The Perpetually Offended – Saving the World from the Horrors of Monster Erotica

When you follow the writing field for any length of time, one thing you can be certain you’ll encounter is a selection of some of the most… er… eccentric people who still manage to be moderately functional in this world. That’s to be expected: the act of writing fiction is in itself a sanity-breaking thing (how else would you describe visualizing and writing about people, places, and events that never existed with sufficient skill that people who read what you’ve written can pretend for a few hours that all of it actually did happen? It’s a self-induced, controlled delusion).

You’ll also see some of the most idiotic business decisions ever – which bears no relationship to the intelligence of the people making those decisions. As anyone who has worked in government or a sufficiently large organization will know, a dysfunctional enough business environment looks from the outside very like extreme incompetence bordering on “What the heck kind of drugs are they on and where can I get some?” Everyone on the inside may well be making the best decisions they can, but when communication between divisions is in the form of a memo Chinese Whispers, and nobody wants to piss off the boss, well… things happen.

Then you get the occasional utter gem of WTF nested in WTF that blows your trusty WTFometer to pieces. Like this one.

The short version is that in response to complaints from the Coalition of the Perpetually Offended (or something), independent authors of what can quaintly be described as “crypto-erotica” (Or more robustly: monster porn) have seen their books removed from Amazon and other venues. Obviously, Amazon being the gorilla of independent sales, the Amazon removal hurts the authors more than any of the others.

The reason for the removal? They promote “bestiality”.

Leaving aside the fact that I have yet to see anyone try to pull any L. K. Hamilton for this reason (or any of the other mainstream published purveyors of undead porn), the layers of fail in this are simply mind-blowing.

We’ll start with inadequate content guidelines that would, if applied consistently, ensure 50 shades never saw the light of day. Seriously. You can check it for yourself. Presumably if you label it “erotica” rather than “porn”, it’s fine – so long as there are no “sex words” in the title. Fail, Amazon.

Then there’s those who manage to conflate monster porn with bestiality. Is it really bestiality when the monster is the one that initiates it? (Gawd, that’s one heck of an after dark con session… must put this into a con vampire book some time). What about werewolves? Is it normal sex three weeks of the month, and bestiality during the full moon? If you’re dealing with vampires or mummies, does that make it necrophilia instead? And how do you classify it when you’re dealing with aliens or deities? Divine? Out of this world? Oh, and if the Coalition of the Perpetually Offended is going to lump this in with incest and pedophilia, shall we then see Shakespeare removed from the shelves? (Juliet was 13 after all). How about Nabokov? Anne Rice? Fail, Mrs Grundy.

Then there’s the overzealous response to the complaints that wound up removing anything indie-published with even a hint of smut (in the keywords, cover, and title – they weren’t actually reading the books to find out which were “dirty”. Authors who retitled them with something a little more innocuous had no problems). Presumably a legacy publisher’s smut imprint would be just fine. It’s only those horrible independent peddlers of filth that are problematic. A quick look at Amazon’s Erotica category had pretty much everything, with the more explicit and… interesting titles further back in the list. Of course, whether or not such masterworks as The Booty Call of Cthulhu will still be on sale in a month is anyone’s guess – but I can guarantee in my browsing on a wide range of topics I have never inadvertently stumbled on anything remotely erotica-related. I had to actually look for it – which, naturally, raises the question of just how the perpetually offended encountered these books in the first place (honestly, I don’t want to know. It’s almost certainly the same mechanism that leads the Mrs Grundys to trawl through books searching for anything dirty and finding “filth” everywhere because when you’re looking for it you will find it). Fail Amazon and Mrs Grundy.

As for the article, after several rereads I’m still not sure precisely what direction the authors intended readers to take. They seem to be mostly supportive of the writers (and we won’t mention the literary agency that thinks the likes of 50 shades has nothing to do with indie publishing or erotica, will we now?), and somewhat mocking of the overreaction, but there’s no real conclusion beyond “yes, people are still writing this stuff”. Maybe not a fail, just a wrapper around a whole lot of other fails.

