Monday, April 13, 2009

Michael Chabon & Amazon Fail

By amazing coincidence, Michael Chabon was speaking at Northwestern tonight - just two weeks before our book club for Maps and Legends! Naturally I told everyone I arranged it personally, and they all believed me for approximately 30 seconds on accounta the previous surprise of free books. Ha ha!

He read a very long essay about his love of Edgar Allen Poe, including his childhood fantasy that he was, in fact, the reincarnation of Poe. It was the perfect reading for me because he spoke at length about the themes in Maps and Legends. He has a rather elegant allegory for how literature and reading and writing are geographical - I won't try to summarize that - and his love for what we call genre fiction today - Poe being a perfect example.

I wish he had spoken more extemporaneously rather than reading from his script - alas, few great writers are great readers, but, it was very exciting to see him and to be part of the audience.

It's also quite a coincidence that I saw him today, as all this Amazon shit is hitting the fan. If you ask me, Amazon's practicing a particularly nasty brand of censorship based on genre profiling - namely anything "they" (but who are they?) consider GLBT, erotic or romantic, with some pretty shocking inclusions like Lady Chatterly's Lover and, one of my personal faves, Bastard Out of Carolina. (Oh no they didn't!) Amazon is hiding the books' true sales rank, thus making it less likely they'll appear in searches.

After the shitstorm of controversy, especially on the blogs and apparently Twitter (thus possibly proving that Twitter might be worthwhile), Amazon is claiming that the whole thing is a "glitch", which sounds like total bullshit to me. But, why are they doing this? Supposedly they're not run by religious fundamentalists, which this whole things reeks of - then why?

Anywho, I'm doing a bit of Amazon searching myself to see what I find. So far:

  • a search for "homosexuality" - first result? A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality O.M.G.
  • Lady Chatterley's Lover is currently ranked 33,508 - D.H. Lawrence hasn't had this much press since...
  • A biography of Ellen Degeneres by Lisa Iannucci does not have a ranking


MoHoHawaii said...

The sales rank issue is not the only anti-gay part of Amazon. Their "search suggestions" feature is completely disabled for searches using "gay" or "lesbian" as their first word.

Normally Amazon shows you suggestions as you type characters in the search box. For example if you type "Christian m" you will see a list of suggestions including "Christian marriage". You don't have to type the full search, just select from the suggestions.

If you try this same search by typing "gay m" you get nothing. Unlike the term "Christian", the word "gay" just shuts off the search suggestions feature completely. Same for "lesbian."

This sucks.

I wonder what kind of "glitch" this can be attributed to.

E. L. Fay said...

Actually, I just read that a notorious Internet troll named Weev has confessed to being behind this. He was apparently annoyed by some of the features of Amazon's "user-friendly" system that I guess gives people too much power over deciding what "offensive content" is.

I like Amazon, but it has other problems as well. Look up Harriet Klausner and you'll see what I mean.

Lvanbeet said...

Great post. "Anywho" -- the colloquial, chatty "anyhow" -- is actually spelled "anyhoo." Still, very thought-provoking.