[Perry] Separating the Author from the Book

Delicate topic today.

This is something I’ve been mulling over in my mind a fair bit lately.

It started back when I first started seeing trailers for the Ender’s Game movie (don’t waste your money).

I’d read the books a long time ago and I loved them. I even loved the further sequels that nobody else seemed to give two shakes for. I thought they were powerful, thought-provoking books and I would easily put the first book right up there with Starship Troopers by Heinlein and The Forever War by Joe Haldeman as ESSENTIAL military sci-fi novels.

These are all books that explored more than the war itself, but what it means to be a soldier and they had some damned powerful statements to make that left you thinking.

Then, the movie was announced.

The trailers were shown.

Then a huge hubbub erupted about the fact that Orson Scott Card was a blatant, homophobic racist.

I never knew about this side of the man. To be honest, I don’t really know much about most of the authors that I follow avidly.

To me, their personal lives didn’t matter. Their political and humanitarian views or activities didn’t matter. Whether they were a saint or a bigot…I never thought it mattered.

To a large extent? Honestly? I still don’t.

It’s much the same way I don’t really care much about the personal lives of celebrities. I just…it doesn’t really concern me, who they marry or if they had an affair. It never seemed to matter to me whether they were a good person or a bad person because I had no real vested interest in what kind of person they were.

I wasn’t their friend. My chances of anything but a very fleeting chance encounter with a celebrity was slim to none, so what did I care if they were awesome or horrible?

I did some long thinking when I found out Orson Scott Card’s views on the world.

Did it matter to me what the man thought?

In a general sense, yeah, I mean…the world would be a much nicer place if people would stop being such dicks, you know?

But in practical sense…no.

It didn’t matter to me.

I just didn’t care.

I don’t particularly think that makes me a bad person, though I’m sure there are people who would happily argue that point with me.

Long-winded and rambling, but my point is that when I’m consuming, music, movie, art, or novel, I tend to divorce the creator from the creation.

Let’s take a more concrete example.

Let’s look at Jim Butcher or Patrick Rothfuss. Two authors that are sort of giants in my eyes, authors of ongoing series that I can’t wait to read more of.

Let’s pretend that tomorrow, one or both of them were outed as these massive douchebags. Racist, homophobic bigots, the whole nine yards.

…But they continued writing.

Would I stop reading about Kvothe and Dresden because of this newfound fact?

No, definitely not.

Would I start pirating the books instead?

…Maybe, maybe not.

It’s a complicated issue and I don’t have one clear opinion on what I think is “right” in this situation.

I’ve read through Ender’s Game, numerous times now. I never…really got a homophobic or racist feel from it. So maybe it’s there and I’m just not well-versed in reading between the lines, or maybe the story is just a story and has nothing to do with furthering his personal political agenda.

Now that I’ve found out about his viewpoints, should I burn any copies of his book that I can find? Boycott the rest of his work when I very clearly enjoyed his previous efforts and thought them powerful and good teaching tools?

I don’t think there’s really a right answer.

I don’t think everyone will have the same answer.

My answer…is that I tend to find it easy to divorce someone from the work they do.

Sometimes, a story is just a story to me. A movie is just a movie, and I don’t need to know that everyone involved in the creation of said work was a saint in order to enjoy it.

By the same token, knowledge that someone involved WAS a douchebag doesn’t STOP me from enjoying it either.

This was a big rambling, but in light of events, I’m curious to know what you guys think of the whole issue.

CAN a writer and his work be separated? Or are they inextricably bound together?

29 thoughts on “[Perry] Separating the Author from the Book

  1. KristenSue

    I’m sorta with you. I ignore the connection between the artist and the work that I enjoy. I can only think of one exception: Chris Brown. He seems like an all around terrible person, and I don’t like his music anyway, so it’s not hard for me to exclaim “he’s terrible! I shall not patronize his creations!”

    I was also surprised when I heard that people were upset about Ender’s game and Orson Scott Card. I had read some about how his Homecoming series had serious mormon overtones… but I didn’t get that when I read it. I had a friend who took a creative writing class from him in college and said he was an all around mean guy. But yeah, there are lots of artists out there that I’d never actually be friends with.

    Wait, I will say that Tom Cruise’s personal life and insanity has turned me off from his work.
    and that crazy celebrity lady that is anti-vaccination, Jenny McCarthy, if she was ever in anything, I’d probably ignore it.

