We all know that controversy sells books — until it doesn’t.
Remember Paula Deen? Back in June, after the celebrity chef admitted in a deposition in an employment discrimination case (that was subsequently dismissed) to having used racial epithets in the past, the publisher of her cook book, Ballantine Books, stopped publication. At the time, I wrote:
Rightly or wrongly, Paula Deen’s deposition caused her to transition in the public consciousness from being a part of the charming New South to being a part of the racist Old South, and so she had to be banished from our kitchens, televisions, and cookbooks, lest she remind us of our own past.
Apparently, Paula Deen’s transgressions mattered so much that, even half a year later, her career has not bounced back from the ignominy.
I’m not saying that her career should bounce back, but I find it curious that one publisher cared deeply about the appearance of “political correctness” back then, while a closely related publishing company is now promoting a different book specifically because of its racist themes. Racism is controversial (to put it lightly), controversy sells books, ergo racism sells books. Right?
I hope not, but that seems to be the thought process behind Yale Law professors (and married couple) Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld’s new book, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America (published by Penguin Group). In this soon-to-be-released book, which the New York Post reviewed, Chua and Rubenfeld purportedly list eight “exceptional” ethnic groups (Jews, Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Lebanese, Nigerians, Cuban exiles, and Mormons) that have three traits underpinning their success (superiority complexes, insecurity and impulse control).
My impression about the book, having read only the New York Post’s review (and having no intention of ever reading the actual book), is that it is little more than stereotypes and pseudoscience. The New York Post notes how frequently Chua and Rubenfeld themselves admit the paucity and unreliability of their data: “The authors have such dubious data — ‘getting a statistical fix on Mormon income and wealth is notoriously difficult’; ‘hard numbers, however, are surprisingly hard to come by’ — that they undermine every assertion of so-called ‘cultural’ supremacy.” I suspect that, once the book is released to the community at large, it will be found to be just as guilty of the charges that Stephen Jay Gould leveled against The Bell Curve twenty years ago: “[the book] presents no compelling data to support its anachronistic social Darwinism…”
This book sounds atrocious, but that doesn’t surprise me considering its authors.
You may remember Amy Chua as the “Tiger Mom” of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a book that was so controversial in its endorsement of a particularly harsh method of parenting that it “earned” a spot on The New York Times’ Best Sellers List.
Fewer people have probably heard of Rubenfeld, but, to me, he’s the more pernicious member of the pair. Recently, in “The Riddle of Rape-by-Deception and the Myth of Sexual Autonomy,” published in the Yale Law Journal, Rubenfeld argued that rape shouldn’t be defined as “sex without consent” because sexual autonomy is a “myth” and because such a definition could, in theory, criminalize “rape by deception.” Rubenfeld thus argued that rape should really be defined as sex by the use of or threat of force, and thus there should be a “force requirement” to the crime of rape. The “force requirement” for which he advocates was used for generations to let perpetrators off the hook for marital rape, acquaintance rape, and rapes while victims were intoxicated or unconscious.
Everyone’s entitled to their own dubious opinion, but it’s outrageous that trolls like Chua and Rubenfeld have such large and prestigious platforms from which to spread their idiocy: Yale Law School and Penguin Group.
Interestingly, on July 1, 2013, just after Ballantine Books dropped Paula Deen, its parent company, Random House finalized its merger with Penguin to become
Random Penguin House Penguin Random House. Who knows what this merger really means for the subsidiaries, but it makes me wonder if the new Random House wholeheartedly supports stereotypes and racism now that the Penguins have moved in.
*Image: I thought this picture of the penguin sign on St. Patrick’s day (2012) was appropriate for this topic. “Guano into gold” seems to be Penguin’s marketing strategy these days.