The incident opened a number of ethical and moral questions which I think have gone under-examined. I don’t purport to know the answers, I remember the horrific crimes and at the time was in a band with a drummer who’s day job as a court reporter had him covering the case. He relayed details back to us which were then under a media ban and they were just absolutely horrific. So I don’t really care too much about Bernardo’s “rights” (what’s left of the libertarian in me believes when you violate somebody else’s rights you forfeit your own) …and think Homolka got off easy.
That said, not a lot of examination into this beyond the pitchforks.
The book was banned on who the author was, not what the content was. I’m never a fan of banned books, especially on content. But banning a book based on who wrote it, that’s a whole other conversation that hasn’t had a lot of examination. Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” can be purchased on Amazon (and elsewhere), as can Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel’s “UFOs: Nazi Secret Weapon?” and even Justin Beiber’s “First Step 2 Forever”. People don’t seem to mind too much, they just simply don’t buy the books if they’re not too interested.
Could the State confiscate Bernardo’s profits? Would it matter? If Bernardo went on to sell a lot of books but his share of the profits all went to the State (i.e. to fund victim’s programs, be channeled into other rehabilitation programs) would that assuage the outrage of the book’s being on the market ? Or would the funds so derived corrupt or taint the programs they were diverted into?
Issues around Amazon dropping the book: The title of the post is “Should Bernardo’s book be banned” but it actually hasn’t been banned. It’s been dropped by Amazon, which effectively amounts to a ban, because to my knowledge it was only released in Kindle format, so when you do that, and Amazon drops you, Amazon is effectively banning books.
What happens to copies of the book which were already purchased before the drop? I don’t know anybody who’s bought the book, I’m curious: when Amazon dropped it did they delete already purchased copies from existing Kindles? They could, they could do that very easily, and that makes me very uneasy, for some reason.
What should Bernardo be doing in prison? Is prison punishment or rehabilitation? Bernardo’s “dangerous offender” designation makes this more of a quarantine for the safety of society. Should he be creating art? “Literature”? Or should he just be punished, relentlessly, all possible avenues toward personal fulfillment and development denied, until the day he dies? (He took all that away from his victims forever, so it’s easy to make the case – remember, in my mind when you violate the rights of another you forfeit your own).
Finally, a note on the W.A.S.P Effect. The “W.A.S.P” or “Tipper Gore” effect is a close cousin of the Streisand Effect. The latter is when somebody trying to quell attention to themselves draws more attention to themselves, the former is when well connected busy-bodies try to suppress a marginally talented rock act, they make multi-platinum stardom a lock. (The story of 80’s metal band W.A.S.P: in debt over $700,000 to their record label and going nowhere, they had decided to finish their current tour, and then call it quits. Out of nowhere, one day, the Parents Music Resource Center convenes congressional hearings against offensive rock music. Tipper Gore holds up a copy of W.A.S.P’s “F*** Like a Beast” album cover on CSPAN, denouncing it as an abomination. Stardom ensues, W.A.S.P goes on to sell millions of units.)
Apparently Bernardo’s “Mad World Order” became a Kindle bestseller, why? Because of the public outrage against it. Had everybody simply decided for themselves not to buy, read or waste too much mental energy on the book, nobody would know, or care and this would be a non-issue.
Once again, it’s the desire to decide what is right for everybody else that paradoxically presented the opportunity for Bernardo to sell a lot of copies (of what sounds like a pretty mediocre and poorly written book). As Jack Richardson told me back in M.I.A “Mark, the only thing that matters is that they spell the name of your band right”.
In other words, when it comes to selling product like books or records, there is no such thing as bad press.