Riced Out: Manufacturing Outrage Part II

As promised, this is Part II of my examination of how Anne Rice is now peddling her rants about “gangster bullies” on the internet by adding charges of “political correctness” to the mix. Please read Part I if you haven’t already. It will save us both time.

But first enjoy this pretty picture of a sunset. And take a deep breath. You’ll need it.

This is what I almost missed trying to write this post.

Why am I doing this? How are these my monkeys? What do I care if someone is wrong on the internet? Read on and I’ll think you get it.

Here is Rice’s opening post on one of the threads (now deleted) she started about this on her Facebook page:

Here is another thread she started in a similar vein:

Last week I promised to take you through some of Rice’s Facebook posts to show you how she used hyperbolic inflammatory language to rile up her fans and incite them to take actions against negative reviews and the people who left them on the Amazon review page of the nazi-Jewish romance novel, For Such a Time.  As you can see, in the first post, she uses the word “lynch” three times. She makes sure to define the problem clearly for her fans before they have a chance to reach their own conclusions. There’s a lot to unpack here, but it’s not difficult to show with this and other posts that Rice, in effect, did exactly what she accused others of doing. She used “gossip” to “egg” her followers on to engage in a “campaign” to manipulate the Amazon review page of a book.

She didn’t actually succeed in getting the reviews she didn’t like bumped because Amazon is occasionally awesome, or at least aware enough of Rice’s pronouncements (always with the lynch mobs) not to take her too seriously. However, by jumping on to the “political correctness is the greatest threat to our freedom ever” bandwagon, she has made some new friends and gotten a lot of press.

Friends like this! He once got internet lynched for calling some feminazi a slut!

I’ve been trying to write my follow up for days, but I kept getting lost in the process. It was boooring going through screenshots of her Facebook posts to show what she did and how she did it. And I kept thinking I was missing something. But then when I finally got out and watched the sunset, I realized the problem. It wouldn’t be enough to lay out the process of how she did it. No matter what I’d show you, all you’d see is that her method was a problem. That at most, she engaged in minor hypocrisy, that she chose to use the strategy of her opponents, to fight fire with fire.

What I needed to make clear first, was that she had no opponents. The “gangster bullies” she imagines are out to get authors, do not exist, or if they do somewhere, they are not active in this case. The entire narrative she set up was false. This isn’t a case of “political correctness” run amok. There’s no threat to freedom of expression that she’s defending. In fact, she’s attacking freedom of expression, manufacturing outrage, stifling alternative viewpoints, and encouraging her followers to act as mob. (And it wouldn’t be the first time.) I won’t use the word “lynch mob” as she does, nor will I call it an internet pogrom although given the ethnicity of most of the individuals she demonized, it would be closer to the mark (What? It’s only a metaphor!)

Decoupage! The fun way to recycle trashy books!

So before I can deconstruct how Rice managed to form her own internet campaign and turn her fans loose on the Amazon review page and the comments section of The Guardian, first let me counter the narrative she gave her followers with a version of events based on fact and not delusion fantasy. That’s going to make it much easier for the readers of these posts to follow, especially if you haven’t read much about For Such a Time and the controversy surrounding it.

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin falls into the genre of “inspirational” (Christian) romance and was published by Bethany House, a Christian publisher, in April 2014. It received mostly favorable reviews. Many of the four and five customer reviews on Amazon from when it was published are not verified purchases. That’s not unusual. There’s no requirement that one has to purchase a book at Amazon in order to review it on Amazon. Many publishers give away review copies. Readers are supposed to disclose if they received a free review copy, but many don’t. It’s unclear where many of the 40% or so of positive reviews for non-verified purchases came from. The book also received a starred review from the Library Journal.

Here’s a description of For Such a Time, from the author’s webpage. This was the description on Amazon until a couple of days ago. Many of the recent negative reviews point out that the word “Jewess” is not really in use anymore, and is considered a slur. So it looks like freedom has died, and the forces of political correctness have won because the publishers took that word out of their description on the Amazon page, and destroyed the integrity of Kate Breslin’s artistic vision! Damn you, internet gangster bully mobs!

Per Rice’s opening post, she implies that the recent negative reviews must be “false” and “disingenuous” and left by a “mob,” because if the book was so inflammatory, why wasn’t it getting negative reviews all along?

There’s a pretty simple explanation for that, which doesn’t involve a “bully” conspiracy.

