Anne Rice has cemented her place in literary history. Her debut novel Interview With the Vampire kick-started the vampire genre in a big way upon its release, influenced the majority of vampire authors who followed in her wake and inspired millions of fans. Her books have sold over 100million copies as well as having been turned into movies of varying quality. She’s a legend and rightfully so. However, in recent years she has become vocal in an entirely different way, with critics being the main focus of her ire.
After the final novel in the Vampire Chronicles, Blood Canticle received less than favourable reviews from fans and non-fans alike, Rice took to Amazon to denounce all negative reviews, claiming these people were “interrogating the text from the wrong perspective”. It’s a more stylish way of saying “You don’t get it”, a phrase I have many issues with both as a reader and a reviewer. While the phrase took on a meme status in the following years, Rice’s stance on the issue of reviews has not lessened. Indeed, it’s only become stronger.
Last year, one blogger received a torrent of abuse from Rice’s fans for negatively critiquing one of her books before using the book itself to create artwork. Rice had posted the blogger’s review on her Facebook and thus, indirectly encouraged her fans to attack. Those comments are no longer on the site but the insults ranged from the angry to good old fashioned Godwin’s law breaking. There’s a clear imbalance of power on display there: a multi-million selling author, one with a highly devoted fan-base and thousands of followers, posts a link to a bad review of her work, one on a blog most people had never heard of. The intention was clear; it was one of intimidation.
Now, Rice has set her sights on Amazon, signing a petition addressed to Jeff Bezos himself to strip its users of anonymity in order to curb the “bullying and harassment” that apparently fills the site. Rice called the “trolls” of Amazon “gangster bullies”.
Let’s get this out of the way: The internet is full of awful people, many of whom are fuelled by their safety glass of anonymity to say things they never would if their name were put at the top of the page. Many authors and reviewers alike have received horrid abuse as well as threats of rape and murder. I myself have been threatened with violence as well as being called a number of things I don’t really wish to repeat here. I stand with those who have received abuse, but I firmly reject this ridiculous demand by authors like Rice. You can’t poison the whole ocean to catch a few fish.
First of all, the idea that the removal of anonymity would immediately put an end to online abuse is naïve at best. YouTube did it and frankly, nothing has changed. The comments sections are still a hive of wretched behaviour. Plenty of people are proud to put their names to their disgusting words, including a number of incredibly famous people. Look at the racism, sexism, homophobia & transphobia that comes from many well-known individuals on sites like Twitter (Adam Baldwin, anyone? Donald Trump? Amanda Palmer?) They’re never called trolls or gangster bullies. Ironically, they’re just as likely to pull the tactics Rice did by using their sizeable fan-base to silence those who call out their abuse. The scales of power matter here in a big way because those with the power are the ones who get to decide what is and isn’t bullying.
Rice dismisses all negative reviews of her work, including those that are lukewarm or anything other than sycophantic praise. The blogger who disliked her book and turned the pages into an art project was not a bully, yet Rice decided that she deserved the full power of her anger all the same. She’s not the first author to do this and sadly won’t be the last, but big publications like the Guardian and Entertainment Weekly are far more likely to listen to her than any random blogger with a hundred followers. They won’t do the research into Rice’s own behaviour because her word carries more power than those she’s been rude to and treated shabbily. We’re automatically “haters” because she says so, regardless of hard evidence. A self-published author recently threatened to sue a reviewer who gave his book 1 star. Think about that.
Goodreads is dismissed as a breeding ground for bullies and every review picked apart because it dares to use gifs or capslock, yet little attention outside of the book blogosphere is given to those authors who abuse their position to attack those who review them negatively. “Bully” has begun to lose all meaning. Rice demands respect for herself yet talks at, down to and over those with opinions even the slightest bit dissenting, and people are happy to hand her the microphone to do so.
It’s not the job of the author to dictate how their books are viewed or criticised, nor is it the job of the reader to dictate what an author writes. The relationship doesn’t work like that. Readers respect authors who respect them and they will stand with those who are abused. We’re not born and bred bullies, but can you blame us for becoming a little more vigilant these days now when websites like Stop The Goodreads Bullies are dedicated to “unmasking bully bloggers” and harassing them? Where are the authors demanding justice for those bloggers?
This debate is sadly only just beginning. It feels like it’s always just beginning, probably because we’re constantly going round in circles. They’ll be labelled as “spirited discussions” by those in power like Rice while countless others suffer the wrath (I imagine this publicity will also help Rice now with the announcement of a new Vampire Chronicles book). The tiny minority of actual bullies will be seen as representative of the entirety of book blogging, and news outlets will happily push this falsified narrative instead of doing 5 minutes of research. Whatever happens after this, the undeniable truth is that very little will probably change. Amazon do a lot of stupid things, but I’m not sure even they’re that stupid.