My conclusion? After seeing the sales numbers being mentioned, I have to wonder if I should be writing monster porn. $2000 a month profit sounds pretty darn sweet from where I’m sitting, and that was a low end number.

 

 

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54 Comments

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54 responses to “The Perpetually Offended – Saving the World from the Horrors of Monster Erotica

  1. Back in the mid 80′s, I was involved in Furry Fandom (Back then, it wasn’t the freak show it is today, it was about animation and comics, but it did have adult areas), and the whole question about “Is sex with an anthropomorphic creature bestiality?” was something that people got into big fights over. There were shades of meaning, like, what if they were intelligent and quadrupedal? Alien? Artificially genetically engineered? Considered property with no rights? The guys over on 4-Chan would love anime-style cat-girls, with kitty ears and tails, and that’s it, but anything more and they would ban your ass (Their outrage against “FurFags” made all the more ironic by their love of “Futa” – Women with enormous penises). The Japanese artists coined an expression “Kemono Mix” which was a percentage of animal, the aforementioned cat-girls being a 10%, and as you added features like fur or a more animal-like muzzle, the percentage climbed.

    (The debate died down in furry fandom as the self-hatred of their own humanity took over, every fan imagined himself a “Personal Furry” or “Fursona” so bestiality was taken out of the equation by eliminating humans.)

    By 2001 when most of my favorite artists had quit, and I’d given up a losing battle against hypertolerance, and a Con-Com had threatened me with removing me as their Art Show Director for what I said on Usenet, I quit, and I haven’t looked back.

    As for Amazon, I seem to recall a controversy a decade or so ago when they REFUSED to take down a book that was basically a how-to manual for pedophiles. The times sure have changed.

    I expect they’ll quietly change back though.

    • Synova

      My oldest draws animal characters that go with stories and games he creates. (He’s 22) I usually “network” for my kids but I don’t hardly dare so much as mention the artists at our con who have a table of animal-people books and stories… because I don’t *know* what they’re about or involved in. And there are just some things that a mother doesn’t touch with a 10 foot pole when it comes to her kids.

      • Kate Paulk

        Understood, Synova. If your oldest wants to get involved in the more “interesting” stuff, he’s going to have to figure it out for himself.

        • Even though, if he’s 22, then he likely already knows, and if you don’t know that he knows, he has been successful at keeping his knowledge a secret. ;-)

          • Kate Paulk

            If he knows, he sure as all get-out ain’t telling his mother!

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Chuckle Chuckle

              In one story I read, a mother was wondering if her adult son was a normal male (he was sterilized by his father). Her current husband (the young man’s stepfather) told his wife, there are things a son won’t tell his mother. IE the stepfather knew about the young man’s sexual activities (perfectly normal ones). [Very Big Evil Grin]

          • Synova

            Oh, I know he knows *about* furry stuff. He makes a sort of squinchy face and rolls his eyes. I just don’t want to inadvertently “network” and introduce him to people who I don’t know and couldn’t bring myself to ask if they’re just drawing and selling nice family-friendly stuff or not.

    • Kate Paulk

      They usually do, eventually. I do sympathize with the unfortunate sods caught in the middle of it all, though.

  2. *sigh* Okay, yes, e-book retailers do treat books published by multinational corporations differently than books published by independence authors. Why this comes as a shock to anyone is beyond me.

    If a parent sues Amazon because his child was exposed to “50 Shades Of Grey” Amazon can count on the support of the Random Penguin Legal Department, which is approximately the size of the Mongol Horde.

    On the other hand, the author of “I Was The Kraken’s Love Slave” probably does not have her own legal team. This has absolutely nothing to do with morality and everything to do with a corporation limiting its liability.

    Amazon’s entire business philosophy is designed around removing barriers to customer purchases. That means that they don’t want to institute age verification or segregate books by content–those things slow down their famous “One Click Purchase”.

    Consequently, Amazon doesn’t want to carry erotica at all–major content producers can pressure Amazon to accept a full list of titles that contains works that qualify as erotica. Random Penguin has some 50,000 titles on Amazon. The author of “Bigfoot’s Got Back” does not.

