Monday, September 28, 2009

CENSORED--Apple/I-Phone Takes on Flash Fiction Writer in Online Journal? Apple? Come on!

After the initial shock we asked permission from Heather Fowler the writer to repost the whole story with her comments from FB.

Sun at 10:12pm

When the Net Gets Freaky and Flash Fiction Grows too Bold For Even the Liberal Ex-Hippies: Apple Requires My Flash Removed From KeyHole To Allow I-phone App Approval--Move Over Big Brother; The Perps Now Wear Birkenstocks or Other Mysterious Apparel

First things first, I deeply feel that Peter Cole, Editor and Publisher at Keyhole Magazine/Press, is awesome and anti-censorship. I met him last year at the AWP conference and was delighted to speak with him about a a new book just out by the illustrious William Walsh, finding his conversation interesting and that he came across as a lovely human being. The above personal anecdote is expressed only to underline that the events that have recently transpired are no reflection on him and that he did every honorable thing he could do in the situation--but this doesn't change the fact that I got an email from him in my inbox earlier this week, one that said something to the effect of: I've spent money on this app for Keyhole. I hate to ask you this, Heather--but would you mind if I take your story off my site-- or I-phone won't let me use my app to distribute media?

Apparently, to widen their visibility, the fun people at KeyHole have been working to get an I-phone app programmed. After scanning his site, they sent him the following message, which Peter was kind enough to share with me:

"Dear Keyhole Press,

Thank you for submitting Keyhole Magazine to the App Store. We've reviewed Keyhole Magazine and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because it contains inappropriate sexual content and is in violation of Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement which states:

'Applications may be rejected if they contain content or materials of any kind (text, graphics, images, photographs, sounds, etc.) that in Apple's reasonable judgement may be found objectionable, for example, materials that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory.'

A screenshot of this issue has been attached for your reference. [they attached a photo of your story in the app]

If you believe that you can make the necessary changes so that Keyhole Magazine does not violate the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement, we encourage you to do so and resubmit it for review.

iPhone Developer Program"

The story was a piece called "Catholic Girl Smile," thus the title was not enough to draw the censorship, but to call the piece "obscene," or to intimate that, is fascinating to me. It is a literary flash fiction piece, of about six hundred words, about a boy who attempts to masturbate for the first time and is interrupted in this pursuit by his sister.

Is it redundant to say: No one even gets off? Of the work I have available online already, I feel this piece, its content, is rather G-rated--okay, PG-13--but apparently APPLE disagrees. It could also be the Catholicism I referenced. Because, no one ever says anything about Catholicism out loud, right? Sarcasm can be implied and is encouraged.

Of course, in response to Peter's note, I gave him my full permission to remove the piece from the web, knowing he always does fine work in terms of putting out edgy work-- and my little story is just an incidental casualty, a swatted fly, that I would not want to impair his greater publishing agenda or audience, but what I fear about this event is that it will not just affect me, but all online writers with edge and all online publishers of stories, should this be a growing trend.

I'm sure everyone tagged in this note is fully aware that--*oh gasp*--the pen is mighty, mighty. But I feel like the mouse whose tail has been stepped on by the titan. A little overkill, don't you think? Had this censorship been enacted by PayPal or other such conglomerates that are notoriously prudish and anti-eroticism in content, I would not have been surprised. But the fact is, I have other stories online that use the word "cunt"--multiple times, in multiple ways, in multiple ideological considerations--and none of these has ever been censored by a bigwig entity.

In sum, to any who read my work or might click through my bio to access my work online, of which there is a growing mass that will only expand in the next year or two, watch me flash my flash, here is your notice that one story in particular will no longer be a hyperlink, a story that is an innocent foray into questions about Catholicism, masculine sexuality, and guilt-- though it used to be available for all, for nearly a year now, at KeyHole Mag. Implicit message: They are scanning the archives, folks, not just the main pages.

But for the amusement or edification of those tagged, I now paste the piece below so that you can see if you feel it rivals other "obscene" literary content already on the web--enough so to merit being struck by the record so that a kind and harassed editor can enjoy the privilege of kissing the big, monied ring of Apple/I-Phone-- in order to pursue an admirable goal of getting more readers (which I am gung-ho about, make no mistake).