No Jew had ever seen the book before. You’d think we’d own publishing, but apparently not all of it. Somehow this book got through an agent, a publisher, editors, etc without anyone saying, “Really?”

Or maybe someone said it, and nobody cared because Jews were never the intended audience, but I guarantee if you showed this description to the vast majority of Jews (there are always some outliers) religious or not, no matter where they stand on Israel, their reaction would be pretty much the same.

Shocked Jews plus one happy author. If you don't get the reference, you probably don't understand the criticism of the book either.

And that’s just the reaction to the description! If you added in a detailed review making clear that the fictional Kommandant of a real concentration camp is portrayed as a romantic hero, and the reader is supposed to be rooting for him at the end, and that both the Kommandant and his blonde blue eyed Jewess find Jesus,* their reaction might be even stronger.

Actually, even stronger than that.

(*Yes, I’m aware there’s no baptism at the end. However, a conversion is strongly implied based on her marrying the nazi and being all inspired by the new testament, which you might not know is not a Jewish thing.)

And if anyone reading this doesn’t understand why it would provoke such strong feelings of disgust at the least, then you need a reading list because I can’t really explain it to you in a couple of paragraphs.

So probably this book would have been fine in its insular universe of Evangelical Christians who believe Judaism is basically Christianity without Jesus, and that Jews are just waiting to be “perfected” and accept Christ. However, there seems to have been overreach on the part of the publisher. It was put forth in nominations for two prizes given by the Romance Writers of America. One was for best first novel, the other best “inspirational” romance.

After that, in late June of this year, there was a detailed review of the book by a Jewish reviewer on the romance book blog, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. The reviewer did not call for any action on the part of readers. The reviewer did not suggest that Christians should not write Jews or about the holocaust, or that anyone’s career should be destroyed. There were not any new one star reviews left on Amazon following that review.

On August 4th 2015, Sarah Wendell, a Jewish romance writer who also writes for Smart Bitches, published a letter she had written to the Romance Writer’s Association board, expressing her feelings about the the book’s nominations. Although Rice doesn’t mention it in her initial post, this is clearly the “article” to which she is referring. (There’s a later conversation where a poster mentions it.) It should also be noted that in 2014, Sarah Wendell published an article on SBTB about Rice’s on going campaign against imaginary “gangster bullies” who leave negative reviews. Given Rice’s long history of overreaction to criticism, could this be an explanation for Rice’s accusations against Wendell?

I suggest anyone reading this post, who hasn’t read the letter take a look. Wendell is clearly addressing the RWA, and not her fans or followers. She’s not spreading rumors or gossip about the book.

What seems to have happened, is that this letter was picked up in other places and it went a little bit viral. It was a day or two later that I saw a link to it on a “writer’s page” on my Facebook feed. The poster asked everyone: “How do you feel about this?” Just skimming it, my immediate reaction was: “Since you asked, nauseated.” As the conversation progressed, one person who was also a Facebook friend but not someone I knew in real life, said something to the effect that anyone expressing “outrage” was full of “bullshit.” I immediately defriended him, and was physically shaken by the realization that essentially the holocaust, as a historical event that means anything, was over. The last survivors are dying and there are bunch of people who see nothing wrong with this idea for a book, who even think the author was “brave” for writing it, who think Jews need to stop their whining. Frankly, I don’t even remember the first time I knew about Hitler or the holocaust. I had a conversation with the better-half. He can’t either.

I read the review on Smart Bitches, and some of the comments. It wasn’t until days later I noticed Rice’s thread. I looked around the internet to see if I could find anything supporting her contention that anyone was egging anyone on to go leave reviews on the Amazon page. I couldn’t. If anyone can, please send me a link. And while some people were angrier about it than others, I didn’t see anyone stating that Christians shouldn’t write about Jews although some suggested Christians shouldn’t write about Jews without maybe talking to one to see if they were getting it right or if what they were doing was maybe a little insensitive.

Here’s my theory, on why there were a glut of negative reviews in the days following the publication of  Wendell’s letter. Judge for yourself if you think it makes more sense than Rice’s:

Word of Wendell’s letter and the letter itself spread quickly on the net.  Suddenly people, including Jewish people heard about the book. Out of all the people who saw something on their twitter or Facebook page about this, a few might have gone to the Amazon page, just to see if any of this was even true because to Jews this is kind of unbelievable. (Again, the spouse, thought I was joking, or that it had to be self-published, or that it was published by Bialystock & Bloom).

