Free Expression: French and US Industries’ New Challenges

From Publishing Perspectives:

For some time, the United States book market has stood as the de facto capital of the world’s far-right efforts in literary censorship.

A new government-imposed limitation on sales of a novel for young readers in France, however, is drawing stark criticism as censorship: Support for Manu Causse’s Bien trop petit (Far Too Small) from Éditions Thierry Magnier now includes the full-throated backing of the powerful French publishers’ association, the Syndicat national de l’édition (SNE).

The SNE has issued a particularly forthright demand for a review of a 74-year-old law used by the French national government to limit sales of a single children’s book.

The association writes in a terse statement delivered today to the international press corps, “The National Publishing Union (SNE) recalls its unwavering attachment to the principles of freedom of creation and publication, in compliance with the legal provisions intended to protect minors.

“Taking note of the decree of July 17, 2023, prohibiting the sale to minors of Manu Causse’s work Far Too Small published by Éditions Thierry Magnier—taken in accordance with the law of July 16, 1949, revised in 2011—the SNE requests that [there be] carried out an evaluation of the system for the protection of minors established by this law. The SNE questions the consistency and effectiveness of the rules defined almost 75 years ago when the main current vectors of exposure of minors to the content covered by the law did not exist.”

Not only is this case clearly defined and—thanks to the SNE—now very high-profile, but its content lies in areas that society isn’t always comfortable discussing, even in the name of free expression: young male sexuality.

This makes it, of course, of particular value as an instance in which publishing can test its own critical allegiance to producing its best work and resisting self-censorship.

The author Manu Causse’s Bien trop petit was published in September as part of a series, Éditions Thierry Magnier’s Collection L’Ardeur.

In the publisher’s descriptive copy about the book, accompanying an audio sample from the novel, Éditions Thierry Magnier writes:

“A novel full of humor that explores the complexity of adolescence and a tribute to the powers of the imagination in the construction of our sexualities.

“Grégoire has a small penis. If he had never really realized it, after the derogatory comments of his comrades at the swimming pool, he is forced to face the facts. He’s convinced that his love and sexual life is now over before it even started because of this insurmountable flaw.

“His immediate solution to cope with his frustration: take refuge in his fan fiction. He has been writing for a long time the adventures of the brave Max Égrogire and his sidekick, the beautiful Chloé Rembrandt. But this time, his story will take an unexpected turn since Grégoire writes an erotic passage for the first time. And among his readers, one person will challenge him: Kika encourages him, jostles him a little, and pushes him to go farther.

“From message to message, Grégoire delivers the sequel to Chloé Rembrandt’s erotic adventures to Kika. Through their exchanges, he explores his own fantasies and can’t believe he can share them with someone. Perhaps excitement and desire can go through many other things than bodily contact?”

According to French press accounts, the publisher wasn’t aware until July 18 that France’s interior ministry had issued a decree on the book, which is said to have had an initial print run of 2,500 copies with sales of some 500. Apparently, however, the book had been reported by the Commission for the Supervision and Control of Publications for  Youth to the interior ministry in January.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG wonders why censorship is so often connected with the far right, especially when woke censorship and trigger warnings, the most common species of censorship in the US at present, are most certainly far-left.

18 thoughts on “Free Expression: French and US Industries’ New Challenges”

  1. That’s easy: it’s because the ones complaining are all from the left side of the tennis court, all adhering to the same orthodoxy and the same mythology.

    As to France, well, they are in for a major shock:

    Sixty years of sticking their head in the sand is eroding the mythology of France and delivering power to LePen and her crew, much like Italy, Poland, and soon enough, Germany. Spain is still in play but the Spanish left is only hanging on to power by pandering to their regional separatist parties, much like Canada and the Quebequois. Those alliances are unstable and breed reactions or, more precisely, reactionaries.

    Add in the pressures of the uninvited, the 2008 financial crisis that was swept under the rug instead of getting solved, and the demographic crises in most of the EU and they too face a Crisis of the 20’s. The time is coming when the UK leaving cold turkey will be seen as prescient.