    The lesson that we should be learning from this story (and all the ones about the “Daughter’s First Gangbang” type titles a few months ago) is that there is a huge empty niche for an on-line e-book erotica store. Adult content providers know how to run age-verified sites and are willing to maintain them in the face of every changing laws.

    I am old enough to remember when there were bookstores that specifically existed to carry adult paperbacks that the chain stores would not. An on-line version of the same thing would be able to gather thousands of exclusive titles with very little effort. If I had the start-up cash I’d do it myself.

    • The big problem is that in the adult entertainment world, the Credit Card companies don’t like to play along. (Don’t ask me how I know this). Paypal’s fight with Smashwords is nothing compared to anyone who runs a purely adult business. The banks frequently cut you off, and hold payments that are in transition, and the customers deny charges at a rate orders of magnitude greater than any other industry, and it’s not always because the websites are not what the customer expected, they just want to get in, download all the content and get out, then NOT have HornyHousewives.com show up on their credit card bill, so they claim their number was stolen.

      A lot of them are put out of business when they can’t get anyone to clear payments for them.

      It’s even worse than what Bank of America does to Gun Shops.

      So carrying erotica can also be a big headache for Amazon. Dropping them could save them a lot of trouble.

      • Exactly. That’s why I think a dedicated erotic e-book shop, run by people who are familiar with the legal and financial challenges of the industry, would be ideal. Yes, charge-backs are a problem, and it’s true that financial institutions will nearly always side with the customer when the vendor is an adult-oriented business, but that’s something that adult sites figure into their overhead, and one reason that they charge more than mainstream businesses.

        It’s also why adult business run their charges through neutral sounding companies– “HornyHousewives.com” may bill as “Standard Media Group, LLC.” I also suspect that charge-backs would be less frequent for a $5.99 e-book than for a $29.99 streaming video.

        I think the bottom line is that there is a market for explicit, erotic e-books, and if the mainstream e-book retailers don’t care to service that market, for whatever reason, that presents an opportunity for the existing adult market to expand into e-books.

        I’m really surprised that Peter Acworth, for example, hasn’t launched Kink.com books yet.

        • Probably because he’s having too much fun with the dozen or so websites he’s running….

          I dunno if Bigfoot/Dinosaur erotica would be exactly his thing though. I know Jeff Gord used to have a book division. (I don’t know what’s happening with that, now that he’s gone). Piracy is another big problem in that industry. Even printed books would end up scanned and uploaded.

          • House of Gord–now that brings back memories. All those implausible Bishop covers… There were giants in the earth in those days.

            The thing that gets me is that somebody is going to make money from setting up an adult e-book store, and I don’t have the experience or the capital for it to be me!

            • Bishop was House of Milan, or HOM. He died in 1994. I’ve met Gord and JG Leathers. They both knew Bishop. They told me that Bishop killed himself because he had inoperable pancreatic cancer. Gord died this Thanksgiving, although I haven’t heard what the cause was.

              • I never met Gord in person, although I did correspond with him for a while on-line. His replies to my fanboy e-mails were a better model for dealing with the public than any reply I’ve ever gotten from a mainstream author. I hadn’t heard he’d died.

                And once again it seems that MGC has been hijacked in a completely random direction,

                • He was a fascinating man, even in areas unrelated to our current off-topic. (He once built a funny-car off a surplus Merlin engine. Although he later learned that the header he’d removed contained anti-flashback valves, and so his intake manifold had been transformed into a potential bomb – full of several cubic feet of pressurized fuel/air mixture.)

                  I suppose we can steer it back on topic by suggesting, Pastor Niemöller-like, that after they come for the Monsters and Furries, the kinksters can’t be far behind,

                  • The main question then would be, “Where will they start?” :-)

                  • And again, I think that no one is “coming for” anyone. A major company has announced to the world, “Guys, there’s this very lucrative market segment in which we’ve chosen not to compete.”