Out of the people who checked out the page, a few may have read some of the more absurd five star reviews in which the Kommandant is referred to as a hero, or the story is called “a beautiful love story.” Someone told me about a thread on a moderated forum, in which someone leaked a page from the ending of the book. The person forwarded it to me. The Jewish heroine is “anxious” about the fate of her Nazi lover now that it looks like the Germans are going to lose. And he says God forgives him for his previous “apathy” toward her people, if by apathy you mean active participation in genocide. It was worse than I imagined. Then I read some more reviews, and checked out the sample. I saw no evidence that any good would come from my reading this book, or that I could only judge it by reading it cover to cover.

So while the vast majority of the offended probably just moved on, a tiny fraction of a percentage felt obliged to say something, and they chose to say it on the book’s review page, the page where their sentiments were most likely to be seen by the books author, publisher and fans. [Full disclosure: I did not leave a review on the Amazon page or anywhere else.]

There are a total of 59 one star reviews for this book out of 341 reviews. They comprise 17% of the reviews. Does this constitute a mob?

In addition to the majority of the reviews appearing after the article, one of Rice’s other arguments for their being “fake” and part of a “campaign” to “flood” the book with one star reviews in order to sink its rating, is the idea that “these people” writing reviews haven’t even read the book. Notice how quickly Rice dismisses the idea that it’s  badly written even though she hasn’t read it:

I’ll concede that it’s unlikely that most of the reviewers who reviewed in the days immediately after Wendell’s letter went public would have had time to read the book. However, that does not mean their reviews are “uninformed” a word Rice uses as well.  Some of them may have read very little about the book. Others may have read the sample and/or seen some posted excerpts and a few credible detailed reviews. A few stated upfront that they hadn’t read the book and only criticized the description or even the cover, pointing out why and how both were offensive. Some, leaving reviews days after Wendell, appear to have read it, and a few reviews are quite detailed and make different points than other reviews, so it’s likely the reviewers read the entire book.

Is someone who read the entire book but knows nothing about Jewish history or the history of a holocaust, more informed, than someone who maybe read the sample, a posted excerpt, a few very detailed reviews and a synopsis? It’s not a question up for discussion on Rice’s Facebook page, but anyone with an open mind might consider looking at the actual reviews before judging them and commenting on the morality and ethics of the reviewers. It’s pretty clear that Rice did not do that before she decided to “help” Kate Breslin.

Interestingly enough, while Amazon did not take down negative reviews, even those in which reviewers admit not reading the book, what Amazon did take down was many of the derogatory, repetitive comments left under the reviews by people, some of whom were also posting on Anne Rice’s Facebook page.

Perhaps they did not take down the reviews because contrary to what Rice told her followers, reading the book is not a requirement for writing a customer review of a book on Amazon. The guidelines for Amazon reviewing are public, and this has been pointed out to Rice although she continues to insist that that is a “misstatement.” I know that seems crazy, but bear in mind, these are Amazon’s rules, and the reviews also don’t even have a minimum length requirement. One could still argue that even if it’s not against the rules, it’s still not right, but if it’s not against the rules, and if people aren’t pretending to have read the book, and if there’s no evidence that they are part of a gang, or that they are purposely trying to sink the book’s ratings as some form of censorship, then is it still “immoral” or is the immorality only based on the gang membership?

Perhaps Rice thinks any time you review a book negatively knowing it will offend you whether or not you’ve read it, reviewing it is immoral,  but that’s not the case she’s making or the discussion she’s having. At times Rice seems to indicate that the “gangster bullies” who indulge in the “immoral” behavior are the same time people time after time:

Here a poster suggests that “these people” “keep doing it”. Rice not only doesn’t contradict this, but also refers to “the lynch mob” as though they were always the same people. She also attributes the slow down in “fake” reviews to Amazon’s being on it. But if Amazon believed the reviews to be fake, wouldn’t they have simply taken them down? Isn’t it more likely that given this post is dated 11 days after Wendell’s letter went viral, the whole thing had simply played itself out?

