Friday, November 17, 2006

Censorship? Or good taste?

Several years ago, controversial author Bret Easton Ellis shocked the publishing world -- and readers -- with his book American Psycho, which, the story went, several editors at Simon and Schuster refused to edit because they didn't feel they could participate in the publication of a book that glorified the brutalization of women. Ultimately the publisher agreed and pulled the book, which was subsequently was published by Vintage. At the time several booksellers around the country agreed with S&S's take on the novel about a murderous Wall Street trader and refused to sell it.

More recently HarperCollins' sales force asked booksellers to buy a book blind from Regan Books (a subsidiary of Fox news), not knowing who the author was, but assuring them it was going to be a bestseller. Some bought into the hype; others didn't. Now we learn that the title of the book is IF I DID IT, by non other than O.J. Simpson, who says it's merely a detailed, hypothetical account of how he might have brutally killed his wife and her waiter friend. If he'd done it. Judith Regan, publisher, views it a little differently, stating that she sees it as his confession.

Meanwhile, booksellers are again having to make moral judgments. Most don't want to carry it; some are stuck with copies they bought blind; others don't want to sell it, but will special order for customers who ask; still others don't want to stock it, but also don't believe in censorship.

So, what do y'all think? Should this book have been published? (Even the always outspoken Bill O'Reilly, of Fox, says his company has "sunk to a new low.") Should booksellers sell it? Will people read it, putting, I assume, royalties into O.J.'s bank account?

25 comments:

JoAnn Ross said...

Btw, reading this online, I realize I should clarify that my title about "good taste" referred my opinion of booksellers who chose not to sell it. It certainly did NOT refer to the book, which, imo, is in the worst possible taste.

Tracey said...

Here's my take. The very idea that OJ Simpson would write such a book about a woman he proclaimed to love till her dying breath is plan dispicable. Having said that, I hate censorship. I think it should be up to the bookstore owner as to whether or not they sell it. On the up-side perhaps something will emerge from the pages that will get around the double jeapordy portion of murder trials and he can be re-tried again for the crime.

L. Faye Hughes said...

When I first heard the news about the book and the upcoming special on Fox TV, I thought it as some kind of a macabre joke.

I still do.

It's a thorny issue for me. I don't support censorship...even when it comes to a reprehensible project like this one. However, I won't buy the book, nor will I watch the TV special. I have a hunch, though, that a lot of other people will.

Faye

Shanna Swendson said...

It would be nice if censorship didn't have to be an issue because the public as a whole rejected the very concept. If this book sinks like a rock, it would definitely send a clear message.

Unfortunately, I doubt that will happen. I just don't get why people care about OJ or any other celebrity. I guess I'm in the minority because I don't really want to know much about any of these people. I don't care about Britney and her ex, Anna Nicole, or any other quasi-celebrity who doesn't actually do much of anything, and for those who actually produce work, I'd rather let the work speak for itself without all their personal baggage behind it.

In other words, I won't be altering any of my usual patterns to boycott this book or the TV specials.

Gina Black said...

I'll never support censorship, but HC should not have lied to the booksellers, and I think that people should boycott the book. That's what will really work.

Since publishing is a business, decisions on what to publish are based on money making potential. It would be lovely for HC to discover they made a Big Mistake on this one.

JoAnn Ross said...

There's a TV special? Oh yeah, thinking about it, I knew that. Well, yuck. And wouldn't you just love to be the poor reporter assigned to do that interview?

I, too, would love to see this book sink like a rock, but I also suspect that it's going to have hugely good numbers on Amazon, where people who don't want to be seen reading it, can buy it anonymously.

Hey, maybe this is one time the used book market will be a good thing; if all those Amazon customers buy used rather than spring for the bucks new, at least he won't earn royalties.

Nancy Morse said...

Of course the book should have been published. And readers should be able to decide whether or not they want to read anything that skunk has to say. Personally, I wouldn't read it if they were handing it out for free. But it would be wrong not to publish something just because it's objectionable or, as in this case, dispicable. I also won't waste my time watching the TV interview. I'm with you, Shanna. I've had the Anna Nicole's, Britney's, Paris Hilton's and Brangelina's of the world up to here. I feel like screaming, go do your jobs, and leave us the heck alone. Although, come to think of it, does Paris Hilton actually have a job?

Lois Winston said...

I've never been in favor of censorship, but I do believe that both HC and Fox have sunk to new lows with this book and TV show. Sure, OJ had the right to write it (although, I strongly suspect the book was ghost-written), but one has to wonder about the motives of HC and Fox. Oh yeah, the almighty dollar. Silly me. Well, personally, I hope every one of those books winds up on the remainders table and the show bombs like Geraldo opening Al Capone's vault. And who will read the book and watch the show? Probably the same sort of people who would have packed the Coliseum to watch gladiators fight to the death. That was sick, and so is this.