                    That’s not censorship, that’s opportunity knocking.

                    Yes, there are barriers to monetizing the market. Credit card companies are loathe to deal with adult markets and quick to dump them. There is a lot of material available for free. They are people who will repost paid content on free sites, and getting cooperation in taking content down can be a hassle. There are pressure groups who will attempt to drive adult content suppliers out of business for their own philosophical reasons.

                    I freely admit all this. But these barriers are why Amazon and others are divesting themselves of these titles. The market is there. The product is there. All it takes is someone with the guts to build the marketplace.

                    • The Bluenoses and Grundies are the ones “Coming for” the adult market, because they smell power. If they can make Amazon pull one book, they can make them pull another, and another, or whole categories.

                      They really get off on it.

                    • Kate Paulk

                      Alas, the power kick is one of the worst aspects of this. And there’s nobody like the librarian downthread to look down their noses and say “My, you certainly read that carefully.”

                    • Oh, for goodness sake. There is no comparison between a private company making choices regarding what to stock based on market pressures and the State arresting, deporting, and executing people based on their beliefs.

                      Amazon removed certain books from its inventory. The A&E network removed a cast member from one of its programs. Both were business decisions based on what would be best for the public image of the company. Neither has anything to with censorship or free speech.

                      People who applaud one as a victory are likely to condemn the other as tyranny, but both are simply business. It’s not illegal to write and sell material about Bigfoot Sex or about Phil Robertson, or even to combine the two. (Excuse me, I have to go bleach my brain now.)

                      Special interest groups will always be able to use economic pressure to influence corporate decisions. That’s part of the magic of the free market. And whenever one company elects not to service a particular niche due to interest group pressure, it opens that market up to competitors.

                      The Hayes Office created a market for Art House Films. The Comics Code created a market for Underground Comics.

                    • Kate Paulk

                      Er. Misha? I’m not disputing Amazon’s right to pull whatever books they choose. The “coming for” metaphor works not because anyone thinks there’s an abusive state behind Amazon’s choice but because of the concept of the “little Hitler” – the person who has very little real power but uses what they have to boost their ego and make other people miserable. Frequently found in committees and yes, so-called public decency is often one of their kicks.

                      It’s not censorship. It’s still silencing views (or storyline content) someone thinks is inappropriate. And it’s still wrong on the part of the petty little tin gods who want their version of morality and nobody else’s.

                    • *Applauds for Kate, and Boos for the limited nesting*

      • Kate Paulk

        So, how do you know this? :-)

        The USA is particularly bad when it comes to all things sexual. I suspect some of these people think it would be better to go back to “Close your eyes and think of Uncle Sam”

    • Kate Paulk

      There certainly is quite the niche – particularly for one that doesn’t have the garish flashing “sex sex sex” stuff so that Joe Customer and Jane Customer aren’t scared to browse there, and their credit card charge isn’t from “HotHousewives.com” or similar.

      eBooks help with that too – no need to worry about covers giving you away (this is also why romance was one of the first genres to go big in ebooks).

  3. The question of where to draw the line is a bit sticky, but I would think that anything with enough intelligence to consent should not be considered an animal, thus the label of ‘bestiality’ should not apply. One could make an argument that sex with undead creatures, intelligent or not, could be legitimately labeled, ‘necrophilia’, though.

    I certainly would not want to promote anything having to do with anyone unable to give informed consent (while it can certainly be used in story, I wouldn’t want to make it a desirable thing), but then there’s the question of where to draw the line. As you said, Juliet was 13, but as we also know, that wasn’t unusual for the day in which the story was written. Can a slave consent? How about an employee? Dolphins are known to engage in sexual behavior with humans – though I don’t know if they have ever been successful – what about that?

    I don’t know the answers, but knee-jerk reactions from Amazon and others seem like bad business decisions, to me.

    • Juliet being 13 touches on another issue, for example, I understand Japan’s age of consent is 16, but here it’s typically 18 (some places it’s 21 for the weird stuff). That also causes all kinds of problems, especially when the bluenoses try to hold other places accountable for the rules in THEIR location.

