Censorship: The government says, “No, you cannot publish that.”
Not censorship: Your consumers say, “No, I find this problematic and I will not buy it.”
As you may have heard, John Grisham gave an interview with The Telegraph in which he lambasted the US judicial system for excessive incarceration—including that of “Sixty-year-old white men in prison” whose only crimes were consuming child pornography.
“…But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn.”
I’m bemused that someone who writes legal thrillers thinks being drunk is exculpatory when you break the law. (Or maybe he just thinks it is for white men? I can’t imagine why he’d think the system works differently for rich white guys.) Regardless, as proof of his thesis, Grisham spoke of a friend who was caught in a child porn sting and served three years in prison:
"His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled ‘sixteen year old wannabee hookers’ or something like that. And it said ‘16-year-old girls’. So he went there. Downloaded some stuff - it was 16 year old girls who looked 30.
"He shouldn’t ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys.
See, it wasn’t THAT bad; Child porn isn’t so terrible when the subjects are teenage girls. We have no idea what website his friend actually looked at***, but the way Grisham chooses to demonstrate the relative frivolity of the crime is to describe the children on the site as “sixteen-year-old wannabe hookers.”
I do not have the stomach to engage in a discussion about levels of acceptability in child pornography—even writing this post is making me physically ill. The point here is that, yet again, we have someone using teenage girls (especially, I suppose, slutty ones) as a signifier for people who aren’t worth quite as much as other people. And when you speak this way about teenage girls who are victims of sex crimes, it perpetuates the culture that creates these crimes.
Is Mr. Grisham under the impression that these hypothetical girls actually aspire to prostitution? And this is, what, resumé-building? Or is he just trying to imply that they are super slutty, and so really are choosing this? Does he believe that child porn featuring teenage girls can in any way be a consensual act? Or does that part not matter?
I’m guessing it’s that last one—it doesn’t matter— since his entire discussion is based around the act of looking at these images with little to no awareness of the humanity of the children in them. What matters, to him, is the excessive persecution of the pedophile. Because it’s they who are the real victims here.
That’s the thing—implicit in his comments is the idea that child pornography just happens, and when men of a certain age get drunk and poke around on the internet they cannot help but stumble upon it. Ah, well. No harm done. Who put that porn there? It’s not like they’re perverted or something.
So, what does it mean when comments that diminish the harm of consuming child pornography come from someone who writes bestselling books for children?
I am not going to complain about celebrity authors writing children’s books—guaranteed bestsellers mean publishers can take chances on books whose success is not guaranteed. I cannot comment on the quality of Grisham’s middle grade series, and I cannot say whether or not these books are a cash grab on Grisham’s part or if he truly feels called to write books for young readers (though he has joked that he started the books because he was bitter at being displaced by JK Rowling as the bestselling author in the world.)
Whatever his motivations, these books have sold the requisite crapload of copies; in other words, lots of people are making lots of money on John Grisham: Children’s Book Author.
So my question is: When one of the most famous authors in the western world uses his platform to say that viewing child porn isn’t so bad, really, does the industry have an obligation to respond? Does his children’s book publisher? When he argues that a guy should get a free pass for downloading pornographic pictures of underage girls, what does that mean to a business that depends so much on the dollars of underage girls? How much of a stand do we take for our customers? What is the line here?
Sure, Grisham has apologized. Naturally, a statement was issued. Mistakes were made. Words were said. Regrets were regretted.
But is that enough?
I do believe that when you profit off kids, you have a moral obligation to serve and honor those kids, and I know that this industry is full of people who care a great deal about that obligation. So, what happens now?
Authors are allowed to be jerks and still get book contracts. But when an immensely powerful man with international visibility essentially excuses the consumers of child pornography, when he acts like child pornography is a victimless crime, what does it say if the children’s book industry continues to give him a platform? When we profit off selling his books to the very kids he has essentially pooh-poohed the exploitation of?
I don’t know the answer. But I think it’s worth asking the question.
[EDIT: ****Aaaaand it turns out that yes, Grisham was actually using “sixteen-year-old girls” to make things seem not-quite-so-bad, because his friend was exchanging images of kids younger than twelve as well. The friend, it seems, served 18 months in prison, and Grisham—not at all trading in on his celebrity—wrote a letter advocating this guy get reinstated to the bar. Because trading in child pornography shouldn’t keep you from being able to practice law. And acting like it’s not that big a deal, apparently, shouldn’t keep you from publishing highly visible children’s books with a major publisher.]
