The literary world saw itself thrust into the public spotlight this week, after a walk-out protest by staffers at Hachette Book Group led the publisher to cancel plans to publish Woody Allen’s new memoir Apropos Of Nothing. The Hachette staffers cited, as the reason for their pushback, all those reasons people have been voluntarily disassociating themselves from Allen for years: The controversy surrounding his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, as well as long-standing allegations from Dylan Farrow that he sexually abused her when she was a child. (The fact that Hachette recently published a book by Ronan Farrow, who’s been a vocal advocate on his sister’s behalf, only uglied-up the optics even more.)
But we have to ask ourselves—and by “we,” we mean Stephen King, and by “ourselves,” we mean “Stephen King’s Twitter followers”: Was it right for Woody Allen to be brutally silenced like this, in the form of a publisher not wanting to print and sell his book? After all, it’s a slippery slope: If Hachette refuses to publish Allen’s memoir—instead returning the book’s rights to him to peddle somewhere else—where will this wave of anti-memoir crusading stop? Will we soon see former generals “muzzled” from the celebrity memoir market? Veteran actors no longer able to tell their anecdotes of the time Michael Douglas bought them lunch? Will these zealots ever stop, or will we soon face a world where not even the mildest of famous person anecdotes is no longer safe to be read?
What’s interesting about King’s comments—which he posted on social media yesterday—is that he suggests that people should instead “vote with [their] wallet” when it comes to whether or not they support Allen…even though that appears to be exactly what Hachette did (albeit, somewhat belatedly). King notes that while he doesn’t care about Allen at all, he’s “very uneasy” with how the long-time author and director have been “muzzled.” But, as many people have pointed out—both in the responses to King’s tweet, and also just in general, for years—ending a business relationship with someone is not the same as censoring them. Allen could self-publish his book tomorrow, or drop it on the internet, or hire a skywriter to spray it across a clear blue sky, and no one would, or could, stop him from doing so. They just wouldn’t be obligated to give him any money for it.