Chilling? Downright Frigid.
Very first thing: if you haven’t read Amanda’s post from this morning, go read it. While this morality clause nonsense is dangerous to writers, and it’s certainly a CYA move on the part of the publishers including it in their contracts, I can’t help but wonder if it’s *also* being used as a means of further gatekeeping. “You’d better stay in the conservative closet, if you want to keep writing in your favorite world.”
Look, today’s kids are growing up in an environment in which everything they’ve ever done is recorded. Parents take pictures on hand-brains (So. Many. Pictures. Which reminds: need to cull through those. Again.) and then they get their own, and with such helpful virtual places as Instagram and the Bork of Faces, and Snapchat and suchlike, they’re trained early to do it to themselves. Privacy? Heh. We’ve already seen high profile firings for things on social media, and that’s not counting the kind of people who wade through the controversy, like comedians and writers.
Humans aren’t pretty (well, we are but that’s biology. We’re supposed to think each other are at least correct, if not downright toothsome) and as soon as you let us go off the rails (I think Wee Dave started that before he was born, if I’m remembering correct) we start to make things messy. Well, the money people don’t like messes. Witness, oh, any controversy that’s the least bit public. I was looking at sparkling water at the grocery, yesterday, and when I looked up the company’s background, I found that the longtime CEO had recently left under a cloud of shame over a #metoo accusation and ongoing internal investigation. SPARKLING WATER.
And that was a person and company that one wouldn’t expect to be hip-deep in controversial topics all the time. Writers and publishers, on the other hand? I mean, it’s basically our stock in trade. Ever read Deerskin? Or how about the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant? Shoot, I’m starting off the new thing (yes, another one. No, I’m not happy about it. Why won’t they leave me alooooone) with the main character a child slave miner. It ain’t pretty, and I’m trying to keep from pure horror.
And that’s just in our books, which any publisher could simply refuse to publish. Imagine, if you will, it’s 1967, and you’re an editor. One of your highest profile male authors does something so gauche as to be photographed in a dress. Now, his reputation may or may not be shot (I don’t know: I wasn’t alive then, but in certain circles I could see a boost in sales, at least), but you get a nasty phone call from your publisher, the Man With the Deep Pockets. Now, he got a call from his aunt, the New York Dame, who suddenly wants to know just what he’s allowing in his company, and how is she going to show her face at the club? And why aren’t you keeping track of what your authors are up to? Now imagine you have a morality clause in the author’s contract, and can definitely show that’s he’s damaging the reputation of the publisher.
Bring it forward to today. You’re a midlister, or even a New Big Thing, and then it comes out that you happened, once, on FaceBook, to mention that you saw there actually seem to be sex related differences between male and female biology. Or, even, that you thought perhaps reparations to the descendants of slaves was a poor policy, as aren’t we all? (And also the descendants of kings and conquerors. And slavers, probably.) And this gets pulled up years later, and suddenly you’re contacted by your publisher’s legal department, and told you need to repay the advance you just used to put a downpayment on the house you’ve already moved your family into, and interest. I don’t know about you, but if my family depended on it, I’d consider long and hard what I’d say or allow on social media.
But that’s going forward. If you can be ruined — and let’s not bandy about: an author who depends on writing can be ruined by getting dropped by a publisher and hit for repayment of advance — for things you said, say, when you were in college, and young and stupid (but I repeat myself), then it’s just a matter of waiting for the axe to fall. If all it takes is someone deciding that something hurts the chances of making money (as though the entire nation is one, monolithic market) then that’s it. No more writing career. (At least, no more tradpub.)
And it doesn’t even have to be something genuinely reprehensible, like openly suggesting that the war in Iraq was both justified and necessary. It could be anything somebody with power doesn’t like. Does that seem far fetched? I don’t know, I mean, the big publishers actually colluded on fixing prices not that long ago, and the above imaginative scenario is simply families doing what families do. The upshot is I’ll be running screaming from any contract that contains a morality clause, which likely means I’ll never be traditionally published.
Sorry: I didn’t mean to go in quite this direction, today, but I’m watching as yahoos on both sides of the aisle are working overtime to curtail my freedoms (I’m looking at you, Rubio) based on nothing more than an anonymous tip, and now this? C’mon, people, do I need to pull up the entire history of literature? So, yeah: it’s making me a little Wilde.