      • Kate Paulk

        Absolutely – Australia has 16 as the age of consent. Various European countries have higher and younger ages. The question of what is legal for whom, where is a messy one at the best of times.

  4. Christopher M. Chupik

    All I know is this totally ruins my plan to finance my next vacation with the proceeds of lesbian mermaid erotica. :-(

  5. TXRed

    The “problem” with using “can all participants give their full and knowing consent?” rule is that the bluenoses would have to *gasp* read the book to find out what exactly was going on between the covers (sorry.) Like the lady who came into the [redacted] county library with an itemized list by page number and paragraph of why a Danielle Steel or Ann Rivers Siddons (my memory has faded) novel should be pulled “because of the explicit material.” Ye Olde Librarian looked at the list, then at the patron, and observed, “You certainly read that book closely.” Thus ended the attempt at book removal.

    There are types of fictional (and real) sexual activity that I really don’t care for or approve of, even when done by consenting adults or sapient creatures. That said, IMHO the e-tailers should just set up an “erotica” section with a “click to confirm that you are over 18″ or whatever that country requires if you are using a .de or .uk provider, and so long as the activities described are not illegal, sell it. If someone finds truly illegal material, have a way to flag it so the e-tailer can pull it for inspection and if appropriate, banning. But that’s just my $.02.

    • Kate Paulk

      Awesome librarian! I think I love her (him?).

      Your suggestion has far too much common sense to be implemented anywhere, alas…

      • TXRed

        Her. She was one of the Olde School – great lady. She was forever butting heads with the Mrs. Grundies and winning. “You don’t have to read it, but [author] always has a five-person waiting list, so I’m buying more.” That said, the hard science section was a little thin, but the library shared a book budget with the county schools, so I suspect they got the science books and the public library got the lighter topics.

        • On the one hand, I do applaud the typical library’s absolutist stance on freedom of access to anything, but on the other hand, I DO wish they’d do a little something when the scuzzies come in to look at porn sites on the computers that face the children’s reading area.

          I mean, it’s a Library, not a peep show.

          • TXRed

            Yeah. The public libraries around where I now live have two computer banks – a wide open one with limited access, and computer labs with full access and a helpful tech assist person on duty (and to discourage those interested in self-pleasure).

            • The problem with the Seattle Public Libraries is the “patrons” don’t mind looking at the worst stuff in the open computers within sight of the kid’s area, and the librarians say nothing.

              They won’t even put on one of those screens that limits the viewing angle.

  6. Kirk

    Trying to separate the kids from sex these days is a losing proposition. Whether we like it or not, we’re headed back to the same sort of situation that was prevalent for most of human history, where everything about sex was visible and known to the kids from the time they were old enough to figure it out. Mostly, because it was on display full-time, and a part of daily life. Does anyone think that Rome’s fascination with phalluses on everything in sight was some sort of bizarre case of willful blindness? That the murals found in even middle-class homes weren’t there for everyone to see, and were kept covered all the time?

    I mean, c’mon, here–You really think those communal living arrangements that we had allowed for separation and privacy, preventing the exposure of young minds to sex? For most of human history, that sort of thing was right out in the open, and I wouldn’t be a damn bit surprised if what actually went on was far “worse” than the most lurid bodice-ripper author can even imagine.

    Modern technology is simply taking us back to those “less enlightened” ages. I suspect that the drop in teen pregnancy rates has quite a bit to do with the fact that even the most sheltered child these days has probably got a damn good idea of what the hell goes into making babies. You’d have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to, given what’s become of popular culture.

    And, to tell the truth, I’m kind of ambivalent about the whole thing. Most of our sexual mores and values are derived from what amounts to a series of “accidents of history”, and I suspect that those values and mores aren’t particularly vital to things working out the way they have. Or, maybe they are…

    The old ways were simply different, and the new ways are going to be the same–Simply different from what we’re used to. To some degree, I suspect that the change in values and mores may well be a lot healthier, in some respects–We place far too much value on sex, mostly because we’ve relegated it to a forbidden, solely private place. Remove the aspect of the forbidden, and it becomes far less charged.