    • Perry

      Hehe, it’s easy when the artist in question produces things that you wouldn’t like anyway, but we DO definitely get that little spurt of “INJUSTICE AVERTED!’ when we avoid their work ^^.

      But I find it harder to…to….what’s the word I’m looking for.

      Like…I feel like I SHOULD care, as much as other people, you know? Be all morally outraged! Condemn the man’s work and take that moral high ground…but I just can’t seem to bring myself to get all fired up. And I wondered if that was normal.

      I just didn’t care about what they were like as people, as I was only judging them based on their creative work.

      I like Tom Cruise movies still…despite all the craziness, and the Scientology, and the Oprah couch hopping nonsense? I still find him a pretty dynamic actor and I enjoy watching the man on screen.

      Hence?

      Perryconfusion haha.

  2. Mother of Three, Anne

    I will take a muddled quote from some 1940s movie, which was about an Irish immigrant family and some love story. The quote comes from the father, who was a policeman.

    “He is a good man. One of the best. I am proud to serve in his city. So what if he beats his wife a bit?”

    I recently read an article that focused on good leaders and the fact that really good leaders tend to be sociopaths to a great degree. And we like their leadership.

    I think we all tend to separate a personal life from a professional life, until it no longer suits our needs. Until they truly offend us in some way.

    • Perry

      Personal effect…maybe that’s the key, you think?

      Like…maybe I would feel completely differently about the whole issue if I were effected, or perhaps even the TARGET of the man’s hatred?

      Maybe then I’d be all up in arms like a chunk of the internet seemed to be when the whole thing was outed, and I’d be all over boycotting things and holding up signs and all of that noise.

      • Mother of Three, Anne

        Try this:

        If Orson Scott Card wrote in a way that made you confront his bigotry, maybe especially bigotry that was more directed at you, would you still enjoy his novels? Would it be really easy for you to NOT purchase them?

        Or if he were a completely terrible writer, would his bigotry just confirm for you that you were correct in not enjoying his work?

        I think those are pretty typical reactions, really. I hear those types of scenarios played out all the time.

        I think it does become harder for us when we really admire one aspect of a person but we know that there are other aspects that we find offensive. I think, in these scenarios, it does boil down to personal effect.

        • Perry

          “If Orson Scott Card wrote in a way that made you confront his bigotry, maybe especially bigotry that was more directed at you, would you still enjoy his novels? Would it be really easy for you to NOT purchase them?”

          Yes, of course, it would be harder to enjoy. But that’s only if there was hatred and bigotry directed AT me, instead of just being part of the story.

          I have don’t have a particular hatred of people who write unlikable characters, just that I don’t tend to enjoy their work (Prince of Thorns).

          “Or if he were a completely terrible writer, would his bigotry just confirm for you that you were correct in not enjoying his work?”

          ^
          Not at all haha. In that case, the issue of whether he was a good or bad person wouldn’t even come up, really. If he was a terrible writer, I wouldn’t enjoy his work because he was a terrible writer and nothing more XD.

          And for your conclusion, I’m ever so glad that you agree, Anne ^^

  3. Lauren

    I’m kinda right there with you. I’ve read A LOT of OSC’s writing and never really got any bigoted feelings from his writing. Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide are some of my favorite books and actually have a theme of inclusiveness and empathy with people who have a completely different life and experience. They’re all about understanding and learning about alien species. I had a very dificult time reconciling the author of those books with the public image he has.

    I did go see the Ender’s Game movie, and I agree it wasn’t great. I also didn’t expect it to be great, that’s not a story that translates well to the big screen. I felt a little conflicted about giving my money to OSC though. I couldn’t disagree with him more on many his political and religious views, but I still like the things he creates. It’s a tough situation.

    • Perry

      I’d very much agree with you on Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide and what follows with the rest of Ender’s life.

      It honestly surprised me that everyone I knew (who read) recommended that I stop just at Ender’s Game and not proceed further…I couldn’t help but wonder if they were that blind to what the story was trying to cover? Just because it perhaps departed from the established story structure set down by the first book?

      “I couldn’t disagree with him more on many his political and religious views, but I still like the things he creates. It’s a tough situation.”

      ^
      That bit right there is exactly how I feel too. Especially given the themes of Speaker for the Dead and what it was about…all about acceptance of what a person really is instead of how they appeared when viewed through the lens and filters of society.

