For those who don’t know what a “sensitivity reader” is they will basically scan any book for racist, sexist and or offensive content. While “sensitivity readers” is nothing new in the world of books they have gained some popularity in the last couple of years as “outrage culture” started to flourish. We have seen this happen in the comic book industry, Marvel has become its own victim in regards to this. In a nutshell, Marvel is reacting to the outrage culture found on social media and changing their books accordingly with disastrous effects. Sales have been plummeting year on year and books are getting canceled before their runs are supposed to end. And yet they keep on catering to a demographic that simply does not read or buy their books.
This same thing happened back in 1954 with the Comics Code Authority. You basically couldn’t get your comics on shelves unless you had their stamp of approval and your comic was reviewed from back to front. No more cleavage, horror themes or bloody it was pretty bad and the industry took almost 30 years to correct itself. And eventually the market said no and started kicking back and we got companies like Vertigo, Dark Horse, and Image comics. Hopefully, this time around it won’t take 30 years to correct the damage currently being done by this prevailing outrage culture. It is really hard to imagine Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange” being published today, the amount of outrage that would follow would be of biblical proportions.
Which brings me to my next point: Hasn’t a single person not once stopped, and asked themselves who decides what is offensive or not? Maybe I find excessive cursing offensive (I don’t) or excessive blood or violence, many people like myself and writers and I would never expect everyone’s sensitivities to be on par with anyone else’s. Instead of changing books to suit the needs of a vocal minority why don’t these overly sensitive souls not simply avoid these books. I simply don’t read books with content I find offensive, an oppressive collective of fragile overly sensitive snowflakes seeking to destroy creative freedom is just as deadly as any government censorship program.
When an artist isn’t allowed to create something using his/her creative vision without the external influences of a group of people wanting to change that. This is not how writing and literature is supposed to work. Authors and writers should feel free to write and create ANY character they can imagine. The moment you lose that creative freedom is the moment you also lose free speech itself. Censorship is a dangerous road to travel down. In medieval times the Roman Catholic Church did not believe people could not interpret the bible correctly, so it was banned on pain of death. In Hitler’s Germany books were banned and burned if they were written by Jews, pacifists, pro-democracy writers or anything else they thought would have any impact on their rule.
Same thing with the pre-1994 apartheid government of South Africa who also regularly banned books, music, and movies. This is not how writing and literature is supposed to work. Authors and writers should feel free to write and create ANY character they can imagine. Also hasn’t anyone stopped to think that say a racist seeing themselves mirrored in fiction might cause them to consider the impact they’re having on those around them. Seeing or reading something in a book or movie might alter their mindset in a positive way. It seems all but plausible that the publishers are doing this for fear of being attacked by people that are part of this outrage culture for fear of publishing a “problematic” book. Not to actually improve said books or media.
This is nothing more than an attempt to smuggle in censorship by sugar coating it as “sensitivity readers” no matter what limp wristed label they wish to attach to the practice. Sensitivity writers seek to remove and sanitize certain painful truths about humanity and its history. By seeking to impose an imaginary world wherein all biases and negative behavior are all but gone and never existed. But by showing things like pain, suffering, bias, hatred, and all the darker sides of humanity, that we are forced to see, to understand, to empathize and learn from our mistakes. Authors give us the gift of writing, it allows us to step into another person’s world and life and experience something we would ordinarily not get the chance to do.
[Editorial Note:] I have always stood by the principle that people should write and create what they want, free from external pressures like “sensitivity readers”. I don’t believe sensitivity readers are there to improve books, they claim to look for bias, yet are biased themselves and can be influenced by outrage culture.