Sunday, May 06, 2012

Reading with the Enemy

I've seen a lot of outraged links this weekend to a certain commentary by Orson Scott Card. Frankly, I don't have the energy to find the offending article, but if you really want to know the deets, you can probably google something like "Orson Scott Card Homophobia" and come up with plenty of dirt.

Because yeah. Orson Scott Card? Pretty much a flaming homophobe, and he is in no way shying from this position. He's loud, he's proud, he's not a fan of equal rights for The Gays. This is not news, though of course every time he writes a new commentary on the subject, people get freaked out again.

And I get it.

As a huge fan of The Gays myself, I'd rather not support somebody who I think is hateful against them.

But near as I can tell, what OSC is doing is just exercising his freedom of speech. Rather bravely, I'd say, considering he's spouting some seriously unpopular opinions. (I absolutely DO NOT AGREE with him and think he might be broken-brained, but I still acknowledge that it takes some balls to wave your loony flag around like that.) And he isn't dumb - he knows very well that his position is not embraced by a lot of people (particularly the people who will likely be keen to leave outraged comments on the interwebs), but he's living his own truth. He's not actively taking anything away from anyone, he's not attacking anyone physically, he's not threatening anyone or committing any crime. Soooo...

Do I want to line OSC's pockets with gold? Heck no. I don't pay for his books anymore, personally (though I certainly did as a kid). If somebody asks me what I think of him, I'll say this: He is a very good storyteller. Ender's Game is probably one of my most re-read books of all time. He's excellent at starting series (less successful at finishing them). He's extremely problematic personally/politically.

BUT. You should still totally read Ender's Game. Get it from the library. Borrow it from somebody. Order it from A**zon, read it, then return it. [ETA: kidding!] If only so you can know what people are talking about. It is sort of silly to get up in arms about a book you haven't read or an author whose work you don't know.

And Ender's Game is good. It's VERY good. It had a profound impact on the way that I personally read, and since reading is like 80% of my life, it has had a big impact on my life. So actually... maybe buy it. What the heck, it's only a mass market paperback, it's not like you are giving him more than two bits.

And this brings me to my real question:

At what point does an artist's work overshadow their personal issues?

Like... look. Let's get real. Lots of great authors, directors, painters, singers and the like are actually TOTAL DOUCHE-CANOES. Basically 9 out of 10 people from the olden days were at least somewhat one or more of the following: racist, misogynist, anti-semitic, homophobic, violent alcoholics and/or wife-beaters. It's easy to sugar-coat the old days, or excuse bad behavior. Some bad behavior, indeed, is in the eye of the beholder. But to get specific:

* Herge, creator of Tintin: Nazi Collaborator. ("But he didn't know what he was doing!")

* Elia Kazan, director of ON THE WATERFRONT and STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE: Turned over his friends and colleagues to the House Unamerican Activities committee. ("But he only named names that they already knew!")

* William Burroughs: drug addict, total weirdo, shot and killed his wife. ("But it was an accident!")

* Frank Sinatra: Mafia ties, violent, alcoholic wife-beater. ("OK, but only when he was drinking gin.")

* John Lennon: Drug addict, wife-beater. ("But he was a GENIUS!")

* Harlan Ellison: Noted curmudgeon, inappropriate lady-groper. ("Inappropriate, or zany? Curmudgeon, or gadfly?")

* Frida Kahlo (only because I haven't mentioned any ladies): Bisexual communist who had extramarital affairs all over the place including with Trotsky. (Not that I think there is anything wrong with that, personally, but lot of Americans would). ("Everyone was a communist in those days! Trotsky had that neat goatee!")

* Michael Jackson: Come on.

Woody, Roman, Pee-Wee, etc etc, THE LIST GOES ON. Lots of people are less awesome in real life than we'd like them to be. They are... well, they are people. People are flawed. Some people believe things that you don't believe. Some of them do things you wouldn't do. Some are real schmucks. Some of them are actually criminals. Does this take away from their work?

I seriously want to know: Do you expect creators to be "nice" or have private lives or political beliefs that you approve of? Do you think this is an unreasonable expectation?

Can you separate somebody's political/personal/religious views or personality from their artwork/writing/music?

If you met an author and he was a real jerk to you - would you read his books? What if you were already a fan? Would you stop liking whatever you'd liked before?

If you saw some art, and you had no knowledge of the creator, and you thought it was a work of genius... and then you found out the artist had murdered somebody then committed suicide ten years ago... would you think less of the artwork?

Same piece of artwork, you have no knowledge of the creator, you think it is a work of genius... and then you overhear the artist telling racist jokes at the bar. Think less of the artwork now?

I AM FULL OF QUESTIONS AND THOUGHTS on this topic and I could go on for ages - I'd love to hear what you all think.

[ETA: To clarify (or mystify?) even further: Despite however it might sound above, I really DON'T have concrete opinions on this topic. It's a big one, and I myself am completely conflicted and unable to process it without emotions. So don't worry about offending me or anything else - I am asking what you think because I really want to know!]