JoAnn Ross said...

The censorship issue is interesting to me. What are the limits? Obviously not legality, because there have been lots of books written by crooks and people in prison about their crimes.

So, I guess, if O.J.'s book was explaining how he really did it (and having gotten off, he could do that without being tried again), then that would be okay, too? And I'm not arguing, because I don't have a black and white opinion and am just thinking out loud. Obviously a child pornographer's story about what he'd done would be out of bounds. Wouldn't it? Maybe we could use some publishing ethicists the way there are medical ethicists?

One thing I'm not quite clear on; the families haven't made any money from him on their civil suit; how is it he's able to sell this book without the money going to them? Doesn't the Son of Sam law apply in this case?

The thing that breaks my heart is thinking of the children. Yeah, he must really love them, dumping this new scandal on their poor heads.

Kate Douglas said...

My husband's comment nailed it: "how could OJ possibly have time to write a book--isn't he still looking for the killer?" I find the whole concept disgusting beyond belief and my heart goes out to his poor children and the families of the victims. I can't get beyond my revulsion of the project to have an opinion on whether or not a bookseller should carry the book.

gailbarrett said...

This is just sick. I really wish the publishers had refused to publish the book. OJ's acquittal was terrifying for abused women everyone and a travesty of our justice system. Personally, I wouldn't read this if you paid me. Unfortunately, other people will read it and I've already heard that the income from the book can be sheltered so that his victims' families don't get it. No, we shouldn't have censorship, per se, but it is sad that publishers are so greedy that they will publish something immoral just to make a buck. I hope that the publisher takes a lot of heat for this and I'm glad that bookstores are canceling their orders.

Anonymous said...

Let's look at it this way: why SHOULD this book have been published? Every year, millions of books aren't. No one calls that censorship because the decision not to buy the book is commercial, not moral.

So . . . do we define censorship as making publishing decisions for non-commercial reasons? Is it okay to publish something, anything, as long as it breaks no laws AND makes money?

Not in my world.

Eileen

Sue Palmer said...

I hope no one buys the book. That isn't censorship and it isn't a reflection on the color of his skin. It's the sincere hope that the man doesn't profit from the horrific crime he committed. Shame on FOX for putting profit over common decency. Let the victims lie in peace.

Laura Drewry said...

It amazes me how low people will go to make a buck. I don't believe in censorship, either, but should that even be a factor in something like this? Shouldn't the publisher say "uh, yeah - NO!" And shouldn't the reading public stand up and say the same thing?

He has yet to pay one cent from the civil suit brought against him, because it's all stuck in appeals court. How convenient for him. and while I'm trying my best to get over myself, and look at it from a much more liberal side of my brain, I still can't get past the question of what good he thinks will come of this? Has he given any consideration to his children and what they've been through and what they're still going through?

Kelly Cournoyer said...

When I first heard about it I thought maybe I heard wrong. It makes me wonder why kind of person would actually want to pay for this book and put money in OJ's pockets. People get embarrassed by admitting they read romance books but there are people that read that kind of book, I don't get it. What also irkes me is that there are so many great authors out there hoping like crazy they get published with wonderful stories and here comes this type of book. This coming from a person who doesn't believe in censorship, and yet, where do we draw the line. We can only be responsible for our own participation in this and not give a cent towards glorifiying someone's obvious confession to a horrible crime. I guess he desires to be in the spotlight once again.

Susan Vaughan said...

While I was revolted and horrified at the announcement of O.J.'s book, I don't condone censorship. But the publishers of this book have sunk lower than pond scum. And what was O.J. thinking? Does the man want the spotlight at all costs? Negative publicity is better than no publicity? As a former teacher, I'm reminded of students who misbehave to get attention. I heartily wish people would boycott the book, but they probably won't. Such is human nature.

JoAnn Ross said...

Having spent waay more time than I'd like researching sociopaths for my serial killer books, I'd say he's a poster boy for that certain breed of egocentric killers. (Sort of like that woman who tried to kill her children so she could be with her lover who didn't want kids and drove really slowly to the hospital, making Ann Rule a household name when she wrote the true crime story.) Everything has to be all about him. All the time. The amazing thing is that until the murders, I'd always sworn he couldn't act.

I was looking to try to find what the advance was (and yes, he did use a ghost writer, natch, and wouldn't you - NOT! -- want to take that job) because I'd read online that it was a $3.5 million contract with a $2 million advance, which I haven't been able to substantiate.

