool off the table entirely.

We probably won’t ever see any of these Senators locked up for what they did — and electoral politics in the United States being what they are these days, we probably won’t even see many of them booted out of office. Given the real-world consequences of their action, that’s a shame.

When Has Hollywood Sex Ever Looked Good or Healthy?

fifty-shades-of-grey-coverWith all the fuss about the “50 Shades of Grey” movie coming out this Valentine’s Day weekend, now seems like a good time to pause, take a deep breath, and remember that basically no sexual relationships, as portrayed on the big screen by Hollywood studios, resemble anything like a healthy real-life dynamic. (For that matter, most of the off-screen relationships in Tinseltown aren’t so great, either.)

So, sure. The movie, and the book before it, portray a hero who is by any sane definition abusive, and a troubled heroine who could really use some supportive friends (and better lovers) telling her to get the hell out.

But the same is probably true of your favorite rom-com. (Every year, the thing that sets my teeth most on edge during the holiday season is the number of otherwise intelligent friends who seem to like, without irony, the creepfest that is “Love Actually.”) Most Hollywood males, in romantic plots, are manipulators at the very least; most women somewhere between victims and “dating down” taken to its most extreme imbalance.

Nor is the sex itself, as portrayed on screen, anything to celebrate as an instruction in satisfying lovemaking. The clothes-tearing, blanket-mussing frenzy of dude-on-top, penis-in-vagina sex that somehow manages to never flash a breast here or a ballsack there isn’t much of a primer for how a couple of human beings can get one another off — although the 30-60ish seconds of screentime, followed by a fade to black or a cut, might not be the worst estimate of the average Hollywood-trained male’s endurance.

Which is fine. Movies are entertainment, not how-to guides, and the same is true of “50 Shades.” As the ever-so-talented Erika Moen said in her comic-review over at Oh Joy Sex Toy,

“I’m just not into policing what people are allowed to find arousing in their fantasy porn…I have faith in people to understand [sic] that the fictional book they are reading is just a trashy two-dimensional fantasy to get their juices flowing and not the blueprints by which to construct their actual relationships. But that’s just me.”

There are arguments to be made about how popular culture shapes social expectations (and vice versa), but those arguments are weakest when they lean on a single “bad example” document or text as a stand-in for all of culture. “50 Shades” is not going to start a sudden and heretofore nonexistent rash of bad relationships disguised as kink play. Those relationships were already out there. “50 Shades” is, if anything, a tolerable example of many extant dynamics in the proudly kinky and 50-Shades-hating community, although the men involved usually have less money and more facial hair.

Insofar as there are people who read “50 Shades” as their very first introduction to BDSM and run out looking for a guy to spank them even when they scream “no” — and those people do exist, to be sure — the solution is not less trashy porn. The solution is a better level of sexual literacy in our culture. People should have better options for learning about BDSM (and sex in general) that are as ubiquitous and easy to acquire as “50 Shades.”

So don’t boycott the movie or the book, any more than you were already planning to skip on a non-principled, literary-quality stance. (And in particular stay away from the “$50 Not 50 Shades” campaign, which is run by anti-porn, anti-sex worker activists — no friends to kink or healthy sexuality themselves.)

Instead, go out and buy something from your friendly neighborhood sex store. Have some sex that doesn’t look like any Hollywood movie at all, if you’ve got a partner or partners to do that with. Talk about sex with your friends. Be part of a culture that celebrates education and variety of expression, rather than clamping down reflexively on anything that’s not the “right way” to have sex.

“50 Shades” is a bad book that has been made into a (presumably) bad movie. But it’s not a societal problem — or rather, it’s one small part of a societal problem that, let’s face it, most people were less vocally upset about when it came dressed in artfully rumpled bedsheets rather than leather and chain.


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