Saturday, February 18, 2017

Publishers Hire "Sensitivity Readers" to Censor Books

In Fahrenheit 451, American author Ray Bradbury predicted that progressives (not conservatives) would enforce censorship in the United States, beginning with books deemed "insensitive" to minorities. Well, today's publishers have caught up with Bradbury's dystopian vision.

These days, though, a book may get an additional check from an unusual source: a sensitivity reader, a person who, for a nominal fee, will scan the book for racist, sexist or otherwise offensive content. These readers give feedback based on self-ascribed areas of expertise such as "dealing with terminal illness," "racial dynamics in Muslim communities within families' or "transgender issues."

"The industry recognizes this is a real concern," said Cheryl Klein, a children's and young adult book editor and author of The Magic Words: Writing Great Books for Children and Young Adults. Klein, who works at the publisher Lee & Low, said that she has seen the casual use of specialized readers for many years but that the process has become more standardized and more of a priority, especially in books for young readers.

Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate -- fueled in part by social media -- in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.

Last year, for instance, J.K. Rowling was strongly criticized by Native American readers and scholars for her portrayal of Navajo traditions in the 2016 story "History of Magic in North America." Young-adult author Keira Drake was forced to revise [my italics] her fantasy novel The Continent after an online uproar over its portrayal of people of color and Native backgrounds. More recently, author Veronica Roth -- of Divergent fame -- came under fire for her new novel, Carve the Mark. In addition to being called racist, the book was criticized for its portrayal of chronic pain in its main character.
Some might argue that "sensitivity readers" are no big deal, because their use is not government imposed (yet), and so it's not really censorship. It's an editorial decision. Some authors quoted in the article even claim to be grateful for the "help" they receive from "sensitivity readers" -- helping these authors to portray their characters "correctly."

"Thank you Comrade Sensitivity Reader, for correcting my errors!"

But how voluntary is that consent? "Progressive" activists are never satisfied. They will increasingly pressure hold-out publishers to hire "sensitivity readers." Publishers, in turn, will increasingly pressure authors to make the corrections "requested" by "sensitivity readers."

As Mason notes:

Lee & Low Books has a companywide policy to use sensitivity readers. Stacy Whitman, publisher and editorial director of Lee & Low's middle-grade imprint Tu Books, said she will even request a sensitivity reader before she chooses to acquire a book to publish [my italics].

"It's important for authors to consider expert reader feedback and figure out how to solve the problems they point out," Whitman said.

In other words, whether an author consents to "solve the problems" complained about by some sensitivity commissar will determine its chances for publication. This will mean ever less diversity in literature, because weak, cowardly, incompetent, stupid, and evil personality traits will become (even more so than already) reserved for straight, white, Christian, male characters.

Returning to Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, here's an excerpt from the Fire Chief's speech, explaining how society eventually got around to book-burning:

Now let's take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don't step on the toes of the dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere.
The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy [my italics], remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic-books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course.
There you have it, Montag. It didn't come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! [my italics] Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.

Bradbury didn't get everything right. Publishers don't care about the sensitivities of Mormons or Baptists or Swedes or Germans. Such is our "progressive" culture. Poking fun at non-Christian religions is hate, but bashing Christianity is healthy satire. Nazis are unqualified villains, but Communists are at worst misguided idealists. At best they are the noble victims of McCarthyism. (The sensitivities of the victims of Communism be damned.)

But Bradbury had a great insight. Censorship doesn't start with government dictates. It begins with popular pressure. It begins in the private sector. And the signs are ominous.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Huffington Post Quotes Me -- Misspells My Name

I guess it's nice to be quoted in a major publication like The Huffington Post, even if they do misspell my name (something I've lived with since childhood -- Why is it so hard to spell Sipos?).

In her article, "5 Reasons Kevin Sorbo Should Play John Galt," Jennifer Anju Grossman writes:

"Sorbo has already played a John Galt-like character in an indie film called Alongside Night, based on a 1979 novel by Neil Schulman. Writing for, Thomas M. Sipo [sic!] observes:

" 'In the near future, the U.S. government grows ever more oppressive as it tries to avert economic collapse due to its excessive taxing, borrowing, spending, and regulation. Meanwhile, a morally principled group of anti-government cadres prepares for a freer, post-socialist America. Atlas Shrugged? No, it's Alongside Night, a new indie film based on the 1979 novel of the same name.

" 'The two films do differ on some ideological points. Atlas Shrugged promotes Ayn Rand's Objectivism, a philosophy that supports small government. Rand expressly rejected anarchism. By contrast, Alongside Night advocates Agorism, a school of anarchism founded by Samuel E. Konkin III.' "

Sipo? Really? I've seen my name spelled Sinos, Sitos, Sipas -- Charlton Heston even spelled it Sippos when he autographed his photo for me. But Sipo is a new one.