One very simple way to determine whether or not a person leaving a negative review is member of a gang and behaves in this manner on a regular basis, is to check the person’s Amazon reviewing history  by clicking the person’s name. I did so for many of the people, and found that most of the negative reviews were left by people who seem to have had the same Amazon account for several or many years, and are not frequent reviewers but occasionally leave a review. I didn’t find any with a pattern of leaving one-star book reviews. I would challenge anyone convinced that these reviewers are part of gang that indulges in gangster behavior to please look at the actual review histories, instead of making an assumption or taking someone else’s word for it. Also, many of the reviewers identify as Jewish, and some of them have reviews for books about Jewish traditions and culture that would seem to confirm that. And you might want to think about how it looks when you accuse a Jewish person of “sabotage” because they didn’t like a holocaust book.

Let’s return to Rice’s contention that the “one stars” are part of a plot to sink the book’s ratings. While Amazon does not require readers to have finished or even read the books they review, they do require ratings for all their reviews. You can’t post a review without rating the book. Most books on Amazon probably have a few low star reviews that read like this:

That is not a review of For Such a Time. It’s for one of my books, and while I’m not thrilled about it, I accept it doesn’t violate any of Amazon’s guidelines, and I believe it would be the height of arrogance for me to judge the morality of the person who left it.

Is there evidence that even if people were not acting in concert, they were nevertheless “gaming” the review system in an attempt to lower the book’s rating? I would argue that if this were the intent, if one could read the reviews and imagine they were all put up by disingenuous bullies harboring grudges, then there is still no evidence that their attempt would in any way succeed, even without Rice’s followers making efforts to stop the “attack.” My reasoning: Amazon recently began to weigh reviews so that the verified purchases count more. 17% is still a low overall number of one star reviews. The book’s average rating remains at four stars which is pretty high. There are many bestsellers with much lower ratings. The relationship between sales and ratings is complex. Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, has a 24% one-star rating, which hasn’t seemed to have damaged its sales. Some readers are also suspicious of books that only have high ratings. So even if the intent was to flood the book with one star ratings in an effort to “censor” it, it would have been a terribly ineffective plan, and certainly not the threat to artistic freedom that Rice makes it out to be.

Regarding the “political correctness” angle, which Rice pushes on her Facebook page, I’ll have more about that in the next post showing how she incited her fans. (Update: Or not. I think I’ve covered everything.) One of the givens within her echo chamber, is the whole idea of the connection between the “new censorship” and “political correctness.” The thinking is because of the internet, there’s an atmosphere where writers and artists are afraid to explore “transgressive” ideas for fear of the “internet lynch mobs” “gangster bullies.” And this is new.

Anyone who thinks that For Such A Time would have been acceptable in the years immediately following World War II, when we had newsreels of the camps being liberated, when Americans were still mourning their sons lost in that war, when it wasn’t just Jews who would have been offended, really needs to find someone who was alive back then and have a conversation.

A few of the people on Rice’s Facebook brought up Mel Brooks and his making fun of nazis, with the claim that he wouldn’t be able to get away with that today, in the current atmosphere. Because I was already banned from Rice’s Facebook page, I couldn’t respond. So I’ll respond now:

That’s INSANE. You so crazy!

First of all, The Producers was running as a Broadway show less than ten years ago. And if it reopened tomorrow, I guarantee no one would be protesting. And you know why? Because it made fun of Nazis. It ridiculed them. It didn’t make them heros. It didn’t give them a happily ever after with a newly-Chrisianized Jewish girl who looked like a shiksa goddess.

And it’s not just that it was written by a Jew (but that probably helped).

You know what else wasn’t met with massive protests? A movie about slavery made a few years ago by a white guy, that’s what. Django Unchained was pretty popular with black folks. Spike Lee had a problem with the “African holocaust” being turned into a “spaghetti western,” but that critique didn’t really catch on with the masses. You know why? Maybe because Tarantino didn’t include any kindly massa characters portrayed as heros, and also, as he did with Inglourious Basterds (which didn’t have a lot of Jews complaining) he turned it into a good old-fashioned revenge fantasy, not a FUCKING love story.

Maybe it helped that his blonde green-eyed French Jewess, was played by a real member of the tribe. And she kicked ass.

But you know what movie did receive a lot of criticism even before the internet existed? DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. 1915. And political correctness wasn’t even a thing back then. People were protesting before the movie came out. They hadn’t even seen it yet! And while they may have been familiar with the book on which it was based, not all the people protesting and denouncing it had actually read the book either. Some of them had just heard “gossip” about it. Do you think all the black people denouncing and protesting and actually ORGANIZING campaigns against that film would have been considered a “lynch mob” by Anne Rice? Because that would be really kind of ironic.