Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.
A couple days ago I posted a Twitter link to an article in the Huffington Post titled: PayPal Takes Controversial Stance Against Sex. The article reveals that Paypay has told a number of websites selling erotica that if they continue to sell work that features bestiality, incest (or pseudo-incest) or underage sex, Paypal will suspend their accounts.
I fully concur with anyone who notes that Paypal, as a private business enterprise, has every right in the world to decide with whom they do business. We can all agree that their severing ties with any criminal enterprise makes sense. If someone were selling crack by mail, using Paypal for transactions, suspending the accounts of both users and sellers would make sense. And, for their part, Paypal has to be very alert to charges of being money launderers. One Ebay sales for an overpriced piece of junk could, in fact, be the conduit for getting money into the hands of terrorists under the watchful eye of the government. So, I’m all for Paypal being watchful—and full disclosure here, I use Paypal to accept payments for my site.
Here’s where I’m uncomfortable. The prohibition against bestiality includes, in paranormal romances, a prohibition against were-creatures engaging in sex while in beast form. Unless I misremember, this, then, would make the selling of the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula prohibited, since I recall a werewolf having his way with a woman in a graveyard. And, hey, if not in that film, how about the legion of other horror films where that sort of thing happens? Sure, someone from the Paypal side could argue that the scene I remember isn’t explicit, but who becomes the final arbiter of what is or isn’t explicit in that regard?
Bear in mind, please, that even the most explicit sex in media is not necessarily illegal. It is, whether you like it or not, protected speech.
Here’s a case that hits a bit closer to home. Back when I was writing the Age of Discovery series, the editor and I had a disagreement about a point concerning the love story between two characters. I noted that they’d met when she was fourteen year old concubine and begun their romance. The editor objected, suggesting this was an inappropriate age for the romance to start. I tried to point out that the age of consent is not uniform in the world, and not even in the USA. With parental or judicial agreement, girls as young as 14 are allowed to marry.
Still, she wouldn’t have it, so the age reference got deleted, and I merely referred to the female as a young woman. And, note, the protest wasn’t about her being a concubine at that age, it was about her being able to consent to a relationship which, as it turned out, lasted for centuries. Also we’re not talking modern times—in which adolescence is artificially extended by society—or even this world.
Let’s put this into some historical perspective, to use but one of many examples. In 1137, the one-year-old Petronilla of Aragon was betrothed to a twenty-four year old man, Ramon Berenguer IV of Barcelona. Fourteen years later they were married (she being fifteen, he being thirty-eight) and produced five children in the dozen years before Ramon died. (Example is drawn from Norman Davies’ wonderful book Vanished Kingdoms.)
The question then, to return to the point, is this: would a historical romance based on the Petronilla and Ramon story trigger a Paypal warning?
It’s not that easy an answer, is it? It depends fully who is doing the judging. It would be easy to say, “no” because history justifies it. And perhaps the author, while showing them lovemaking on their wedding night, is gently explicit as in softer romances. Others might note that despite her age, she was married and, therefore, that makes it okay—while another arbiter who believes the Catholic Church is really the Whore of Babylon, would see the marriage’s sanction as being another example of Satanic influence in the world and protest.
I also think we’d all be foolish to forget that outside influences might pressure arbiters to make decisions with which we disagree. Advocacy groups with their own axes to grind have very successfully organized secondary boycotts, which gotten corporate decisions reversed and television programs either removed or renewed. Such efforts saved Chuck, and have gutted some truly horrible shows.
I think that each of us needs to consider what Paypal’s done and realize they’ve begun inching down a very slippery slope. In my opinion, once they begin to pressure businesses engaging in legal activity to curtail those activities, they’re setting themselves up to be moral arbiters for the culture—or, by proxy, instruments of special-interest groups who want to be moral arbiters. I never saw that as part of their business mission statement. Maybe it’s time to buy some Ebay stock and voice my opinion as a stockholder.
Because, ultimately, just the very fact that I’ve written and published this essay critical of Paypal could be cause enough for them to notify me that if I don’t pull it, don’t recant, they’ll cut me off. And if I don’t, and they pressure my ISP to kill my site…
Very slippery slope.
UPDATE: The Passive Voice Blog has linked to a follow-up article on this whole thing: Paypal Loosens Grip…