As for me, I'm proud to be censored, actually. I sigh. I moan. I throw up my hands. But then I smile, widely--thinking: I must be saying something interesting if someone wants me to shut the hell up. Thus, I feel the above series of events is a badge of honor, of sorts, a new milestone at the beginning of my literary career before my three-hundred some stories and counting, four hundred some poems, have even found homes, before I have a single book contract to my name (though the list of published stories gets longer and longer, making me wish someone would wake up to this need sometime soon)--and placing me in the ranks of other historically censored authors such as: Miller, Plath, Sartre, Twain, Lewis, etc. For a long list of illustrious folks I can now join leagues with, feel free to consult this site or others for the walk-of-shame list/s that makes this a sullied pleasure and a dubious honor in my view:

And, the story is below. Let's see if my Facebook Page gets deleted now. Literary community, beware. Big Brother wears interesting petticoats and footwear these days. He or she could be the very one saying to you, via bots or people or lawyers even from the most "liberal" of companies: "Say, be you! Express yourself! Be experimental! Be edgy! But, oh, [in a whisper as a gripping hand yanks you to a corner invisible to most of the reading public] just don't do it in public--and also avoid doing this on any affiliated sites or feeds used by our company. Let me help you: The duct-tape is kept on hand two doors down from our lawyers' suite. Feel free to partake of it before we have to discipline you into applying it ourselves. Self-govern, people! As long as you can. This message is Courtesy of Apple/I-phone. We also provide complimentary, confidential dommes with no names, or strange names like 'iPhone Developer Program,' and have a nice day, always, courtesy of I-phone and our reps!"

So here, subversively, I unveil the content edgy enough to be eliminated.

Should I suddenly disappear from Facebook, as I mentioned above, you'll know they've deleted my account. It's been great to be your friend.

See you on the page or at other writerly events.

As always, love, love, love,


Catholic Girl Smile

Grant took the things he'd been told he needed and closed the door, staring at the knob for a moment as if he feared it would turn by itself. The lock was broken, but his parents wouldn't be home for several hours. He looked down, prepared, and then began. This was the first time he had tried, having just turned eleven, so each step felt new or forbidden. He opened the lid to the porcelain basin and stared into the water, and then glanced upwards towards the crucifix his mother had hung on the wall above the extra toilet paper holder bin. He pictured Helen's face, smiling at him-- as she often did. In his imagining, like at school, she wore the uniform of St. Mary Magdelene's, a white button up blouse and a blue and grey plaid skirt--and though it was the same uniform the other girls wore, there had always been, for him, something different about the way she filled it out. Hourglass.

She was a year older and he liked her. She was taller than him, too. As he stood at the toilet, he didn't try to picture her naked, but instead how she looked jumping rope and singing verses of their chants as she did with her friends during lunchtime, the skinny ones, Molly and Lisa Mae, turning the rope as she jumped her turn, plaid skirt bouncing up to reveal dark, muscular thighs, her arms swinging slightly, the red and teal beads in her weave glinting in the sun.

He applied the lotion, closing his eyes. With each passing moment, it was as though her skirt flew higher, like she jumped so far above the rope that the draft created by impact and the movement of her legs were compelled to float it more and more each she time landed, whether on one foot or two, until it just kept hovering above her white cotton panties like a ballerina's skirt. Too, he could see her looking at him as she jumped, winking, smiling a new, sly smile he had never seen. Mentally, he smiled back at her, too, as he soloed closer to his goal, escalating the movement of his hand until he came so very close to something he had never had before that he was certain it would have been fantastic if his eight year old sister hadn't opened the door, without even knocking, and shouted, "I have to use the bathroom!"

In response, he shouted back, red as a beet, "Get out, Sally! I'm taking a piss! Leave me alone, will ya?" but the damage was done; he could not bring himself back to Helen. He flushed a nothing load and fled the scene bewildered. It would be many months before he would find another such a chance, for his parents watched him closely and were hardly ever gone.

Still, it was a long lunch period in school the next day, watching Helen jump. He felt he had, in one way or another, been robbed of her. He was angry. His pants felt tighter. And she didn't smile at him then. She frowned. She frowned so much that, later, when he thought about it privately, ashamed and dismayed, he realized the sly smile he had attributed to her was likely a product only of his head-- and that she was the innocent whom he, by devising it, had maligned. Too, he would think, for many moons, from all that day's frowning, that she knew what he had done.


Heather Fowler received her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University in May of 1997. She has taught composition, literature, and writing-related courses at UCSD, California State University at Stanislaus, and Modesto Junior College.

