I’ve been following the arguments/outrage over the widespread availability of very special interest literature (a.k.a. “Forced By Big Brother” and “Fucked By Daddy And The Dog” incest/bestiality porn), mostly self-published, on Amazon and elsewhere.

The Daily Mail jumped on the story. It’s hit the BBC. WHSmith’s shut their entire site over it, because nothing says “we don’t know what the fuck just happened” like hitting the big red SHUT IT DOWN button, Amazon pulled identified titles from their listings, and this morning Kobo yanked all self-published material while it could sift through the mess.

Looking at the mess - which is not something I’ve ever wanted to do when dealing with the aftermath of erotica, it seems this has all blown up very late in the day. This drivel has been available for a very long time on all these retailers (from memory, during the Leathergate affair of last year, one of his loudest defenders was a writer of exactly this kind of stuff and we all pointed and tutted and laughed and this debate never happened then). It seemed, somehow, to spin out of the discovery of dinosaur porn on Amazon. A more innocent, happier time, when we were merely amused and mildly horified at the notion of kink fiction written for people who want to read about dinosaurs having sex with humans.

(To which I wonder: do people not know that there’s porn for everything on the internet? Dinosaurs, robots, zombies, planes (having sex with other anthropomorphised planes). I guarantee if you google for “Chuggington porn” you’ll get some shonky MS Paint images of Dunbar coupling with Olwin’s funnel. I haven’t tried because I believe doing so would put me on some kind of register. But dude, Rule 34.)

It’s important not to forget that what we’re dealing with is fiction, written non-visual fiction which, unless the real-world incidence of incest and abuse is considerably higher than numbers suggest, is probably playing to a fetish market rather than an army of would-be abusers. Yes, it’s a weird and horrible fetish, or cluster of fetishes, but so is scat porn and apparently that has enough adherents to have spawned its own slang terms. It’s also bafflingly specific in some cases - “Yeah, I’m looking for incest rape porn, but only if it involves nappy-wearing. If it’s not that demeaning, frankly I can’t get off.”

Which rather puts me in mind of Black Books and Bernard trying to shelter in an adult video shop by pretending to be a customer.

Bernard: Do you have anything with nurses?

Pornographer: Yeah, sure, all sorts.

Bernard: What kinds of nurses?

Pornographer: Well, ones with big tits!

Bernard: No, I’m more interested in nurses who do paperwork, filing, that sort of thing.

Pornographer: That’s very specific. Oh how about this? {Shows him another video} “Administrative Nurses”, £40.

Bernard: Sorry, that should say “Senior Administrative Nurses”, that’s really the only thing I’m interested in.

{The pornographer lifts his thumb to reveal the video’s full title, “Senior Administrative Nurses”}

Bernard: Well, maybe we could sit down, open a bottle of wine and watch it together?

The principal faults here seem to be, in the case of Amazon, not keeping a close enough eye on their own (fairly reasonable) guidelines and not watching what gets auto-suggested in search box dropdowns, and in the case of WHSmith, not paying any notice at all to what their internal search engine was happy to throw up. Even the Pirate Bay had/has (I haven’t checked which is true) a default-to-no tickbox for including porn in the results of your search. There are other, slightly less “HEY LOOK WE HAVE PORN HERE” ways of filtering results to ensure that Bred By Bigfoot doesn’t rock up in your innocent search for cryptozoological writings, of course. Large retailers don’t seem to have considered that such things might be needed, which rather suggests they haven’t used the internet much.

The pulling of books by retailers is not censorship. It’s simply businesses choosing what they will stock and display on their (virtual) shelves, as they are entirely entitled to do. If I were running a massive retailer with shareholders and public image to worry about, yes, I’d be damned careful too.

(Running 3NJ, the erotica question came up quite early on and I decided not to wall it off into its own sealed garden. Both because it’s text-only, and because it’s all clearly genre-marked so very easy to avoid. A more recent, and much more sticky question, has been whether to separate LGBT erotica from straight for the practical reason that that’s a pretty clear audience split between the two. As of yet, they remain joined.)

I do, though, worry about some of the suggestions and arguments I’ve seen raging on Twitter and elsewhere, most along the lines of BAN THIS SICK FILTH, and the slightly softer “but why wouldn’t you? No one sane wants this stuff and it can’t but be harmful”.

I’ve seen apparently rational people saying that because the acts depicted are illegal, so should be the fiction itself. That’s a frankly silly argument; the acts depicted in many books are illegal. I’ve killed scores of fictional people in books, often in horrible ways. Killing people in horrible ways is illegal unless you’re a government agency. Since you’re not also demanding that the entire crime section of your local store be wiped clear, I think it’s safe to say that the legality of a real-world act should have no de facto bearing on the legality of its fictional counterpart (note: we’re not talking about material that is already illegal under, say, child porn statutes, and/or involves actual real harm to real people in the making of).

(Bullshit straw man counterargument I just made up in my head: “They’re depicted in ways suggesting they’re a good thing (for one side, at least). That’s not right.” To which I say: Clearly, my dear Mr Straw, you’ve never read/seen Fight Club. Or Batman. Or Robin Hood. Or any of the other fiction glorifying the illegal. Look, just shut up; this line of argument is ridiculous.)

People claim that allowing fictional depictions of real-life horrors like, say, rape in a way that will feed the fantasies of those inclined to commit them in real life and cause real-world suffering to real people.

A viable argument if true, for sure, but one where the actual evidence - primarily from visual and interactive media, let alone the written word - is scanty at best, and goes both ways.

For many, many, many years, people have declared that the glorification and availability of violence, sex, or sexual violence in books, film, TV and computer games will inexorably lead to greater levels of the same in society. That by allowing the fiction we invite the reality. That we are contributing to the slide of society into a moral abyss.

(Note the weird bar-setting that goes on between them all, too. You can cut off multiple heads or torture someone to death in film or game or book with nary more than an 18 rating. Show an erect cock happily minding its own business, though, and suddenly you’ve broken the rules.)

This, despite the overall opening up of all forms of media to the depiction of events and actions that would never have been allowed in the past, has clearly not happened. Indeed, as far as I’m aware, the occurrence of violent crime and abuse of all kinds has lowered over time (from memory, in the UK at least). One could point to better reporting methods, better policing, increased prosperity, greater awareness of issues such as child abuse etc. etc. as factors in this. I’m not sure popular culture (or, in this case, distinct subculture) influence really deserves a look-in either yea or nay. For every argument that it raises tendencies to commit in the real world is a counter-argument that relief through fantasy, whether by blasting the shit out of people in GTA or by wanking to My Little Pony porn on the net, lowers the desire to commit.

(If someone has actual evidence, of course, I’d be happy to change my mind.)

Where there have been examples of people acting out something they’ve seen (generally, rather than read), you could easily argue in such cases that the person in question has seen/obsessed over the material in question as a result of a pre-occurring mental disposition towards sadism or violence, and that the viewing is symptom more than cause.

Until someone comes forward with evidence of harm done by reading weird and, to my mind at least, deeply unpleasant fetish porn fiction ebooks, stories written without anyone else being involved let alone harmed by the experience (compare with abusive practices and power dynamics in, say, legal gonzo porn films), I can’t see any rational reason to ban them. I would, were I a mainstream bookstore, be a lot more careful about selling them, and in particular about how easy it is for customers to accidentally find them, though.

Don’t make it too hard, though. I rely on Bred By Bigfoot for my standard joke ebook link.