How to survive the censorship of erotic
By now, we have got used to it: since the series’ foundation in 2014, La Novella Orchidea and the writings edited by Ricardo Tronconi are cyclically banned from portals and social networks due to their ‘adult content‘, often without a convincing explanation.
The latest incident occurred just a few weeks ago, when our intermediary, StreetLib, took the trouble to inform us that the now notorious Amazon had taken one of our comics off sale (to be precise, the Chinese version of Fabia Claudia and Claudia Fabia with accompanying story), as it violated their guidelines. And since the big market is the boss, StreeLib too, following the report on the product, decides to suspend its sale altogether, at least until it is given a proper classification.
Thus began a generous exchange of e-mails, in which I confirmed that yes, indeed, the comic book is erotic, but from here to say that it is pornographic there goes a long way (it is also in black and white). The young lady at the help desk does not give up: I must not take the term ‘pornographic’ personally, it is just another definition for ‘adult content’; I have to understand that it is a classification-filter only useful to avoid sending erotic content to stores that do not accept this genre.
At this point, a question arises: what – if any – is the difference between erotic and pornographic?
After all, tens of thousands of TV series and films with explicit sex and nudity pass us by every day. Why should an author who correctly marks his book in the erotic genre, forbidding it to be read under the age of 14 or 18, be accused of pornography and excluded from distribution? That is, why are the erotic contents of independent authors often and willingly considered pornographic?
What is pornography?
Pornography has to do with products that depict (even only in written form) explicit, realistic and obscene sexual subjects and/or acts, ‘with the aim of erotically stimulating the reader or viewer’ (Treccani). We are therefore not only talking about actual sex, but also about simple nudity.
The adjectives of which this definition is made up are very important: explicit means something clearly expressed, obscene something that offends a sense of decency. Thus, explicit and obscene content cannot by its very nature be merely allusive, but must somehow be concretely demonstrative in a sexual (and thus realistic) sense. So-called adult content, in short, provides us with an explicit and realistic image of the obscenity that the erotic implies in a veiled and elegant manner.
Erotic vs pornographic
Simplifying, we could therefore consider pornographic what is sexually explicit, while erotic what is sexually implied. And here the dog starts biting its tail. If, for instance, we take the description of a naked woman, it is clear that this is explicit, obscene content. In itself, certainly pornographic in the strict sense. But does the description of a naked woman automatically extend a pornographic value to the whole content of the book? Or are we rather in the realm of the erotic, that is, of something that verges on the pornographic, but does not have as its goal the representation of nudity or the sexual act itself?
Let us return to the starting question. StreetLib informs us from the outset that yes, we can publish our own erotic books, but – and herein lies the big basic problem – it takes it for granted that any publication concerning this genre is automatically pornographic. With all the appropriate subcategories (rape, paedophilia, incest, etc).
Hence, most stores deny publication to all (or almost all) titles in this genre. Because, when we cannot in any way explain to an algorithm what our intentions are when describing or illustrating erotic content (didactic, entertaining, condemning, inciting…), how else can a distributor protect himself if not by cutting the bull’s eye off from the start?
Two ways to survive
There are two ways to survive this censorship.
Many independent authors choose not to report the existence of erotic content in their books, in order to avoid eBook distributors considering what is in fact not pornographic in the strict sense of the word. If we think of Fifty Shades of Grey, how do we classify it? In several countries, the film is banned for under 17s due to the presence of “strong sexual content, including dialogue, unusual behaviour, nudity, and inappropriate language”. However, this does not mean it is considered pornographic. In fact, everyone, without exception, can read the book from which it is taken. On the Amazon purchase page, we even find no indication of the recommended age for reading, and the purchase categories are ‘erotic thrillers’ and ‘genre fiction’.
Like La Novella Orchidea, we have nevertheless decided, despite the obvious difficulties, to classify our products as such. We draw up a list of what is erotic and what can instead be considered pornographic in the strict sense (e.g. some particularly explicit comics such as The weight of air and The indescreet creases of space). We always mark the category ‘erotic fiction’ and put an age limit of over 18 or, where not possible, over 13. But we do not tick the adult content box, unless the descriptions or drawings are really very explicit, realistic and/or preponderant within the story.
And may Serenona forgive us, if we sometimes thought of something more, while watching her films….
On Wikipedia, an illustrative image of an ‘erotic film’… not pornographic.