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Crossing a line, so not an ocean

Apparently when S&S tried to sell one of their latest into the big box stores, Walmart and Target declined to pick up copies.  Former Daily Show exec producer David Javerbaum’s The Last Testament: A Memoir (by God) has offended the sensibilities of their buyers—or they perceive it will offend the sensibilities of their customers enough that it’s not worth carrying.  I will admit right now that I am not the consumer they have in mind when they raise that fear, but to each his own in that regard.  Much as I find the idea of Javerbaum’s book (and his @TheTweetofGod Twitter account) pretty funny, I can see why someone for whom blasphemy means something other than entertainment might oppose it.  And I don’t see a private entity not selling something as akin to censorship, so I don’t morally oppose their choice.

The thing that shocks me here is that S&S UK backed out.  We always hear about how we’re so much more religious and PC in this country than the UK—and as a fan of British panel quiz shows, I can guarantee you that political correctness has not taken root in UK society to the extent it has here—so it’s a surprising development.  The UK market tends to be more cautious about controversial books, since their libel laws are much less defendant friendly than those here in the US, but I’m having a hard time imagining that S&S fears God will bring suit.  I’m really not sure why it is they changed their minds, but I’m pretty surprised to see that S&S US went full steam ahead and S&S UK said no.  Perhaps it’s the Daily Show factor?  Maybe in the US, the damage will be offset by the show’s loyal following, but in the UK, there’s less of a fan base to appeal to.

So, dear readers, what say you?  Offensive?  Offensive enough to boycott over?  Offensive enough not to publish at all for fear of poor sales or backlash?  Thoughts on why the UK pulled the plug?  It’s an interesting turn of events, for sure.  And some fantastic publicity for the book either way.

9 Responses to Crossing a line, so not an ocean

  1. Stephen says:

    Sure, Walmart and Target have the right to stock whatever they choose, but I think they underestimate the addictive nature of the convenient shopping experience their stores provide. I mean, it’s too easy. And let’s face it, culturally speaking, we’re lazy and strive to be even lazier. Someone who shops at Walmart regularly (like me) isn’t going to walk into a store, see something that offends them, and NOT get the bananas they drove there for in the first place.

    So, my point is, I don’t see why they don’t carry this type of material.

    • Lauren says:

      It’s funny you should say that, because I went into that originally, but then I thought that perhaps other people do prioritize their convictions over shopping convenience. Boycotting a place you never shop is easy, but a place you always do? I’d have to care A LOT.

  2. Lance Parkin says:

    I don’t think there’s any worry that the UK suddenly got religion – it’s more likely to be because of:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/dec/20/more4-daily-show-stewart

  3. June says:

    I received the book as an ARC and it is pretty funny, but if you’re a person who holds conservative, devout views of God, I can understand how it would be offensive to those sensibilities. I guess the stores felt it wasn’t worth the risk of offending their customers.

  4. Joelle says:

    My guess is it’s more about numbers than offending people. I love the Daily Show, but I can’t see why people who don’t have a strong connection to America would find it more than mildly amusing. Also, from what I know of Brits (lived there, friends, fan of the panel shows myself), my guess is if a Brit comedian makes fun of God, that’s okay, but Americans doing it are just crude. :-)

    • Lance Parkin says:

      Yeah … I’ve not read the book, and I wonder if its reference points are all too specifically American. The religious experience in Britain is simply not the same as the one in the US, the role of religion is simply not as central and political (I’m speaking as a Briton living in the US now). It’s not the target of satire simply because … well, it’s just not part of people’s life in the UK. It would be like writing biting satire against knitting circles or cat shows.

      See, for example, Eddie Izzard’s last stand up show, Stripped, for a sustained, thoughtful, irreverent, British attack on religion.

  5. Aonghus Fallon says:

    I’m only guessing, but I wonder if the problem is the exact opposite? That it is Britain’s aggressive secularism which makes such a book a hard sell? I’m Irish and an atheist myself, but I do get the impression that most modern-day Brits tend to be aggressively anti-religion, especially – for largely historical reasons – the Catholic religion. Dawkins is the most obvious example; a man who has turned atheism into a form of zealotry. I don’t think they’d have a problem with a book that ridiculed organised religion, but a book that humanised God (albeit in a jokey, humorous way) just wouldn’t have enough readers in the UK. It would offend the devout and the anti-God brigade in equal measure.

  6. M.E. Anders says:

    When I read about this debacle in Publishers Weekly, I was surprised. The UK is known as the more godless population as compared to the US. Why all the fuss?

    Regardless, the book IS achieving coveted publicity. I may have never heard of it till yesterday, but it’s sneaked onto my TBR list. :)

  7. Lauren says:

    Thanks for all your thoughts! Agreed that numbers might be a bigger factor than offense, especially since the offense boils down to numbers anyway.

    It’s possible they overestimated the Daily Show’s UK audience and realized, thus pulling the plug with a convenient excuse. Or maybe they felt what offensiveness is there limited their audience further than the numbers could bare. Or perhaps it is that when they got it in hand they realized the humor didn’t translate b/c of British secularism and felt that THAT tipped this into unprofitable.

    Whatever it is, it’s an interesting example of the ways that something can be a fairly big deal in one place and a nonstarter in another.

    Lance, I fear you underestimate the value a biting satire on knitting circles might have in the US. Knitting-adjacent publishing is very profitable!

    And Aonghus, that’s an interesting thought. It’s inflammatory, b/c it’s too pro-God. I’m sure that’s not a possibility the author envisioned!

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