Tuesday, January 12, 2021

"More kerfuffles in the agenting world," by Brian Henry


During my holiday reading, I came across a bit of online nastiness. In an article for Book and Film Globe looking back at a few of the cancel-culture stories of 2020 (here), Katie Smith suggests that literary agent Marisa Corvisiero madea racist comment about the death of George Floyd.”

Not so. Corvisiero tweeted this innocuous comment saying violent protest isn’t good:

This is how you do it. Make your point, take a stand and don’t hurt other people or damage property in the process. No violence is acceptable ever. The whole point is to be heard and seen to make things better.

Apart from the lunatic fringe, it's hard to see how anyone might disagree with this sentiment, let alone call it racist. But after Corvisiero posted her tweet, a twitter storm erupted and two agents at Corvisiero Literary, Amy Giuffrida and Saritza Hernandez, resigned.

Corvisiero then apparently let her entire staff go because, she said, she didn’t want them “caught in the crossfire.”

Marisa Corvisiero

Personally, I can’t see how enduring a twitter storm would be worse than getting fired. I suspect more was going on. In any case, next, some or all of her ex-staff anonymously released a joint statement condemning Corvisiero for: “prioritizing politeness and siding with police over Black lives.” (All quotes sourced here from File 770.)

Saying, “Don’t hurt people” is not “prioritizing politeness” or “siding with police.” The underlying attitude seems to be that you’re either totally with us and you must ignore or minimize looting, arson, and even homicide – or you’re "siding with the police" or even "a racist."

Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary suffered a similar fate. During the protests and riots following the police killing of George Floyd, Frederick tweeted that she’d phoned the police because people were looting a gas station by her house. She, too, faced a twitter storm, had staff quit, and got branded as a racist. (Full story here.)

The main point of Katie Smith’s article in which she so casually slimes Marisa Corvisiero is that the victims (or deserving targets, as Smith seems to see it) of cancel culture sometimes survive and even thrive, so what’s the big deal? 

The Corvisiero website is back up and running and lists the founder as accepting new queries. The agency’s staff page also reflects some new hires, leading me to wonder if Corvisiero or her staff were really the ones to suffer,” writes Smith.

It’s true that Marisa Corvisiero’s and Dawn Frederick’s agencies were merely maimed, not murdered, by twitter mobs – thank God they’ve survived – but that doesn’t make the attacks on them all right.

Similarly, to pick another story Smith mentions, it’s true that Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters is selling well even though the twitter mob managed to get her book pulled off the shelves at Target, black-balled her from review pages in legacy media, and got her banned from social media platforms. But the fact that Shrier's book is still selling, doesn’t mean it’s okay for twitter mobs to attempt to dictate what books we should be allowed to read. {You can read Shrier's story here.}

And of course, JK Rowling does not need to fear her publisher is going to dump her, despite the efforts of the twitter mob. Nor does she have to worry about sales suffering. Surely there are hundred of twitter activists, maybe even thousands, but in terms of the total population, that rounds off to 0%. Not exactly a threat to one of the world's best-selling authors. 

On the other hand, does anyone imagine JK Rowling enjoys getting an avalanche of hate directed at her? If you have the stomach for it, you can see a sample here, or you can read an analysis of this deluge of hatred here

Virtually everyone believes all people should be treated with dignity and compassion – whether they’re trans or Black or even authors or literary agents. So what gives?

In their “you’re with us or against us” mindset, I think some self-styled progressives are unable to imagine someone might, in good faith, simply disagree with them. After all, they consider themselves “progressive,” so if you dispute their point of view, what does that make you?

If someone thinks any aspect of the Black Lives Matter protests is problematic, they must be a racist. If someone’s concerned about the sudden wave of adolescent girls who overnight, it seems, want hormone blockers or wonders if people with men’s bodies ought to be in women’s prisons or on women’s sports teams, then to even ask such questions, they must be transphobic.

For these activists, the concepts of debate and disagreement and even critical thought seem to have ceased to exist. Instead, there’s the party line, which is set by whoever’s most aggressive and enforced by everyone else. It’s a dominance thing, reminiscent of high school cliques. However, while high school mean girls assume their superiority, twitter activists go one better. While trying to end people’s careers and piling on abuse, these activists not only assume their superiority but congratulate one another for their high moral virtue.

But what about social justice? you might ask. Isn't that what it's supposed to be about? Supposed to be, but if that were their interest,  they'd find something useful to do. 


Note: For information about querying the Corvisiero Literary Agency, see here.

Brian Henry is an editor, writer, creative writing instructor and the publisher of the Quick Brown Fox blog.

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