    The fate of a single book is the least of their countries’ concerns but much like on this side of the pond the publishers are totally oblivious of the society they live in.

  2. I suppose it depends upon what one means by “far left” — and that’s a historical problem going back to the 1660s in the English-speaking world. It’s helpful to remember that “left” and “right” refer to the sides of the House of Commons on which esteemed, essentially unelected† leaders sat. The right side was ordinarily occupied by those most loyal to the reigning monarch; the left side was, well, everybody else.

    My point is only that many of us on the left do not support anything like/related to “cancel culture.” I don’t even favor censoring antivaxxers and klansbacteria. That’s primarily because about the only thing that the left can ordinarily agree upon is the propriety of — necessity for — a right kick up the Prince Regent’s backside.

    So blaming anything unified, or uniform, on the Left gives the Left waaaaaaaaay too much credit for, well, unity.

    Cf., e.g., Blackadder III, “Dish and Dishonesty” (17 Sep 1987) (which, if anything, understates the corruption of parliamentary elections prior to 1841… and merely matched them for a century thereafter).

    • Advocates of laissez-faire capitalism are shocked when BMW charges car owners monthly fees for seat warmers or John Deere denies farmers the right to repair their own tractors, and advocates of Leftism are shocked when cancel culture leaves us terrified of telling even the tamest jokes or using the wrong pronouns within earshot of the morbidly obese bluehair in HR who is on three different kinds of SSRIs. But once unspooled, every thread has its inevitable endpoint.

  3. Both sides like to ban books.
    The left goes after things they consider harmful to people as if we’re all so thin-skinned that our world will collapse if we find out that someone says we are abnormal.
    The right has been quite gung ho to ban books they consider sexually explicit, trans, daring to teach history showing that white people were not always the enlightened altruists they believe themselves to be.
    In reality, everything needs to be out there. The good, bad, and ugly. It’s how we learn the truth about ourselves and not some sanitized, approved version.
    If, for example, you don’t read Mein Kampf how will you will understand (and learn to recognize) the mindset that drove someone to be one of the greatest monsters of all time?

    • Indeed.
      The tactics of today’s orthodoxy are no different than the tactics of the orthodoxy of the 50’s.
      They just want to be coddled in a nice comfortable bubble of groupthink, where they don’t have to hear that others might prefer to live their lives on their own terms.

    • I feel like the bit that goes unsaid is that the overall sentiment seems to be the right wants to remove books they consider overly graphic or explicit from school libraries and/or curricula, whereas the left seems to want to actually remove or prevent “offensive” material from being published. There’s plenty of misrepresenting or misunderstanding on all sides to demonize either side, but between the two, i.e. this is “adult” material and shouldn’t be given to kids and this is “offensive” material and shouldn’t exist at all, I’ll actually take the former over the latter.

      Anyone who wants something to not be allowed to exist at all is a form of censorship I cannot get behind, regardless of whether they think they share my side of the aisle or not.

      • This. “Book Banning” here in the US really just comes down to “libraries can’t offer it”, which is hardly a ‘ban’. The books still exists and can be purchased.

        • Unless a twitterstorm convinces the publisher to cancel the book’s release. At that point nobody gets to see for themselves.

        • Which presumes (a) knowledge of their existence, (b) resources to purchase, and (c) a place to store and read.

          These are not universal. They are most especially not universal in, say, Amish communities (trying desperately to choose something a little bit less confrontational)… or, more to the point, those living less-than-fully-independently in closed communities. (If a teenager was caught with a copy of the Q’ran in Kiryas Joel, it might not be the book that got burned.)

          Markets are all well and good, but they do have market failures.

          • Which presumes (a) knowledge of their existence, (b) resources to purchase, and (c) a place to store and read.

            Does it also presume they can read? Reading is hardly universal.