Among other venues, she has published short stories in the following journals and anthologies: Feminist Studies (forthcoming); Surreal South 09 (forthcoming Fall 2009); Etchings (forthcoming Summer 2009, AUS); filling Station (forthcoming 2009, CAN); PANK (June 2009); Night Train (April 2009, Issue 9.1); The Abacot Journal (Spring 2009); Underground Voices (November 2008); A Cappella Zoo (October 2008, Volume I). KeyHole (August 2008); Trespass (August/September 2008, UK); SubLit (August 2008); Coming Together: With Pride (Phaze, 2008, e-book and print); Word Riot (May 2008); Storyglossia #28 (May 2008); Cityworks 2008 (May 2008); DOGZPLOT FLASH FICTION (2008, online and print); Temenos (Fall 2007); Mississippi Review online (October 2007); See You Next Tuesday (2006); Frigg: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry (Winter 2006); the muse apprentice guild (October 2002); artisan, a journal of craft (September 2002); Literary PotPourri (May 2002); Exquisite Corpse (Summer 2001); The Barcelona Review (May, 2001); Quercus Review (May, 2001); Penumbra (May 2001); B & A New Fiction (Jan. 2001); Barbaric Yawp (Dec. 2000); and Zoetrope All-Story Extra (June 2001, October and December 1999). She worked as a Guest Editor for Zoetrope All-Story Extra in March and April of 2000. Her story "Slut" won third prize at the 2000 California Writer's Conference in Monterey.

Her poetry has recently appeared at the CrisisChronicles Online Library (October 2008), INTHEFRAY (February 2008), (November 2007), and been selected for a joint first place in the 2007 Faringdon Online Poetry Competition (October 2007) , as well as published in various venues.

Current City: San Diego, CA, USA.


  1. Hey Heather,

    luv your new mouth taped shut shot

    luv your writing, the, yes, i agree, but would call it PG 8 (so to include his sister since girls grow up faster)

    luv your Catholic mouth piece flash, you really r a good writer, Heather, you know

    gee, maybe Reuters will pick it up and you'll be instantly famous!

    poet, songwriter, performing artist

  2. I've got nothing to add...Apple's become increasingly capricious and brittle in Jobs's sunset years, their products (except for the iphone/ipod) are mediocre, their software horrible--and I'm a 27-year apple user and former employee of the company. On another level, if this is what constitutes "censorship" these days then we're doing pretty well--the visual reference to Wojnarowicz and his sewn mouth is telling--all he had to do was be attacked by the congress, the religious right, and most of the major media in the country as a depraved child molesting deviant.

  3. first of all, great piece of literature, btw....fantastic read.

    interesting that iphone/Apple would find this too would be interesting to see if other literary pieces are similarly taboo with them -- are they blocking Henry Miller or DH Lawrence? If I were in Keyhole's shoes, I'd look for literary pieces that *did* make it through on that app and bring it to Apple's attention.

    i don't view it as a censorship issue per se --- obviously youre able to publish it directly to the web as you've done, so no one's shut you down -- but on the other hand, platform and distribution should be independent of content, and its discouraging to see apple cross that line without some basic forethought:

    That said, i'll play devil's advocate a little bit, because i'm not sure that i'd want my 10 year old daughter running across this piece. My 13 y.o. son would get it, as he has an interesting mind and a literary bent (to read it ,if not to write it, at least).Ironically, she'd be more likely to run into this freely posted on the web than she would on an i phone ( i mean really how many 10 y.o.s, or even 13 y.o., have the wherewithall to afford an i phone)? While it's silly to have to relegate such a good piece of literature to some 'adult' category, there could easily be a way for Apple to delineate some kind of categories and levels of access. That they choose not to is an easy way out and demosntrates that lack of forethought.

  4. We have known CENSORSHIP in Bangla Lit scene and it’s aftermath, remember HUNGRY GENERATION MOVEMENT , the poets of this movement were not only arrested but dragged on the road with manila rope tied on their waists like criminals. This is what Prof Howard McCord says in his piece ‘POETRY OF Chaos and Death’.
    “In the autumn of 1964, as many learned from a November issue of TIME, six poets of the Hungry Generation, Malay Roychoudhury, Saileswar Ghosh, Subhas Ghosh and Pradip Choudhuri, had been arrested and charged with conspiring to produce and distribute an obscene book in violation of Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code. The book was an anthology of their writings, and STARK ELECTRIC JESUS was Malay Roychoudhury’s contribution. At their arrest, all were suspended from their jobs, and when I saw them in June 1965, they had been out of work nearly ten months. Later that summer charges were dropped against five, but the prosecution of Malay Roychoudhury continued. On 28 December 1965 he was found guilty by a Calcutta court and sentenced to a fine of 200 rupees or one month’s imprisonment. The poem was banned. He has not been reinstated in his job, and life, as he writes, has become hard and difficult…I am more or less living on alms”.

    We thought maybe this is a 60s phenomenon but now this in a country which claims to be the most liberal ????

  5. I was finding information about Kolkata but landed into your blog. I

    found your blog interesting. Very nice content. I liked it.

  6. It seems I'm on the right track, I hope I can do well. The result was something I did and was doing to implement it.