Lionel Shriver has a fascinating piece in the Spectator USA about “morality clauses” in modern publishing contracts; clauses that void contracts “if, in a magazine’s ‘sole judgement’, they were the subject of ‘public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals’.”
Shriver gives an account of the use of such clauses in Hollywood to control writers, directors, and stars, and which in part led to the McCarthyite blacklists. He goes on to note:
In kind, today’s broad, nonspecific publishing opt-outs in the event of an author’s incurring ‘disrepute’ readily extend to thought crime — and the contemporary basket of ideological no-nos does nothing but burgeon. Off the top of my head, too-hot-to-handle topics now include anything to do with gender, sex, race, immigration, disability, social class, obesity and Islam (surely that list is too short).
The reason for their recent resurgence? Twitter, says Shriver.
Enshrining mob rule in legal contracts can only further embolden the cranks, the kooks, the grumps — the sanctimonious, the embittered, the aggrieved. As word spreads that outrage on digital steroids can not only hound and intimidate writers, but can consign years of their hard work to the bin, the Twits are further motivated to crucify anyone who breaks their imaginary rules …
Yet this is a much larger matter than writers whingeing about their writery problems in their little writery world. It’s an issue for readers, of course, but it extends beyond readers as well. All forms of employment are now altogether too contingent on not attracting the contumely of the crowd.
Shriver concludes with advice for publishers:
It’s time for folks with institutional power to exercise independent judgment, rather than immediately disavowing overnight pariahs who only yesterday were their friends and colleagues. To refuse to respond to every mob at the door by picking up a baseball bat and joining the throng. You know who you are.
Well worth the read.