An Amazon "Glitch" Eliminates Most Gay Titles From its Search Engine
The problem? Many of these titles were clearly not "adult"; gay-themed young adult books and even some picture book titles were included in the change. And even among the seemingly-"adult" titles, the company seemed to have a different standard for gay-themed works than for heterosexual-themed ones: gay romances were "adult" while A History of Playboy Centerfolds was not.
When first queried about the new policy change, Amazon initially defended it (in what was probably a form email to one of the affected authors).
A few authors have been sounding the clarion call on this policy change for weeks now, and this weekend, they were finally heard. All hell broke loose. By Sunday night, the blogosphere was furious, with emails and tweets flying back and forth.
By this morning, Amazon announced that it was all a misunderstanding -- the result of a "computer glitch." The policy was reversed. Score one for the Twitter Generation.
But pardon me if I'm a tad skeptical of Amazon's explanation.
Here's what I think happened:
Religious conservatives, probably in an orchestrated campaign, used the feature on the Amazon site that allows users to flag a book as "adult" to target as many gay-themed titles as they could manage. And a clueless worker at the company okayed these changes (or perhaps this is done automatically--the aforementioned "glitch").
When the error was pointed out, they did what most people do when they're criticized: they reflexively defended themselves without really considering that they were defending the virtual elimination of gay titles from their search engine.
But apart from Amazon, the greater issue is this: for too long, America has equated "gay" with "sex." Heterosexuals are three dimensional beings, and their relationships are above "love": marriage, commitment, and all the rest. Homosexuals are defined by sex acts, and their relationships are about getting off. (My partner wrote a terrific essay on the topic here.)
It's a grossly unfair double-standard, with obvious real-world implications, and it's absolutely has to change.
In our discussions here at AS IF, one of our members, Bennett Madison, made the trenchant point that this Amazon mess is absolutely the danger when independent bookstores go out of business, and they're replaced by one or two conglomerates: one or two companies -- often one person at these companies -- is making the decision about what titles are available to the rest of us. This brouhaha was high profile enough that it was eventually reversed, but what about all the decisions that are too small scale to reach this level of outrage?
We here at AS IF! think this is very much worth considering.