• Christopher G. Moore

Sleaze and the Free Market

The fact is that, in the not too distant past, sleaze sold books like hotcakes to horse racing Quakers. So what? Sleaze sells a lot of things such as music, software, perfume, wetware, nail polish, comedy acts, TV reality shows, high heel shoes, fashion channel (after midnight), cars and pickups, Victoria Secrets, Playboy, and then there is the story about the hooker and the former governor of New York. Like pornographic, famously defined by a US Supreme Court justice, as something you know when you see it, sleaze fits in such mental handbag.

Wiki sleaze tells us that sleazy started off referring to low quality cloth before it raced ahead and became ‘low moral standards’ or cloth to mortality in the speed of light. There’s no explanation how that happened. The Urban dictionary says that sleaze is ‘a low down and common male, cheap and lustful’ and there is no mention of cloth. Just straight the ruptured buttercup moment because sleaze, if it is anything (other than low quality cloth) is our way of destroying innocence. Sleaze is that headshot that sprays the brain with images and ideas that alters the way a person experience life.

Now that we have a working definition of sleaze, let’s see what opportunities this presents authors. My take of the current client is that writing a sleazy book may not be the best way to deliver sleaze in the digital world. I’ll expand on this notion of sleaze as analogue and sleaze as digital divide in a moment.

There are loads of job opportunities in the sleaze industry, which has sunk boreholes into the vital commerce links that feeds us content. The sleaze message is gushing out of every digital crater you walk through with your computer most days. In fact, to help you in the sleaze hunt, there’s is a daily newsfeed for sleaze for those who want the day to start on the right foot. You can read about politicians from England to Kenya. Probes into sleaze from big business to government circles as if they’ve agreed to share content.

But getting back to brass tacks i.e., literature, books, pamphlets, engravings, temple carvings in India has elevated the written word as an important sleaze source. Publishers used to make a fine living from publishing sleaze. Sleaze didn’t so much as tarnish an author’s reputation in the old analogue days. Henry Miller and Charles Bukwoski wrote literary sleaze and built substantial reputations as men of letters, hot and lusting, but letters nonetheless. They were able to attend the most rare of literary heights riding the back of the sleaze tiger and like most tigers they are difficult to dismount.

Google returns over 13 million entries for the word sleaze. That is, my friend, a healthy market. Clearly something is going on inside this world of 13 million sleaze purveyors that has the red console at Google’s main control center flashing. The question is whether authors still can build literary reputations and claim a corner of this vast online community/marketplace. The short answer, is probably not. I’ll explain later.

The digital age has shattered the once quasi-unified sleaze marketplace into millions of niche like fragments. There are sleaze purists who demand that real sleaze is like a shot of Tequlia to be drank in one shot. These are the sleaze hardcore. They know who they are and they don’t like anyone messin’ around with sleaze. But they don’t exist alone. Sleaze is a big, democratic market, old and young, men and women, bosses and employees, as well as publishers, filmmakers, and entertainers. There is market segment of sleaze lovers who like their sleaze cut with parody or satire. These sleaze lovers would like the British sleaze site:

Sleaze on occasion is put in bed with noir fiction, crime fiction, pulp fiction. Naked hard bodies, guns, booze and smell of blood and guts not only cause a loss of innocence, they might put you off your breakfast.

Those Sexy Vintage Sleaze Books is a website that specializes in talking about sleazy crime fiction. Flashing the covers of the classics, the vintage kind. There’s George Axelrod’s 1952 Blackmailer, which appears first on their list. The cutline on the front is a definite selling point in favour of sleaze: “She put herself on sale and murder won the bid.” The competition is stiff, on coming up with the lowest neck and skirtlines. Don Eilliott’s classic Jungle Street had these immortal words on the cover: “Life was a stream of passion and blood in this gutter world.”

