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Labels in Book Marketing: Advantages & Pitfalls – Part II

March 2, 2012

Welcome to the second part of my three-part post about labels in book marketing. In Part I, we looked at the differences between the labels rape, non-con, and dubious consent. Today, we’re switching it up a little bit and delving into another area that gets a lot of knee-jerk reactions and sparks heated debates: incest themes. Again, I want everyone to know up front that these are just my thoughts and I realize how hot-button and personal this topic can be.

Incest vs Pseudo-Incest vs Twincest

Incest, as a general term in real life, involves close relatives involved sexually with one another. From a legal perspective, different states will draw the line more specifically or more broadly, but at the very least, it’s agreed that sexual relations between primary members of a blood-related family come under the term. For a lot of people, the definition of incest is much broader, encompassing sexual relations between anyone considered part of the same family, including (but not limited to) cousins, step-children/siblings, and even those related by marriage. The level of perceived moral reprehensibility varies greatly for each individual, so it’s very difficult to properly label and place every situation into the correct box. Some might consider marrying a deceased sister’s husband (aka former brother-in-law) a form of incest, while others might draw the line at step-relatives, and still others might only include blood-relatives, allowing all else to escape their personal definition of the term.

Within fiction, several modifiers to the term incest have cropped up. This is where another issue comes into play with labels. While most publishers use labels to try to reach target audiences more easily, some have begun mislabeling on purpose. Now, sometimes this is to willfully deceive readers and do the bait-and-switch, but most times, they’re just doing what they can to avoid censorship. This is basically how the term pseudo-incest even started being used. The events tend to follow a general order:

Moral judgement creates a stir -> an attempt to censor anything under a certain label (sometimes with the aim of financial/monetary gain like charging more for anything under that label) -> outrage but eventual compliance (or the outward appearance of such) -> the creation of a new label in an attempt to slip under the radar of regulation

When the term incest came under fire in romance and erotica, everyone changed the game by making the argument that women getting sexual with their step-fathers wasn’t really incest, thus dubbing it pseudo-incest. In reality, most people will still call this incest, of course, and the psychological impact of such a relationship in the real world would be just as complicated and potentially damaging as any other kind of incest. In fiction, however, the term has now become a bit more mainstream for incestuous content between non-blood-related family members. While I can understand the narrowing benefit of the label pseudo-incest, there is definitely a point at which you have to ask why the broader term isn’t good enough, why there is a need to label down to the sub-categories.

To me, that’s exactly what pseudo-incest ends up being, and it has plenty of company with twincest, sibcest, cousincest… They’re all labels given to different kinds of incest, but there’s really no doubt that they essentially add up to the same general content. Incestuous content goes way back (plenty of it in the Old Testament, after all), so trying to censor one kind separate from the others is very difficult. Once again, there is the inherent flaw in labels that they are very subjective, so without defining the exact line of what is objectionable and what isn’t means there will always be inconsistencies.

To draw this to a close, I think the major difficulty with labels for content like incest is that people like to think that incest is an isolated kink within erotica, when in fact, the themes are spread out through many excellent works across many genres (V.C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic is just one example that comes to mind). Because many people find incest in real life to be morally reprehensible, its presence in fiction is often questioned and debated, but ultimately, it’s one facet of fiction that would be nearly impossible to regulate on a case-by-case basis, so it keeps reinventing itself through new labels that all end up being the same thing.

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