Twitter is a pretty horrible place to be. All you need to do is look at the Twitterstorm that hit Yorkshire Tea a few weeks ago. On the plus side, it gave us the immortal phrase “Sue, you’re shouting at tea!” On the minus, it showed us how fucking crazy people can be. I used to work for the company that owns Yorkshire Tea and met one of the people on their marketing team. He was a nice guy and I’m sure everyone at the Yorkshire Tea marketing team is. Definitely not the kind of people who deserve abuse being hurled at them for something that was beyond their control. But that’s the kind of world that we live in. That a politician can be seen drinking a specific tea and then a whole host of people demand a boycott of the brand in response. Despite the fact that the original post wasn’t an advertisement. The real issue with social media is that it’s fooled people into thinking that their voice deserves to be heard. It’s changed the idea of what freedom of speech means to so many people. It no longer means having the power or right to express your opinions without censorship, restraint, or legal penalty. It means saying whatever the fuck you want and not thinking there are any moral, social, or emotional consequences to them.
An idea that became painfully obvious last week when writer Stephen King made the stupid decision to criticise publishing house Hachette Book Group for refusing to release Woody Allen’s memoirs. In his tweet, King described the decision as “muzzling” and that he was worried about the consequences for the future. In a follow-up tweet, the writer mused “once you start, the next one is always easier”. It’s insane. As if the decision not to publish Allen’s book sets us on a direct path to some Orwellian nightmare or something. King wasn’t happy about the decision because he believed that Allen’s freedom of speech was being taken away from him. Which is bullshit. Freedom of speech isn’t something that gives everyone the right to publish a book. If it did, there would fewer struggling writers out there.
Nobody is entitled to have a book published. A company making a decision to not publish a book isn’t an issue of censorship but a business decision. Yes, question why the decision was made in the first place. Question why it happened considering they were also responsible for publishing Ronan Farrow’s expose of Harvey Weinstein and other high-profile abusers. It’s not only a highly insensitive decision but a fairly immoral one if they really did keep it from Farrow. It stinks of an executive being blinded by dollar signs only to realise all too late that it would be a huge shitshow and potentially hurt their brand. But I’m not here to moan about greedy men (sorry, I’m making an assumption here but I guarantee a man agreed to this) making greedy decisions.
I’m here to talk about a high-profile, successful and popular writer using his own platform in such an ill-judged way. To call the decision “muzzling” is ridiculous. In a later tweet, King tried to clarify his point by writing:
If you think he’s a pedophile, don’t buy the book. Don’t go to his movies. Don’t go listen to him play jazz at the Carlyle. Vote with your wallets… by withholding it. In America, that’s how we do it.
Just remind me which American law it is that says you have to publish every book some rich old white guy wants to write, Mr King? Oh, there isn’t one? Damn, right there isn’t. This isn’t censorship; this is business. Nobody has banned Allen from releasing his book. One publishing house has just chosen not to. Nobody is being muzzled. Just inconvenienced.
What is most disheartening is that King is choosing to stand up for Allen. Woody Allen is a man with enough money to publish and market the book himself. He’s also high-profile enough that, eventually, I’m sure someone would do it for him. Especially after all the press surrounding Hachette’s change of mind. Someone unscrupulous person will see an opportunity here and know that plenty of people will now want to read this book. So, Allen isn’t really going to suffer. Who is suffering are the countless writers from minority groups who are overlooked and underrepresented in every faction of the literary world. If you want to talk about muzzling, let’s talk about how a white man can publish book after book with increasingly silly endings while new and possibly better writers aren’t getting a chance. Stephen King is a good writer and deserves his reputation but he’s also privileged. He should be using his status to help promote people who deserve it instead of sticking up for a creep like Allen.
And this comes off the back of several other examples of King not thinking before he clicks that tweet button. He’s come under fire for comments about representation at the Oscars earlier this year. Stating that he “would never consider diversity in matters of art”, which is fair enough. Nobody would. However, in his middle-aged white man privilege bubble, King is ignoring the fact that minorities are not given the exposure that they need in order to be considered equal. If Black films aren’t being made then Black people won’t be nominated for Oscars. It was a classic case of “I just see people as equal”. This is great in theory but it ignores the huge inequality that already exists in society. He doesn’t understand the struggles that so many people face and to just dismiss that a system is flawed is almost as bad as the people who agree with it the way it is.
I think the problem is all down to his reputation. People see King was one of the greatest writers ever and he can say anything. His super fans won’t say a word against him. He has stopped self-editing his thoughts and, when it backfires, he acts like the victim or backtracks. He doesn’t contemplate the consequences of his actions. In September last year, King mentioned a journalist, by name, who had written an article about how shit his endings are. As soon as King tweeted about the article his fans all piled in. The replies were just full of vicious comments about the journalist and who he was as a person. I guarantee nobody will have read the article or looked into who the guy was. They just went along with their hero. King is careless with his tweets and I feel as though it’s just a sign of an overinflated ego.
It’s like JK Rowling. These days she uses Twitter to continue to ruin the books of our childhood, make inflammatory statements that she doesn’t apologise for, or argue with people who disagree with her. Authors are human beings, I know. They deserve to be able to express their opinions without being criticised. But they do have to be careful with what they say and how they say it. They have to realise that they have a certain status and following. People listen to what they say and, more importantly, a lot of people might get hurt from what they say. I know King wasn’t really sticking up for an accused sexual offender but it could easily have been mistaken for that. Imagine you’re a fan of the writer and a survivor of child abuse. How would it feel hearing your favourite author suggesting that not publishing Woody Allen’s book is censorship? There must be somebody who works for King who can take control of his Twitter, right? He shouldn’ t be allowed to do it himself anymore.