    As an aside–Daily life in ancient Rome had to have been considerably different than we imagine. Consider the pervasive depictions of sex, the open sale of slaves for sexual purposes, and the totally different manner in which they regarded the various proprieties. I can’t read the original Latin, at all, but I’m told that there’s a wealth of references made to things that would turn most modern’s heads upside-down.

    Supposedly, there’s a series of letters between a father and a son, wherein they frankly share details of a shared sexual relationship with a very young female slave the son obtained for his married father as a gift, captured during the sack of some city in Dacia or Thrace. Try putting that into a modern context, and making it sound like something that shouldn’t draw the attention of a TV show like “To Catch a Predator”. Please–I’d love to hear how on earth you could even begin to put that into some kind of acceptable format, because I sure as hell can’t.

    Which, when you put things like that into context, and extrapolate across the entire culture, really tends to upset one’s equilibrium regarding the “good old days”. I never really regarded Rome as a criminal conspiracy of thugs, rapists, and slavers until I started looking into the more lurid details. And, that, my friend, was considered “civilization” in those days.

    • Kate Paulk

      Pretty much, yes. To all of this. Sex is part of life. It happens and some of the weirder variants give some people a lot of pleasure. Big deal.

      Certainly most historical cultures would fit your description of a “criminal conspiracy of thugs, rapists, and slavers” – possibly not the slavers in a formal sense, but I rather suspect that the enterprising found ways around that in the times and places where slavery was officially banned.

      Most moderns suffer from the combined delusions that our mores are the “correct” ones (they ain’t. They’re just ours. Who knows what will be the norm a few hundred years from now) and that PC is the way it’s supposed to be. It tends to make interesting brain explosions when they get confronted with the more lurid facts.

      • Dan Lane

        Heh. Heheheh. The wonders and benefits of a classical education, I actually used to be able to read those accounts in the original Latin. I’m quite rusty now and later empire and early monarchy I wasn’t ever good with anyway, but Pliny (the Younger) and his contemporaries are an easier read than some. Those accounts you mentioned? That translates as the “PC” of the day. If you thought those bas relief depictions were bad enough, you don’t know from kinky. *shakes head*

        Amazon made an economic decision based on what I presume they thought this publicity would do to their sales. I agree that things will likely turn back around (quietly) sometime down the road. The thing that gets me is that there’s probably a simpler solution to all this- just make kink only link to kink.

        In other words, if your title, tags, or description contain any of the smuttishness that offends the rude, prude, and attitudinal, make it only link to like stuff. This lets the writers advertise clearly, so no one goes in unawares of the explicit bits. So when you go searching for “dwarves” you don’t get “Dwarves with Big Dongs Banging Buxom Blondes.” Sell the stuff, make money, and if the Snitty Sally’s of the world *do* stumble upon it, they can then do their careful librarian expression:

        “And just what were you searching for, that you happened upon the Nasty Naughty Nook(ie) Sexion?” *raised eyebrow, looking over glasses*

        • Kate Paulk

          (applause) Yes! I have NEVER searched Amazon for “Dwarves” and got “Dwarves with Big Dongs Banging Buxom Blondes”. Never.

          Now if I search for “dwarves” and “dongs” it’s a different beast (with a big dong).

          Which of course means that the snitty ones probably WERE searching for naughty stuff (and hey, it’s the Internets out there. If you search for naughty stuff you will find more naughty stuff than you know what to do with).

      • Kirk

        The thing that’s always left me a big shocky is remembering how many of the sources of information I was raised with taught that Rome was this Big Deal, in terms of civilization and accomplishments, something to be emulated, praised, and honored. And, that when Rome fell, a shining light on a hill went out, not to be re-lit for a thousand years…

        Then, you start reading the details, and paying close attention. It doesn’t take very long for the sheen to wear off, then, and you start to realize “These people were absolute bastards…”. Whether it was other small Italian city states, the Carthaginians, Spain, Gaul, or the Dacians, you rapidly find yourself mumbling to yourself over what the Romans actually did. And, when you read it in their own voices, their own words? Ye gods…

        My experience with Roman scholarship went from a high love affair, where I believed everything my teachers had to say about them, to a bit of disillusion, to the final point where I am now, and I read of the Fall of Rome and think “Didn’t happen fast enough, or soon enough…”.

