Friday, January 23, 2015

Power of "Complaining on the Internet": The Case of Beth Malarkey, Tyndale House, and The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven

Here's another reason I want to keep holding out hope that online tools of communication and networking are reshaping some significant conversations that have been tightly controlled by power elites in the academy, media, publishing world, and political sector for a long time now:

As Fred Clark points out at Slacktivist, when Alex Malarkey, "the boy who came back from heaven," recently told the world, "I did not die. I did not go to heaven," Tyndale House, who published his book about his trip to heaven, already knew this: but,

Tyndale House and Kevin Malarkey kept their gravy train going by silencing Beth — portraying her as unreasonable and pitting a “phalanx” of editors, lawyers and influential people against her, so that the only avenue left to her was “complaining on the Internet.” That silencing was effective — until people started listening to what she was saying on the Internet.

Kevin Malarkey is Alex's father who, like Tyndale, has benefited financially to a pretty penny in publishing Alex's false claims about going to heaven. Beth is Alex's mother, who was suspicious of the claims from the outset, and tried to warn folks, including Tyndale, that Alex was fabricating. As Jocelyn McClurg reported for Religion News Service several days ago, after Tyndale received the "news" last week that Alex had recanted his claims about dying and going to heaven, the publisher agreed to yank his book The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven from its offerings of published books.

But as Michelle Dean's powerful exposé article in The Guardian has indicated,

But a closer look at family correspondence and social media postings in the years in between [2010, when the book was published, and 2015, when Alex blew the whistle] reveals how a push for sales can obscure the truth when it’s easier not to listen. Since at least 2011, Alex and Beth Malarkey have been telling people, on her blog, that the memoir had substantial inaccuracies. Emails obtained by the Guardian from Phil Johnson make clear they have been telling the publisher directly since at least 2012. 
When pressed to acknowledge the prior correspondence, Tyndale House admitted in a statement that: 'For the past couple of years we have known that Beth Malarkey … was unhappy with the book, and believed it contained inaccuracies.'”

As Fred Clark sums the story up in a previous posting about this story at his Slacktivist site, 

The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven was, after all, just another profitable example of Tyndale peddling the same themes they cashed in on with the Left Behind franchise. It catered to the same denial of death, the same escapist, otherworldly excuse for accommodating injustice, and the same desire to be told that You Are Right And Everybody Else Is Wrong, You’ll See. 
Tyndale proves, yet again, that you’ll never go broke packaging and marketing those things to white American evangelicals.

So we have a book published in 2010 on the basis of claims that the mother of the minor writing the book told the world were false claims from almost the moment the book appeared in print. The mother contacted the publisher of the book, which has put a great deal of money into that publisher's pockets as well as into the pockets of the father of the minor, to tell them that the book was based on false claims.

The publisher responded by attempting to silence and smear the mother of the minor, and sought to intimidate her with w "phalanx" of editors, lawyers, and influential people. The only way she eventually got a hearing was by refusing to back down and "complaining on the Internet."

My conclusion: complaining on the internet can work. It can change things. It can shake up old power arrangements that try to pulverize "little people" as they act as whistleblowers, and that try to keep the lid on information and stories which cast the powerful in a negative light.

I say, more power to these online conversations, networks, whistleblowers, and to the way they're finding ways around the obstacles to information flow and communication that have long been placed in their way by power elites.

I find the graphic used at many blog sites and articles online, including this article by Christie Barakat at Social Times, about how millennials trust user-generated content rather than the traditional media. I have not found any indication of the origin or owner of this image.

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