Meet the Censored: Abigail Shrier

Where is the line between boycott-based activism and corporate censorship?

Abigail Shrier of the Wall Street Journal has been in the middle of two major international news stories in the last year. One involves transgender identity. The other, the subject of this article, is about censorship.

The history of campaigns to suppress books pre-Internet America is not littered with successes. Techniques ran the gamut, from school systems pulling The Catcher in the Rye, Catch-22, and Toni Morrisson’s Song of Solomon, to parent-led campaigns against individual schools teaching The Color Purple, to libraries removing A Clockwork Orange, to the U.S. Postal Service declaring For Whom the Bell Tolls “un-mailable,” to the firing of a teacher who assigned One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to dozens of other episodes.

Most such efforts failed. The typical narrative involved a local conservative or religious group arrayed against national publishers and distributors, although there were instances of campaigns instigated from the other political direction (e.g. calls to ban or boycott books like To Kill a Mockingbird and American Psycho for offensive portrayals of women and minorities). These efforts however were usually opposed by a consensus of intellectuals in politics, media, and academia, all of whom tended to be institutionally committed to speech rights.

The increasingly concentrated nature of digital media, combined with changing attitudes within the intellectual class, has reversed the geography of speech controversies. Campaigns against books now begin at universities, newsrooms, and the offices of companies like Amazon and Google, and have success; anti-censorship campaigns tend to be local and poorly funded, and fail.

No book exemplifies these new dynamics more than Shrier’s Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters.

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