Welcome to the 21st Century: We take it for granted that these are “enlightened times.” And we Americans especially consider our country to be among the most enlightened. Gone is racial discrimination in politics, prohibition against gays; and especially, censorship in art and the media. Right?
While the film and televisions industries are joyful that their directors have more artistic freedom in our century where they can show the naked backsides of the human body, the art-world cannot brag of such “artistic” freedom. True, in literature, books that contain elements of “tasteful” sexuality are no longer amassed into piles in public squares where they are set ablaze. Books are no longer “physically” taken off of shelves. Yet in 2014, books are being burned all the same. They are being banned “electronically” by the world’s most powerful decision-maker in literature: the Earth’s largest bookstore.
Just what is acceptable in 2014 to show to citizens of all ages when it comes to art? Of course there are modern modes of flagrant expression that should be reserved for adults. But what about the classics? Marble sculptures of nudes, for example… one, they are not really nudes, but only representations; and two, they have to be shown to all people in real life (for the very reason that these sculptures are in public gardens, public squares, public museums)? Why are these same sculptures not allowed on the covers of mainstream books?
Novelist, Roman Payne—an American-born author who emigrated to France in 1999 and has ever since lived in Paris—is celebrating the successful release of what he considers “his first great masterpiece.” It is a novel called “The Wanderess’: a poetic, literary-fiction love-story about “two lost souls” vagabonding in Europe where they search for a mysterious “fortune” as well as things they’ve lost in this world. Payne, who before finding success as a novelist worked as a graphic designer, used a marble statue of a nude woman as a model to create an extremely compelling book cover. The finished cover doesn’t show frontal nudity, and it doesn’t show full backside nudity (the buttocks are concealed and an arm conceals the breasts). Despite its beauty, this book cover is the reason his book isn’t going to be allowed by the bookselling powerhouse Amazon.com to reach a large audience through their search engine, nor through other means of Amazon promotion that targets a “general audience.”
“Amazon’s decision not only surprised me, it blew my mind completely!” said Payne, “I’ve always given America as much credit for progressive-thinking as France, where I live. In France nudity showing the naked breasts and the rear-ends of women are used in the posters that advertise health & beauty products on the windows of grocery stores. And that is real-body nudity—not representations such as sculpture. Yes, I was and am mystified by Amazon’s reaction.” A curious coincidence is that Payne and Amazon have a reason to share similar values: they are both from Seattle.
Payne’s publisher and Payne himself first grew angry when they discovered that The Wanderess had fallen from the “contemporary-fiction” category on Amazon, into the category, “erotica.” As according to them, the novel nowhere fits into the category “erotica,” they wrote to Amazon to have the category changed.
“Amazon wrote directly to Payne the following day,” said his publisher, Aesthete Press, “to tell him the following—and this is word-for-word: “‘the cover image of your book contains mature content, and therefore won’t surface in our general product search.’”
Payne asked Amazon to specify to what extent the ban will be enforced and they declined to specify.
But this “general product search” where The Wanderess is no longer found, is responsible for millions of titles sold worldwide. The novelist, as well as his publisher, fear that this prohibition of mainstream exposure is going to make it very hard for the book to sell and to gain a large audience.”