        Same-same with the frightening deification of the Spartans. There’s a really strong thread of “honor the Spartan ideal” growing like lich-mold within the US military. Which, when you actually know some of the actual Spartan background, is both disturbing and frightening. Those are not a people who should be held up as exemplars for soldiers serving a republic such as ours, in the least. Not unless you have it in mind to convert said republic into some kind of fascist military-centric society, that is.

        • Rome is held up as an example, from what I understand, because of their organization, their civil engineering works, their empirical knowledge of how the world works, and their military organization, at least until it was in its latter days. Most people don’t know the kinds of things that you’re talking about, true, and compared to today’s standards, they were pretty barbaric, but were they really much, if any, worse than others of the day, if those others had had the power of the Romans?

          And the Spartans – I don’t think the military is holding up the Spartans as some kind of role model for social behavior. They’re focusing on the training, determination, and fierce fighting spirit of them. They’re certainly not going to go out and try to bring back the Spartans’ quaint custom of picking a woman and raping her to get a bride, or having to kill someone to be considered a man.

          • Kirk

            See, that’s the root problem: You can’t separate the threads of the tapestry, and just say “Gee, they were really great engineers and builders”, while leaving out the bits and pieces about being utter bastards. It would be one thing if those that worshiped these cultures went about what they’re doing honestly, and told the whole story, warts and all. But, they don’t.

            Sure, Sparta did some good. For one or two shining moments, they stopped the Persians dead in their tracks, and gave their lives to do so. However, huge ‘effin comma, you have to balance that with centuries of oppression focused on their Helot victims, and being a culture of such wanton, rampant corruption that they really should only be remembered as a cautionary tale warning of the dangers of proto-fascist tyranny.

            Sparta was only possible because it rested on the shoulders of the oppressed, and to look back and say “Gee, they were such great soldiers…” is to totally ignore the fact that the only way they gained the ability to train and become such great warriors was through the abusive oppression of the people who they’d moved in on and ground under their heels.

            That’s what I object to: You idolize the evil only at your peril, even if they are a thousand years removed from you.

            • If you require your subjects of admiration to be admirable in all respects, and cannot choose to admire those qualities you deem good, while understanding that they have or had other qualities that you don’t like, then there is no one who can be admired at all. Well, theoretically there was one (though apparently even He had his moments), but, being an Agnostic, I can’t conscientiously use that example.

              No, we don’t use Josef Mengele’s medical discoveries, but he was evil in comparison to his contemporary culture. But were the Spartans really more horrible than their contemporaries, or were they merely more successful?

              • Kirk

                Wayne, the point I am trying to make is that one cannot admire one particular aspect of something, while disregarding the whole. I don’t argue that there were no redeeming features to either Rome or Sparta, simply that we do both ourselves and their victims a disservice by blindly honoring these people.

                Sparta and Rome both rested their achievements on bloody foundations; ignoring that fact is to forget the sacrifices made by the generations of Helots who died and led lives of silent desperation in order to enable the Spartans to fight at Plataea and Marathon.

                That’s primarily what I object to: Both of these societies are held up as exemplars in many circles, while those who do so blatantly ignore the enabling outright evil they perpetuated in order to become those examples.

                To me, it’s of a piece with those who admire the Nazis, and who blindly worship the Waffen-SS as being super-soldiers. Sure, there were some good points (see what I’m doing, there?), but on the whole, they were out-and-out inarguable evil bastards. I’ve got no issues with granting the Waffen-SS or the other German elite troops the respect due good professional soldiers–But, at the same time, I also fully acknowledge that in many cases, they were evil men fighting on behalf of an evil regime.

