The Sporadic Beaver

'Twas the Day After Christmas

December 26, 2014

Tags: Bobby in Naziland, The Independent, Dagospia, censorship, Beaver Street, Brooklyn, Hollywood Scandals, John Lennon

I'm not in the habit of discussing here, at least on a daily basis, the book I'm currently working on. But there are references to Bobby in Naziland on this blog dating back to October 2011, so it's hardly a secret that I've been writing a novel. And if you were one of the people who attended Bloomsday on Beaver Street II, in 2013, then you heard me read the opening pages of the book and have a sense of what it's about: a child's view of Brooklyn in the 1950s and '60s.

I haven’t posted here in nearly four weeks because I’ve been working on revisions for Bobby in Naziland, and it’s taken up what little free time I’ve had. Also, in the middle of doing those revisions, the British government passed a new censorship law, and The Independent, apparently fans of Beaver Street, asked me to write about it. The piece I wrote, “No Female Ejaculation, Please, We’re British,” went viral and was then picked up by Dagospia, an Italian political-gossip site. This was one of my two major-media highlights of 2014. (The other was an appearance on the John Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals, which ran multiple times on the Reelz Channel.)

So, here it is, Boxing Day, Henry Miller’s birthday, and the day after Christmas—the traditional time to reflect on the year gone by. Judging by the horror that smacks me in the face every morning when I foolishly pick up the newspaper because it’s lying outside my door, 2014 seems to have been little more than a series of catastrophies. No need to innumerate them here; we both know what they are. Which is why I’m going to take a moment to feel especially grateful that I’ve gotten through this year relatively unscathed. Also, I’m going to put aside my cynicism for a day or two and look to 2015 with a sense of hope.

Call me crazy.

In the meantime, happy holidays to all, and I’ll see you next year, if not sooner!

We Will Fight Them on the Web

November 5, 2014

Tags: censorship, Beaver Street, Headpress, CNBC, Steve Colby, John Lee-Graham, Margaret Thatcher

I've had my issues with censorship in the past, though never with the U.K. England has always been a good place for me professionally--both in pornography and literature. It was British photographers, like Donald Milne, Steve Colby, and John Lee-Graham, who provided me with the material that transformed D-Cup into a cash cow (so to speak), thus igniting my career as an editor of "adult" magazines. And it was the BBC and British publications, like the Times of London, Uncut, and Mojo, that embraced Nowhere Man as serious literature and were instrumental in sending the book rocketing up best-seller lists. And it was Headpress, the London-based indie, that took on Beaver Street (where you can read about Milne, Colby, and Lee-Graham) after every publisher in the U.S. had deemed the book unworthy of publication.

So I was surprised last year when England became a new front in an ongoing Beaver Street censorship battle. The problem wasn’t with the book itself, but rather with this Website.

CNBC adult-entertainment-industry reporter Chris Morris explains what happened in his piece “No Porn Please, We’re British.”

The article describes how British Prime Minister David Cameron had announced that the four largest Internet service providers in the U.K. were, by the end of 2013, going to begin blocking all porn sites. If a costumer wanted to look at smut, then he’d have to request that the filters be disabled.

“Obviously people are not going to want to do that,” I told Morris. “People just don’t want to come out in public and say ‘I want to look at porn.’ A lot of people who do look at porn are inhibited, shy people.”

In response to Cameron’s statement that access to online porn is “corroding childhood,” I told Morris that kids have always found a way to circumvent rules meant for their protection and if they “want to look at pornography, they usually figure out how to do it."

When the porno filters were turned on, towards the end of 2013, the impact on this Website was immediate: traffic from the U.K. dropped off by 80 percent.

Even though this is not a porn site, and sites in the U.K. with far more explicit material were not being blocked, I thought there was nothing I could do about it. So I ignored what was happening and quietly hoped that the Brits would come to their senses.

Then, two weeks ago, I received several messages from readers in the U.K. telling me that they were unable to connect with this site. Something had changed and I decided to investigate.

Using the Website Blocked, I was able to determine that five major U.K. ISPs were blocking me. Blocked also provided contact information for the appropriate administrators of these ISPs, and I wrote to them.

“Robertrosennyc.com is a site dedicated to literature, publishing, and current affairs,” I said, “and you are improperly blocking me.”

Unlike their U.S. corporate counterparts—such as a certain mega-conglomerate that made the print edition of Beaver Street unavailable and initially stonewalled all attempts to communicate with them—these major U.K. corporations were responsive.

“Are there any words etc. on the Website which may be deemed sensitive to a young audience, Robert?” one of them inquired.

“No,” I replied. (Though I was tempted to say, “Yeah, Margaret Thatcher.”)

They were also reasonable. Within a week, every site but one—Talk Talk Kidsafe (yeah, I get it)—had removed their block.

England, I forgive you.

