I’m a writer (obviously). I’m also a comedian (not always so obvious). Whenever I get wind of a boycott of a publication or website because of something a group of people disagree with them publishing, my split personalities conflict. The writer side of me is like, “Yeah, words matter; choose wisely, bitches.” However, the comedian side is all like, “Ain’t no one ever gonna tell me what I can and cannot say.”
Yes, my inner voice is that sassy.
This publication has recently come under fire for two specific articles they published, and their general publishing standards. One piece, written by Gavin McInnes, was filled with blatant incendiary transphobic language. The other article, by Anthony Rogers, read like a racist manifesto. In my opinion, as a reader (not a writer), these articles are total shit and I can choose to not read that publication. As a writer, I can choose to not write for that publication, even call for my work to be removed (as many writers are doing).
But, the moment we start banning language we don’t like from a publication that has a right to publish whatever they want, it’s a slippery slope to banning other content, such as satire, unpopular commentary, or rare points of view that few agree with.
100 years ago, most everything I have written for Thought Catalog would have been banned, and I would have likely been arrested for obscenity. Socrates had to drink poison because of the stuff he wrote/advocated. Do you know how much trouble Martin Luther got into from printing those bibles? The Licensing Act of 1643 greatly censored writers, publishers, and printers in England (then the largest provider of the published English written word worldwide), but was rightly taken down by John Milton’s “Areopagitica” speech to parliament in 1664, highlighting great censored writers and thinkers–which became an inspiration for the Enlightenment (NBD). Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was banned by libraries. I could go on with these examples, but you get my point.
In no way do the two articles in question compare to the works I listed above (because as previously stated, they are total shit), but what they do all have in common is their right to be published.
This is true Liberty where free born men
Having to advise the public may speak free,
Which he who can, and will, deserv’s high praise,
Who neither can nor will, may hold his peace;
What be juster in a State than this?
(Milton 1974, 196; translating from Euripides)
An interesting point that Euripides, a Greek playwright, went on to say that free speech is a choice.
McInnes and Rogers chose to speak hate (and are feeling the consequences of that choice). Thought Catalog chose to publish that hate, which clearly has led to a vigorous discussion about the issues at hand. Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t the point of being a writer to express a thought, no matter how unpopular or even hateful, in the hopes that it inspires a discussion? That’s why I do this for a living, albeit a meager one.
Protest, you should and I encourage it. Boycott the shit out of websites, I’m down. Hate things Thought Catalog publishes, I do (looking at you, every list ever). But telling a publisher what they can and cannot run is a dangerous and wrong path to take.