New, widespread phenomena inevitably create new economies, and new job titles; the strong push to align content, including books, with what can be summed up as “woke values” is no different.
The Spectator writes about a new brand of copy editors – “sensitivity readers.” The term is appropriately Orwellian in itself, given what these people get hired by publishers to do: make sure that stories that don’t represent a writer’s “lived experience” are “corrected” to better reflect that.
And the “sensitivity authority” who decides what is authentic is the freelancer given the job. It sounds fairly arbitrary, like many other things happening in society these days that flirt with some form of censorship or suppression of content.
And it continues to sound arbitrary even when it is explained that in order to “qualify” for a “sensitivity reader” you have to advertise your status as a member of an ethnic or cultural group, somebody who has experienced trauma or abuse, or just be a self-declared expert in a hobby.
One example given of how a white author might use a sensitivity reader is to put a stamp of approval on the way they deal with the topic of a black nurse who is tasked with caring for white supremacists’ children is author Jodi Picoult.
(The “lived experience” requirement is such, though, that it might prove nuclear if it gets out of hand – it’s not hard to imagine entire genres, like science fiction and fantasy, getting wiped off the literal map.)
For now, to be fair, the focus is clearly on allowing people to write from the perspective of others in terms of race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. – but perhaps planting a little seed of self-censorship in their creative process, and certainly subjecting them to a form of censorship by others – i.e., by “sensitivity readers.”
Critics think that companies like Salt and Sage – which is said to now be “a market leader” in the new industry – “hire victims” in order to edit books and prevent readers from ever forming their own opinion.
But publishers are likely all too happy to minimize the risk of becoming the next bogeyman cancel culture crowds will pillory on the internet.