Bad Little Children’s Books Cancelled After Backlash
Abrams halts publication for its “offensively tweaked” kid lit parody book
After an extensive social media backlash, pseudonymous author Arthur C. Gackley has requested Abrams (his publisher) to discontinue his crass kid-lit spoof Bad Little Children’s Books.
The illustrated humor title, which was released in September, features parodies of classic children’s book cover illustrations that incorporate both obscene and racially insensitive subject matter (to put it mildly). The book is intended for adults.
The backlash began in early December when Kelly Jensen wrote a piece titled “It’s Not Funny. It’s Racist.” for BookRiot. While she wasn’t a fan of the book in general (“They’re not especially funny or novel or creative, but they’re also not horrible (sic) offensive”), her critique centered on three particular covers that depict islamaphobic and racist scenes. The images can be found in her initial post.
After the article went viral, the predictable series of events transpired: a Twitter firestorm, a statement by Abrams in defense of Bad Little Children’s Book, and a public assertion (via press release) by Gackley that the current political climate (read: PC culture) prevented the “kind of dialogue [he] had hoped to promote through the publication of Bad Little Chinen’s Book” and that “this act of censorship is dangerous on so many levels…satire and parody are tools to help make us a stronger society.” Ultimately, however, the author concluded the book was not “being read by some in the way [he] had intended,” so he requested an end to its publication.
The controversy plays into recent debates about satire’s role and efficacy in contemporary culture, particularly in relation to identity politics. Often, this gets wrapped into a discussion of punch directionality, i.e. a question of whether a satirical work should mock people in subjugated positions within the cultural power structure. However, leaving aside issues of “who has the right to say what,” and even “how that what is said,” Gackley runs into trouble because of his failure to actually craft coherent satirical content. The images, while stylistically referential to the virulent racism of early 20th century children’s books, don’t actually provide much commentary beyond “ah yes, culturally conditioning prejudice within children is still a thing.” What’s more, the politically satirist bent of the book isn’t a consistent presence, as Gackley more often than not reaches for cheap laughs over thought provoking insite. It’s much harder for a reader to perceive social commentary, rather than blunt offense, when racial illustrations are preceded by a bevy of dildo jokes and pastiches familial molestation.
In short, the fact this book drew offense is totally reasonable and it appears Gackley and Abrahams have possibly recognized its flaws. That doesn’t mean the issue is totally over. The National Coalition Against Censorship has been trying to organize a meta-backlash (backlash to a backlash), although they hopefully will be informed soon that a non-govermental institution using private guidelines to determine the scope and amount of publicly available literary content is called publishing. Not censorship.