It Was 110 Years Ago Today

June 16, 2014

Tags: Bloomsday on Beaver Street, James Joyce, Ulysses, Nora Barnacle, A History of Modern Pornography, Killarney Rose, Amazon, censorship

James Joyce, a writer banned in America for obscenity.
Happy Bloomsday to all those who are celebrating the 110th anniversary of the day that James Joyce's Ulysses takes place. Joyce chose June 16, 1904 because that was the day he had his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle. The novel, in part, depicts protagonist Leopold Bloom's--hence Bloomsday--activities in Dublin, which include such things as voyeurism and public masturbation. That's why Ulysses was banned in America, and that's why, two years ago, I chose June 16 to celebrate the U.S. publication of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, at the Killarney Rose, an Irish bar on Beaver Street in downtown Manhattan.

At the time, Amazon had refused to make the print edition of Beaver Street available, and it was only after they got wind of the fact that the book-launch party was turning into a public demonstration against Amazon censorship that they managed to fix the “computer glitches” and “bureaucratic snafus” that had already cost me all pre-orders and three months of sales. “We would never censor a book,” an Amazon spokesman told me. (I’m pleased to report that sales have since recovered, and Beaver Street now routinely ranks among Amazon’s best-selling books on pornography.)

Bloomsday on Beaver Street was such a success that I decided to do it again last year, when June 16 fell on Father’s Day, and that, too, went rather well. It looked as if my literary celebration, featuring readings, music, porn stars, and theatrical performances, was going to become a New York City tradition.

This year, unfortunately, life (and a new job in magazines after a 14-year hiatus from the workforce) interfered with mounting Bloomsday on Beaver Street III. As much as I would have liked to, I just didn’t have the time to put together what’s become the equivalent of an Off-Off Broadway revue. This evening, however, I will raise a glass of something alcoholic (perhaps Guinness) and join in spirit all those who would have liked to gather in the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street and celebrate great books that were once denounced as obscene.

The Future of Reading

April 9, 2013

Tags: Amazon, e-books, e-readers, Kindle, censorship

Jason Merkoski, a former employee of Amazon, was the leader of the team that built the first Kindle. Today he released an e-book, Burning the Page: The eBook Revolution and the Future of Reading.

Though I've not yet read the book, my sense of it, based on an interview with Merkoski in The New York Times, is that Amazon doesn't come off especially well. In response to a question about how people might react if they knew what was going on inside companies like Amazon, he said that Amazon, as well as Google and Apple, "have entire buildings filled with lawyers" whose job is "to keep people like me from even answering this question." He suggested, as well, that if the "veil of secrecy" that surrounds these corporations were lifted, people might boycott them.

Merkoski also mentioned that when it comes to censorship, a problem that I was dealing with last year, he does not trust the executives at any e-book retailer. Most of them, he said, “would rather pull e-books from the store, effectively censoring them, if that would avoid bad press.”

I’ve no doubt that this is all true. But I do question one point that Merkoski makes. “In 20 years,” he said, “the space of one generation, print books will be as rare as vinyl LPs.”

I’m not saying this won’t happen. I am saying that if it doesn’t happen, it’s because there are too many people, like me, who think reading on a screen is far less pleasurable than reading a printed book. Reading on a screen eliminates the sensuality and the connection you feel with a printed book. It’s more difficult to get lost in an e-book than it is in a printed book. Based on what I’ve heard and seen, I think there’s already an intense resistance to e-books among certain readers of all ages.

This was not the case when CDs began replacing vinyl LPs in the mid-1980s. Yes, there was some resistance to them among aficionados, but most people, myself included, couldn’t wait to get their hands on CDs, even if they already had the record in vinyl. That’s because people believed that CDs provided a better listening experience (and they took up less room).

Nobody, I’d argue, would suggest that e-books provide a better reading experience than printed books. Their advantages, as far as I can see, are that they take up less space, they’re cheaper, and they’re searchable. And that’s not enough to drive printed books into near extinction. Unless, of course, it is. Because when it comes to the book business, nobody knows what’s going to happen 20 minutes from now, much less 20 years.

Blows Against the Empire

July 12, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, Amazon, censorship

I’m pleased to report that my campaign to get Beaver Street readers to post reviews that don’t run afoul of Amazon UK and US censorship regulations has gotten off to a promising start.

Here are some pull quotes from the five-star reviews that have popped up over the past week:

“Brilliant!” —David Comfort

“I’ve just completed Beaver Street and could not put it down… a perfect (and perfectly outrageous) mix of personal experience, research, reporting, and conclusions.” —Poison Penn

“A real treat and impossible to put down… essential reading.” —P. Slim

“Mr. Rosen has stripped American society [of] its clothes with his very beautifully written tale.” —J. C. Malone

Thank you all so much! And please, keep those reviews coming.