Grossman is CEO of the Atlas Society, former Cato Institute policy director, and former speechwriter for President H.W. Bush.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Food Cart Vendor Turf Wars

Sometimes it takes a while for reality to catch up to satire. I first wrote Manhattan Sharks as a screenplay in 1987, later turning it into a novel. Nearly 30 years ago.

Manhattan Sharks is a tale of job-hunting and career competition in the "Decade of Greed," from the highest CEOs to the lowliest food cart vendors.

At one point, two characters -- competing food cart vendors -- engage in a food fight over a New York City street corner. At the time I worried that I was being too ... out there. Too wacky and unrealistic. But it seems these things do happen.

Reporting for the The New York Daily News [June 23, 2016], Rocco Parascandola and Edgar Sandoval write:

A West Side turf battle between two rival food vendors vying for the same street corner turned cutthroat when one of the men slashed the other in the back, police sources said Wednesday.

Mohamed Awad, 39, was charged with felony assault and weapons possession in the Tuesday afternoon confrontation, while his competitor, Eissa Naser, 37, required five stitches. The two men got into argument at 10th Ave. and W. 30th St., each laying claim to station his food cart at that corner. As the dispute became heated, Awad allegedly pulled out a razor, and sliced Naser, who collapsed by a Jolly’s Gyro food cart.

A year earlier, Gary Buiso wrote for the New York Post [February 15, 2015, see above image]:

... a group of irate Egyptian competitors block the kosher vendor from setting up on the sidewalk, literally squatting on the curb or placing umbrellas and beverage cartons to cordon off the space

... Licenses granted by the city do not specify where vendors must locate, but the city can force vendors to move for a variety of reasons, including being parked too close to a subway entrance. Intense competition prompts vendors to arrive with their carts by 3 a.m. to claim a spot, with some camping out overnight.

My Googling also uncovered a 2009 New York Times article [June 30, 2009], Julia Moskin reporting:

... "The police told these guys that nobody owns the streets. But it sure doesn’t feel that way," said Mr. Di Mille, who called the Midtown North precinct -- not for the first time -- when a jewelry vendor set up shop directly in front of his sales window.

In four weeks of business, the couple has been threatened at the depot where they park the truck; cursed by a gyro vendor who said that he would set their truck on fire; told to stay off every corner in Midtown by ice cream truck drivers; and approached by countless others with advice -- both friendly and menacing -- on how to get along on the streets.

"I want to be a good neighbor," Mr. Di Mille said. "But I am nobody's fool, and nobody's pushover, and I should not have to carry a baseball bat on my truck in order to sell cupcakes."

... Turf wars are nothing new for carts selling kebabs and cheap coffee. But the makers of thumbprint cookies, chicken-Thai basil dumplings, and crème anglaise are not happy about the sharp elbows that are part of the city's sidewalk economy, or the murky bureaucracy that oversees the issuing of permits. (Six people were arrested on Tuesday on fraud charges related to food vending permits.)

Of course, I didn't have Google when I wrote Manhattan Sharks. I thought I was making it all up. But food cart vendors really do battle -- sometimes violently -- over street turf in New York City. Go figure.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My 2016 World Horror Convention Panels

As in most years, I'll be attending the World Horror Convention. This time it's being held in Provo, Utah.

It seems it's held in Utah every four years. It was in Salt Lake City in 2008 and again 2012. The 2008 convention included a fun ghost tour. The 2012 con had a séance.

I'll be on only one panel, on Saturday, April 30th, from 10:15 to 11:15 a.m.. It's called My Favorite Horror Film. Panelists to include: Darren Shan, Jeff Strand, Linda Addison (m), Sunni K. Brock, Sanford Allen, and Thomas M. Sipos.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

My 2015 World Horror Convention Panels

I'll be participating in several events at the 2015 World Horror Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, over the weekend of May 7 to 10, 2015.

* On Friday, and again on Saturday, (May 8 and 9), from 5 to 6 p.m., I'll be part of the Filmmakers Lounge. This is described as "a free and easy conversation on whatever the filmmakers want to discuss -- their own projects, favorite films -- as well as a networking opportunity. Daniel Griffith will moderate. Panelists to include Lynne Hansen, Daniel Knauf, Frazer Lee, Ryan Lieske, Thomas M. Sipos, and John Skipp.

* On Friday night, May 8, from 8 p.m. to midnight, I'll be hosting a "best of" screening of past Tabloid Witch Award winning horror films. Details on the Tabloid Witch blog.

* Also on Saturday, May 9, from 2 to 3 p.m., I'll be moderating the panel: Two Stumps Way Up: Horror Film Criticism, Journalism and Scholarship. Panelists to include L. Andrew Cooper, James Newman, and Gord Shriver.