When the hell did Grisham start writing for kids?
I happen to feel very personally about teenage girls. They are my fan base, my characters, my friends. I love teenage girls. I read Grisham’s justification and, being in the middle of three crises, I put it aside. The thought of this flabby southern good ol’ boy snarking about my girls … about kids, about excusing a lawyer who ignored the law, who added his coins to the kiddie porn industry—I wonder if anyone has written Grisham’s publisher?
yes the US is awful as fuck but can we stop using that to pretend canada and england are like these holy grails of acceptance
what evidence do you have that canada is not a holy grail of acceptance
especially when compared to the u.s.
well hey aren’t you lucky I was just actually going through the tags of this post and screen capping some of the stuff said from people who live in canada along with england and a few from australia! I’m having a harder time finding spcifics through google (mostly because I’m kinda shitty at googling this stuff) but hey I’ll add what I’ve found so far and continue to add to this post the more I find (idk if you live in canda or not)
we’re starting with screen caps
(obviously there is racism in canada but otherwise yeah)
now for the links (I’m still looking into more because I honestly am not the best with research)
http://egale.ca/all/every-class/ (homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, lesbophobia)
http://queerspectres.tumblr.com/post/100525671684/most-people-especially-non-canadians-arent (discussion of multiple things including poverty and racism)
please if anyone knows any more links/sources I would extremely appreciate it if you added them. currently my set is rather lacking. the links can be for canada along with other places like the uk
I’m saying this flat out. I’m not here to give cookies to countries for not being as shitty as they could be. I’m not here to say “oh man!! you’re not quite as horrible as this other country!!! woW SO ACCEPTING” nah fuck that we need to stop being so US centric and glorifying other countries because it’s shitty and erasive as fuck.
racism, sexism, homophbia, and transphobia are rampant across canada and if you think otherwise you are 100% ignorant to your own country’s problems. Canada doesnt deserve a cookie, nevermind being called “the holy grail”, for being marginally less vocal about its hate towards marginalized people. Dont deny the harm we put marginalized people through on the daily, in doing so you normalize it as acceptable and praise worthy
Fun fact about American health care: if I ever need an organ transplant, I’ll somehow have to hide my autism, depression, and anxiety from the doctors, or else I’ll be disqualified under ideas about quality of life. It’s really great to know how valued disabled and neurodivergent lives are.
So here’s a thing many people don’t know about me: I used to be a medical data analyst. (I still do it occasionally, but not as a full-time job.) It’s a pretty self-explanatory job: I took data - often in enormous datasets - and analyzed it to find patterns. (Obviously, we couldn’t associate these with individual patients; this was just after HIPAA had come into effect, and so this data was very heavily scrubbed to remove any identifiable information.)
One of the patterns I looked for was quality of life and quality of care for people with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI). For our purposes, that meant major depression, bipolar disorder, general anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and “other SPMI” (I encourage you to not send me messages telling me how those categories are terrible, because a) it was ten years ago and b) I wasn’t in charge of the categories.) In particular, we looked at injury, illness, and death in people with SPMI, compared with the general population, while they were in the hospital and at certain intervals after they were released (30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 180 days, and 1 year).
People with severe and persistent illness were much more likely to become ill and/or die in the hospital or shortly after discharge than the “general population”. People with schizophrenia had nearly ten times the deaths while in the hospital, and twelve times the injuries and illnesses.
Just as telling were the notes associated with the patient records. There was a significant pattern in the terminology used. In patients in the “general population”, doctors tended to use the word “is”: for example, “patient is suffering from abdominal cramping”. In patients with SPMI, doctors tended to use the phrase “claims to be”: for example, “patient claims to be suffering from abdominal cramping”.
It was clear to us that medical professionals - in general, I know for a fact that there are doctors out there who don’t do this - were assuming that patients with severe and persistent mental illness were inventing some, if not all, of their symptoms - that the symptoms were not real, and therefore did not need to be treated.
And because of that, these patients were falling ill and dying at alarming rates.
This isn’t personal anecdotes. I spent more than a year analyzing this data - which came from actual hospitals in the United States - and finding these patterns. There’s a problem here.
(I would prefer not to give out the name I was using then in public here, but if you’re interested, message me privately and I’ll see if I can get you links to the articles.)
I* believe there is similar data on Developmental Disabilities. In policy discussions it is not uncommon to hear health issues, both mental and physical, attributed to the DD without investigating if it were accurate or not.