  4. In answer to PG’s question, the answer is because in the US, right-wing censorship is the very visible kind that involves taking the books off the shelves, comes from people who are uncredentialed, and is of views that the nomenklatura want to see propagated. Left-wing censorship, however, is of the less visible kind that makes sure the books don’t make it to the shelves in the first place, comes from people who are credentialed, and is of views that the nomenklatura do not want propagated.

  5. Also, side note: just based on the unsurprisingly sympathetic description of the book from the OP, this sounds a little skeevy, or at the very least unnecessarily explicit. I realize that it’s France, but…man. If I were a librarian I wouldn’t touch this one with a ten-foot pole.

  6. The latest two public cancellation attempts are in trouble.

    The NatWest cancellation of Nigel Farage’s accounts has so far brought down the chief executive of NatWest. Farage has the nerve to support Brexit when others don’t.

    And then we have the Country-Western song about small towns by Jason Aldean. Elements on the left specializing in finding racism condemned his song and even succeeded in having Country Music TV drop the song. And then it shot to the top of the charts, selling 228,000 digital in the third week of July, up from 1,000 in the second week. Add 12 million on-demand streams and 16 mllion YouTube views, and we have what may be cancellation’s biggest marketing success.

    And just for fun, anyone remember BudLight?

    Money talks.

    • To be honest the song isn’t my cup of tea, musically.
      The lyrics are no worse than a hundred action flicks and, frankly, accurate. Anybody who tries to do to a small town main street what the “mostly peaceful” protests did in Chicago is likely to get run out of town on a rail, as they used to say.
      No. The images of violence show idiots of all breeds.
      Pro-lynching? A stretch.
      At most it’s pro vigilantism but no more so than Marvel’s PUNISHER or DC’s VIGILANTE. And Vigilante is portrayed as mentally ill, in all his/her versions.

      The song has been out since May and nobody took notice until CMT bowed to “one* complaint that it was filmed at the site of a 1927 lynching. So it’s not even clever marketing at work.

      It’s really just a rant song aimed at his market’s peanut gallery Streisanded to blockbluster revenues.***

      It doesn’t rise to the level of a proper protest song so it’ll be forgotten in six weeks.
      Now for an enduring protest song that is as topical today as 40 years ago:

      Then again, swedes have long known it was just a matter of time.

      And it’s just a matter of time for the next “short victorious war” to come upon us.
      At that point book or video censoring will be the least of anybody’s troubles.

      *** “The Streisand effect is an unintended consequence of attempts to hide, remove, or censor information, where the effort instead backfires by increasing awareness of that information. It is named after American singer and actress Barbra Streisand, whose attempt to suppress the California Coastal Records Project’s photograph of her cliff-top residence in Malibu, California, taken to document California coastal erosion, inadvertently drew greater attention to the photograph in 2003.
      Attempts to suppress information are often made through cease-and-desist letters, but instead of being suppressed, the information sometimes receives extensive publicity, as well as the creation of media such as videos and spoof songs, which can be mirrored on the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.[2][3] In addition, seeking or obtaining an injunction to prohibit something from being published or to remove something that is already published can lead to increased publicity of the published work.

      The Streisand effect is an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware that some information is being kept from them, they are significantly more motivated to get and spread it.”

      • I recall reading some years ago that some booksellers were accepting under the table money to ban books from their shelves. Boston booksellers taking payoffs from publishers.

      • There is a groundswell of regular people getting fed up, though, Felix. I have noticed that (even when I am NOT on my account) some of the most popular videos on YouTube are of the “Just Stop Oil” protestors getting a rather violent reaction from motorists.

        • Germany.

          Lots of simiar reports over the last few weeks.

          The german situation is particularly offensive to anybody who can do math because they are against nukes, against LNG, and rely mostly on *lignite* so that while they cook the books on carbon emissions their real output has gone up as they shut the nukes, and was going up even when they had cheap russian gas. All to placate their greens.

          Now it is hitting the masses that their economy is withering and they get to choose being dependent on US or Arab LNG, French nukes, or polluting coal.

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