Publisher just don’t make book covers like in the old days when sleaze was something to be proud of, something that sold books, rather than sleeking away into the shadows, those publishers celebrated sleaze. They stood up and displayed the goods. Low and common as those goods were, readers forked over hard cash for a dose of sleaze and came back for more. One famously courageous publisher fought battles for books written by authors like Henry Miller all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States arguing that people had a constitutional right to read sleaze. Barney Rossett, Grove Press publisher, spent a fortune on such court battles—and won the case. But those days are gone. Only sleazy publishers publish sleaze and even they can’t make a living doing it.

No one in the publishing industry came out one day with a headline proclaiming: Sleazy Books are no longer Hip, or Sleaze is not so much dead but has moved from the written word on paper to pixel land, where digital zombies in between online poker, computer games, and Facebook, poked in their nose at work and at home.

The point is that books no longer occupy the same place in the sleaze universe as it did 60 or 70 years ago—before commercial TV, and with a government regulated film industry, and the mere start of a magazine business—but today, all the sleaze that anyone could consume in 24 hours is on the Internet for free, and new content comes on every minute of the day. There isn’t a moment when some new sleaze possibility appears as a pop up on your computer screen, and following that link leads you to the altar of sleaze, and then a link to another site, and on and on like a hall mirrors that you can see infinity in.

The point is that the Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski’s of sleaze literature are in their graves and there has been no one in recent times to fill their sleazy shoes in the public mind. A search would reveal libraries of sleazy self-published books for free. Read them if you wish. Some of them are probably okay. The point is that sleaze looks much easier to write than it actually is. It takes a professional writer to produce sleaze that registers that Middle-C between thrill and disgust, pleasure and disdain, pornographic and artistic. The true sleaze master runs circles, threading together these bookends of the human condition. Sleaze in books isn’t only about lives of debauchery, tracking those who lust for sex. It’s an attitude about life, people, the past and the future. What happens inside the envelop of the ‘now’ as the sleaze washes over them.

The world has moved on. Sleaze remains huge, no longer hidden, it is easy to find in multiple media, light years of video clips, photographs, life cam feeds, and video internet phone calls. No one has time to read about sleaze when all of these pressing outlets promise so much more of a ‘hands on’ experience. None of that nasty having to use one’s own imagination to create the scene inside one’s head. All the work is done. There is no need to read anything. And that is the point of why no one is much interested in sleazy books anymore. Sleaze has become digital and set free. It is everywhere, unmediated, unedited, sometimes live, and unbound by human time. This is one reason book sales are flat. The growth of readers depended on using the equivalent of a gateway drug and it worked. Those sleazy books turned young people into life long readers. You remember, sneaking away to read the coveted copy of D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, or Charles Bukowski, and falling in love with the possibility of words and language.

Love of any kind, and that includes the love of words, begins with passion. Sleazy well-written books introduced the reader to the contradictions that our passions create. That’s what makes them literature because the best sleaze teaches a moral parable about what we care capable of doing to ourselves and others, and waking up the next day and doing it all over again.

If you think about writing sleazy novels, my advice is don’t do it. The book market doesn’t look that healthy for literary sleaze. The competition is intense. And you may suffer the worst fate to be endured by any author—he might be ignored as if he were dead. No longer existed. Like literary sleaze. It’s stuffed and mounted and in a literary museum, but like Greek and Latin, there will always be a small band of scholars who will keep the written word bound in paper candle flame lit.

If sleaze looks like a publishing loser, then the winner is going in the direction of vampires, zombies, horror and historical crime fiction—especially Roman (note to self: you can back door some sleaze). A lot of it reads like low quality cloth feels against the skin but it ain’t sleaze.

Words will always be with us because we hated mental silence and words break that stillness we find unsettling. When we look back in time we think in words and images and smells and touch. Our ‘intellectual home’ once built in the realm of literature is moving house. Reading this on your screen is itself the ultimate proof; you’ve moved here, to this space, and you’ll move in a moment to another tab, and on and on, some it sleaze, some mixed with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, newspapers, music. That’s how you live now. It’s how most people with the advantage of an education and money live. Looking into the future, what I see are thousands and thousands of small intellectual homes inside thousands of tribal compounds, each defined by the attention it gives to images, messages and videos. And inside this brave new world, the most important role for words will be read’ login’ and ‘password’.

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