Sunday, March 01, 2015

Hollywood Witches Skewers Liberal Diversity Hypocrites

The 2015 Academy Awards once again exposed Hollywood's hypocrisy on diversity. The film industry has a long history of promoting diversity on screen -- but only as a message, not as an actual practice. As a random example, consider the 1980 TV-movie, The $5.20 an Hour Dream. In it, Linda Lavin (TV's Alice) fights sexist bosses and co-workers for her right to do "a man's job" on a factory assembly line.

The makers of that film likely felt a smug pride in berating manufacturers for their unequal hiring practices. And a sense of moral superiority in belonging to the more enlightened entertainment industry. Indeed, Hollywood has been so prolific in fighting prejudice (on screen) that it's hard to list every film and TV episode with an equal opportunity message. Norman Lear made a career of producing "liberal message" sitcoms in the 1970s-1980s.

But that's okay. The message -- that one should provide equal opportunity to all job-seekers, irrespective of race, religion, ethnicity, sex, or age -- is right and proper. The problem is that while Hollywood loves to wag its finger at all those other "bigoted" businesses -- which are nearly always depicted as being run by snotty, blue-blooded WASPs -- Hollywood has yet to practice what it preaches.

According to the AP's Jake Coyle, "[T]he academy is a reflection of the film industry; it can only reward the films that get made. What this year's all-white acting nominees did was lay bare the enormous, hulking iceberg of the movie business' diversity problems." And NPR's All Things Considered adds, "If you want an accurate picture of ethnic and gender diversity in the United States, don't look to Hollywood."

Both articles cite the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report prepared by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. But this is only the latest in a long line of dismal Hollywood diversity reports. In 2000, the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute released a report with the self-explanatory title: Still Missing: Latinos In and Out of Hollywood.

I know about that report because I cite its statistics in Hollywood Witches, my satirical novel about Tinseltown's hypocritical hiring practices. In Hollywood Witches, a New Age coven infiltrates the studios, seeking control of the industry by hook or by crook -- or more specifically, through sex and black magic. Once in power, they will impose hiring quotas so that the industry "looks like America" on both sides of the camera. Coven leader Diana Däagen even has some programs on her Mac custom-designed for just that purpose: Glass Ceiling 4.0 and Bean Counter 2.1.

Diana Däagen is a villain. Her plans require widespread blood sacrifice to succeed. But like all great Hollywood villains, she has a point. There is method to her madness. When she states her case (as all great villains do before launching the final stage of their Master Plan), she cites hard facts and makes valid arguments. Hollywood does discriminate. Despite the usual boilerplate about "equal opportunity" on studio stationery, nepotism and cronyism rule the day.

And it's even worse behind the camera than on screen. Audiences will notice if there's no color on screen, but they never see who's writing and producing (or not) off camera.

The current controversy regarding the 2015 Oscars has focused mostly (albeit not exclusively) on the lack of diversity on screen. But Diana correctly understood that Hollywood will never achieve real diversity until there is diversity among the gatekeepers doing the hiring -- the agents, managers, producers, TV show runners, and studio bosses. Give the devil her due.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Tabloid Witch Award Screenings at Loscon 41

It's that time that of year again, time for Thanksgiving -- and Loscon!

As usual, Los Angeles's annual science fantasy convention will be convening over Thanksgiving weekend, at the LAX Marriott Hotel. And as is often the case, I'll be screening past Tabloid Witch Award winning horror films there.

I'll be screening the following horror films on Friday evening, November 28, from 8 p.m. to midnight, in the LAX Marriott Hotel's Saddle Brook Room. The schedule is as follows:

short film block: 8 - 10:00 p.m.

Psychic Sue -- A phony psychic meets a real ghost. Horror comedy.

Timothy -- A children's TV show rabbit turns out to be...not nice. We always knewBarney the Dinosaur and the Teletubbies were evil. Grisly dark comedy.

The First Step -- A young girl in a new house hears a monster creeping up the stairs.

Za Edgara (aka To Edgar) -- How Edgar Allan Poe got so weird. Animation.

Somebody to Love-- A lonely man rescues a beautiful corpse...but women are all the same!

The Heebie Jeebies -- A mother's terrifying bedtime tale...or are Heebie Jeebies for real?

The Stomach -- A tormented medium hosts spirits in his stomach. Bloody British horror.

The Fear Box: 666 Telemarketing -- Telemarketers really are from Hell.

Ticket to the Haunted Mansion -- It's only a's not's only a show...right?

Lancaster Square -- A woman hears a baby crying...but where is the baby?

Filmmaker's Q&A

feature: 10:30 p.m. - midnight

Tympanum -- A family man finds a portal in his own apartment. A portal leading to...another planet? Another time? Another dimension?