                What I’d like to see is more of the same sort of full perspective applied to these “pillars of Western civilization”. Sure, the aqueducts and roads were magnificent, but let’s have a bit of honesty about what we do, and also remember the little girls whose families were killed, and who were sold into what amounted to sexual servitude, all in service of the “Glory that was Rome…”.

                It’s kind of funny–You hear all sorts of arguments about cultural relativism when applied to the ancients, but were you to pull the same sort of bullshit with regards to the Nazis, or any of the other 20th-Century nutjobs, people would rightfully refer to the person doing so as being an apologist for those groups. “Oh, it was the way they were, back then… Everybody was doing it…”. It’s an unacceptable argument when discussing the conduct of the Nazis and men like Pol Pot, so it should damn well be an unacceptable argument for the Romans, Spartans, and whoever else spent their time raping, pillaging, and robbing their way across the ancient world.

                Why the hell don’t we honor Epaminondas the way Leonidas is venerated? Why is his name nearly forgotten? It’s quite as if modern historians remembered Rommel as a great general, and ignored Marshall or Eisenhower as being irrelevant.

                • Kirk

                  Bugger… Meant to edit Marathon to read as “Thermopylae”…

                  I can’t wait for our host to find a solution that allows editing. I really cannot…

                  • True, but on the other hand, this place currently produces some amazing stuff, like a discussion that covers both Ancient Rome and Sparta, Mermaid sex, and modern BDSM porn producers….

                • Wayne, the point I am trying to make is that one cannot admire one particular aspect of something, while disregarding the whole.

                  I understood your point. The point I was trying to make was that to some extent, you have to. Because no one is perfect. But your point about moral relativism is off base, because it wasn’t, “everyone” who was doing what the Nazis were doing. A distressing number of people were, but by the standards of the time, they were still considered evil.

                  The reason it’s different during the time of the Romans and Spartans is because it WAS everyone – there was no overarching cultural standard that put it as evil. Otherwise, it’s like saying the Constitution should be thrown out because it was created by slave owners. As far as Rommel is concerned – if it weren’t for the fact that others came along who were just as good, then he would be held up as a great general; one to be studied, while avoiding following in his footsteps regarding what he was working for at the time.

                • BobtheRegisterredFool

                  Nazis, the Armenian genocide, the Japanese and the D******** are living memory. Gaius Julius Caesar, the famous one, is quite dead. I give some of the ancients a fair amount of charity because they are generations from being living memory, and because a few of them did things worth remembering and emulating.

                  I grew up hearing about what the D******** did, from victims of theirs and contemporaries.

                  I give mass murderers of say, five hundred years ago a certain amount of emotional leeway that I do not grant to more modern ones. I still hate the Aztecs.

                  Part of the utility of the example of the Romans is asking what they would do when pondering questions of foreign policy. This is because, not in spite of, them being bastards. They were qualitatively better at certain kinds of bastardy than those that came before, and many who came after.

                  As for their personal habits, I despise those, even if I admire the republic, the engineering, and some of the killing.

                  If the Romans lived in our times, I would sing a different tune. If so, and if at their best, we would need to exterminate them in the first war that happened between us.

                  I may have missed this if it has already been mentioned, but the Spartan warrior culture also incorporated homosexuality. The Spartans considered romantic love to only be between a younger boy in training and an adult warrior.

                  As far as sexual mores go, I see no reason not to paint pretty much all societies, historic and prehistoric, with a broad brush and a heavy coat of disapproval.

                  Being objectively pro rape scum is hardly something that can be tied only to a relatively small group of people.

                  I’d note that I haven’t found anyone really likeable in the late Roman Republic. Lots to learn about failure modes of republics, but not much to like. I strongly dislike the famous Gaius Julius Caesar, even if the republic was in essence dead by the time he came.

                  However bad the Latins, the Doric and the Ionians were, they produced some really solid shock infantry. Yeah, some of them are better known, some more poorly known, and their qualities as characters were not always well matched to their qualities as historical figures.

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