Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Love the writing, hate the writer

By Steve Weddle

I grew up Southern Baptist.

I heard "hate the sin, but love the sinner" quite a bit.

Hell, for all I know, it was coined about me, anyhoo.

The recent Orson Scott Card controversy (catch up if you need to) makes me consider a sort of "hate the writer, love the writing" approach.

Card's case is somewhat atypical. Generally, you hear of someone who has views with which you disagree and you say, well, he's entitled to his opinion. Or sh can think what she wants. It's a free country. (Depending on your country.)

Card is on the board of an anti-gay-marriage group that actively works against gay marriage. So, this falls into the action side of things, not just the opinion side. Does this matter? To some, yeah.

In fact, we have a long list of artists whose personal opinions have drawn fire.

Michelle Shocked (pictured) said the world could be destroyed if teh gays marry.

Does Madonna's pro-gay stance turn off her fans?

I'm sure folks on both sides of the argument have turned off fans at some point.

Something something Kirk Cameron.

Of course, this isn't just artists speaking out for or against gay marriage.

Eric Clapton lost fans when he went on a racist tirade back in the 1970s, when he said he worried that England was turning into a "black colony."

The stories about whether Jackson Browne beat up Daryl Hannah turned fans against him. Did he? Didn't he?

The Paul Simon vs. Los Lobos kerfluffle cost Simon fans.

The more we see of our favorite writers and singers and actors, the more likely we are to be turned off by their opinions and actions.

But should we allow that to turn us off from their works?

Are we obligated to say, "Well, Eric Clapton is a racist, so I'll no longer enjoy 'Promises'"?

If known hippie Jackson Browne did fight with Daryl Hannah, does "You Love the Thunder" become an abuser's anthem? If he didn't, does everyone need to apologize to him?

Sean Penn is a nutty liberal, so I hate Jeff Spicoli?

I'm not suggesting that we kick back and start teaching classes on the beauty of Hitler's paintings or Charles Manson's songs.

But what do we do when the artists we've grown to enjoy become monsters?


Jay Stringer said...

I try and avoid Ad Hominem as much as I can. I want to engage with an artists in their work; on the page, on screen, in the music.

However, sometimes the artists doesn't allow me to do that.

OSC doesn't allow me to do that. He actively campaigns against the basic rights of people I care about. Frank Miller doesn't allow me to do that, because he keeps going on angry ultra-conservative rants. Michelle Shocked wouldn't allow me to do that, because she had a platform to move and entertain but used it to spread hate.

So that's basically where I sit. I will do my best to engage with the artist through their work, as long as they let me do that.

Jack Badelaire said...

I'm a big fan of the classic pulp authors from the 20's and 30's, but when they - and their works - are viewed through the lens of later generations, we see a lot of cringe-worthy stuff. Was Lovecraft a racist? Was Robert E. Howard a racist? They probably were, but then again, so were a lot of people at the time. They just happen to draw fire because they're people who still exist in the public eye almost a hundred years later for their artistic works.

But on the other hand, Bob Howard wasn't out there lynching people or beating up Mexicans, joining the KKK or doing anything else to really spotlight him as a "hater".

So I think it is possible to disagree with someone's beliefs and still enjoy their creative works, but if disagreement with beliefs turns to outright anger, resentment, or hatred of someone, that becomes a lot more difficult. I certainly wouldn't chide someone for not reading an author because they don't like the author as a person.

John McFetridge said...

Sometimes these things can get us to look a little closer at the works of these artists (and at ourselves, as the cliche goes).

Sean Penn read the lines someone else wrote for Jeff Spicoli. Sometimes Sean Penn is a director and has more say in what ends up in the final product. But, I guess, yeah, it's a collaborative art.

But I think I was just too old for Ender's Game. I tried to read it and felt it was just another book about how special you are, yeah you, if only the idiots around you were smart enough to see your specialness. I think you have to be a teenager to really appreciate that kind of thing.

In some cases these actions seem out of character and other times they may show us what's been there all along.

Steve Weddle said...

Yes. The old pulps.

Lovecraft wrote some CRAZY RACIST stuff. The apologia on that one by fans is usually something like this:
"It was a long time ago. Everyone was racist then."

Dan_Luft said...

Sadly, I think I would dislike most of my favorite artists from what I know. I grew up listening to Pink Floyd and, in high school, I watched them go from four rather private individuals to at least two annoying people. Roger Waters acting very weird and controlling and David Gilmour hiring a fleet of co-composers (I can get ten guys to give me that Barton Fink feel).

In my 20s I read all of Richard Brautigan and fell in love with his gentle voice. He apparently used that gentle voice to score chicks for years. When he killed himself no one even went looking for him for about a month.

I have an amazing Ike Turner solo album from the early 70s. Brilliant stuff. I already knew what he did before I bought it.

I'd love to go drinking with Hemingway and Mailer. But I don't think I'd stick around to hear their thoughts on marriage.

I'm never going to find an artist who agrees with all my thoguhts. I can't even find a family member who does.

Dana King said...

Everyone is entitled to their opinions. If an artist actively takes positions or actions I find personally offensive, I vote with my wallet. They can't have any more of my money.

There has likely never been a more detestable human being than Richard Wagner. I love his music and listen to orchestral works written by him regularly. He's also been dead over 100 years, so he profits not a cent.

It's not much, but it's what I can do.

Anonymous said...

True, many artists can overshadow their own work. Card is a kinder, gentler version of Mel Gibson. All the prejudice without the alcohol-fueled fits of rage.

But if I read someone's work and can only think "This asshole wrote this?" I have to pass. See Richards, Michael; Rose, Axl; Pound, Ezra.

And Lovecraft was a racist bastard by the standards of his day, so the excuse that it was the times doesn't watch.

Gerald So said...

I tend to dislike it when writers let too much of their own worldview or personal life bleed into their fiction. I want to see writers and characters as disparate entities each capable of making different choices, setting up different outcomes. Yet, on one level, they can't be separated.

Robert B. Parker for years denied that Susan Silverman was mostly a copy of his wife, Joan, saying, "Joan is not Jewish." But Spenser appears to love Susan the way Bob loved Joan. Bob and Joan separated for two years but eventually reconciled. Spenser and Susan broke up for three books, but eventually reconciled. Spenser's perception of Susan was bound to Bob's perception of Joan until Ace Atkins took over Spenser.

To the extent that many characters are their creators' "best selves", the extent that an artist's work exemplifies her at her best, creations should be treated better than their creators. If Orson Scott Card puts his best self on the page, at least that's something.

tom pitts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tom pitts said...

My favorite example: Louis Ferdinand Celine. He spent the rest of his life weighted down with the hate the writer syndrome. Exiled, even jailed. You can argue either side of the fence on whether he was a Nazi sympathizer or not, he definitely penned some pamphlets for sure.