But meanwhile, from the Fox website: Noted publisher Judith Regan will talk with Simpson in a wide-ranging, no-holds-barred interview that will be the basis of a two-part special, O.J. SIMPSON: IF I DID IT, HERE’S HOW IT HAPPENED (working title), airing Monday, Nov. 27 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) and Wednesday, Nov. 29 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

Okay, first of all, this suggests to me that no "real" reporter on Fox was willing to dirty his or her hands. Plus, how "no-holds barred" can an interview with the publisher of a book that's coming out the day after the interview be?

Colleen Thompson said...

Great discussion.

This is a real test of our belief in the First Amendment. I believe it is protected speech, however much I despise this exploitative piece of trash. What truly dismays me is the willingness of the American public to flock to order the lowest of the low (check the book's Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com's rankings) while virtually ignoring National Book Award and Pullitzer nominees.

But then, people have been flocking to carnage since the lions snacked on Christians in the Roman coliseums and no one's ever gone broke appealing to people's baser nature.

Also, I had to scratch my head at Judith Reagan's explanation of why she published the book (supposedly because she feels a kinship with abused women and wishes to expose guys like O.J.). Exposing him is one thing; profiting's something completely different.

Anonymous said...

After dating Rush Limbaugh, nothing Judith Regan surprises me. She and Simpson are two of a kind, as far as I'm concerned, and I'm sure she approached him to "write" the book, not the other way round. I do believe we would have heard if he was shopping the idea for the book around.

That said, I can't support censorship and will hope the marketplace will act as the censor--although it might be the only way Ron Goldman's family ever sees a penny from him.

Angelle said...

Judith Regan is claiming that she thought the money would go to OJ's children. Whatever. She compared OJ's book to Hitler's Mein Kampf. ("If you doubt that, ask the mainstream publishers who keep Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ in print to this day. … There is historical value in such work … for anyone who wants to gain insight into the mind of a sociopath")

I wonder what historical value OJ's book provides to the world.

Her defense is available at http://apnews.myway.com//article/20061117/D8LETS3O0.html

JoAnn Ross said...

Thanks for posting that link angelle; at least it turns out Regan and I agree on one thing: the guy's definitely a textbook sociopath.

Eileen Wilks said...

Everyone prefaces their comments by saying they're opposed to censorship. But this isn't about the Fourth Amendment--which addresses GOVERNMENT censorship. I'm inalterably opposed to government censorship. But like most people, I practices a form of self-censorship--I refuse to watch a particular TV show or buy a particular book (like O.J.'s) because I'm offended by it. So the question really is: do we want publishers to draw a moral line concerning what they will publish? Not the government. Publishers.

Lines are drawn all the time about what is and isn't publishable . . . and they're based on the bottom line. This is corporate morality: if it makes money, it's good. If it loses money, it's bad. If we claim that corporate censorship--censorship based on a moral value other than profitability--is wrong, we have to applaud Judith Regan's courage in publishing OJ's account of how he might have killed his wife . . . if he'd done it. (Pardon me while I gag.)

Personally, I feel that censorship is like killing. In almost all circumstances, killing is wrong. But in some circumstances it's necessary, and I don't think we have that much trouble agreeing on what those circumstances are. For example, soldiers are trained to kill. It's an essential part of their duty, the ability to kill those believed to pose a threat to our nation. We put "support the troops" bumper stickers on our cars because we accept this necessity. In a similar way, I believe censorship is wrong . . . in almost all circumstances. But not all. In this case, I believe OJ's book should never have been published. With the Internet, he could have gotten his story out anyway--without anyone making money from Nicole Simpson's murder.

Ellen said...

My feelings on this have been voiced above, very eloquently, so there isn't much to add.

It's sick and wrong. Since I don't believe in censorship, I can only refuse to buy the book and hope others have the human decency not to buy it either.

His poor kids. The poor victims' families. Happy Thanksgiving to them. Argh. :(

PatriciaKay.com said...

I agree with Eileen Wilks. I think the publisher should have refused to publish this disgusting piece of trash. I don't call that censorship. I call it principled publishing. And Judith Regan dated Rush Limbaugh? Well, that explains everything . . .

JoAnn Ross said...

Okay, having read all the comments, I think we're all mostly in agreement, but Eileen probably stated my position best. And Pat, I like that idea of "principled publishing." That's exactly how I felt when the S&S editors refused to edit American Psycho.

During the Watergate years, I refused to buy books from crooks. Guess I'm not going to have to amend that to read that I refuse to buy books from stone-cold killers.

Oh, a little personal history. Two days after the "slow speed chase", HQ flew me up to Canada to give a luncheon speech at a meeting of all their foreign publishers and editors. EVERYONE of them asked me about O.J. Seems they'd all been watching that chase back at home. In places as disparate as Korea, Romania, France, and Great Britain. That's when I realized how much CNN had shrunk our world.