      It was hard for me to reconcile that theme against his very public stance on the whole thing. =(

  4. Jenny Gibbons

    Okay, I did a massively long post — which got eaten by a computer glitch. I don’t have time to recreate it, so I’ll just do a couple bullet points.

    One, I don’t think that being a gifted artist gives you a free pass to be a monster.

    Two, I believe that people have the right to think whatever they want. I don’t dig into artists’ private lives. So if I know you’re a monster, it’s because you aren’t private and you aren’t just believing. You’re raping little girls (Roman Polanski). You’re marrying your daughter (Woody Allen). You’re publicly advocating oppressive and/or terrible things (Orson Scott Card). Once you take your beliefs into the public arena, you have no right to complain when people react badly to them. As Shit My Dad Says said, “The right to be an asshole and the right to call someone an asshole are the same right.”

    Three, if you don’t want to be hurt, don’t pay people to hurt you. If I know that someone will use my money to make the world a worse place, I should not enable them.

    Four, I believe in forgiveness. I watch Mel Gibson movies because he’s shown contrition and I believe he doesn’t want to be the monster that comes out of his mouth when he’s drunk.

    Five, privilege is an omnipresent danger. Privilege is saying, “It’s not a problem for me, so it’s not REALLY a problem.” Maybe I forgive Mel Gibson because of Christian privilege. My Jewish friends won’t watch his movies any more than my gay friends will watch Ender’s Game. That may or may not change my actions, but I need to be wary of my privileges.

    Six, I believe in tolerance. Tom Cruise is a whackadoodle. But I don’t think his crazy beliefs hurt anyone, so I don’t care.

    Bottom line: I don’t knowingly support unrepentant criminals or people who I think hurt the world. I loved some of Card’s early works. I have not supported him in any way since he took his inner problems public and began actively trying to hurt my (gay) friends and family. I think the problem is complex, but that’s my view of it.

    I apologize if this seems sharp or hurtful to anyone. My longer version was much more nuanced; this one is kind of blunt, and that can come off as accusatory.

    • Perry

      Definitely came off a tad sharp, but I don’t think anyone here minds =)

      I agreed with a lot of your points as I read them, Jenny, and I’m glad you shared them.

      I thought the quote from your dad was especially apt!

      I guess my issue with Card is that…like, he’s too….open? Or extreme about it? If that makes sense?

      Like yeah, he holds these beliefs, but I don’t think he’s going to convince anyone who doesn’t already think that way, to come around to his way of thinking, you know?

      I think that harmful people are the ones that are insidiously convincing instead of the ones that just preach to their crowd…sort of.

      I’m not sure if that came out the way I had it in my head haha. But something along those lines.

      • Jenny Gibbons

        Sorry about the sharpness! The long version had extra padding, and I was vastly annoyed when it vanished into the ether. Then I told myself, “That was probably God’s way of saying, tl;dr ”

        I’m glad you brought this subject up, btw! I, too, think that people have raised great points, on a variety of ‘sides’. (Ted, I adore “The water is going to taste like the hose.”) The discussion has certainly made me think more about, and clarify, my objections!

        • Perry

          Nothing to be sorry about at all!

          I didn’t mind one bit XD.

          I prefer when people speak their mind ;)

    • Jenny Gibbons

      Frost being a dick doesn’t bother me too much. I don’t expect authors to be saints. If you have to read his private letters to find evidence against him, then to me that’s private. There’s a big difference from being an insufferable jerk and working to deny rights to people.

      Maybe a better way of saying it is, if Frost was a dick it lowers my opinion of him. However I don’t think that I’m supporting oppression by reading his works, or that I’m supporting a guy tearing the world down (cuz he’s dead; he’s not tearing down nuthin’).

      It’s like Stephen King’s recent tweet about Dylan Farrow’s stories of abuse. King is an awesome guy. He has done wonderful things for his community. That tweet damaged my opinion about him, but I never even considered boycotting his works because of it. I think he’s sorry. I think he gave into male privilege for a moment. He said something stupid, but I don’t think he’s actively trying to make the world a worse place. Quite the opposite, actually. I just look at that tweet and think, “King, I am disappoint.”

    • Perry

      That whole Stephen King thing…I never knew/heard about it before and I looked it up when it was mentioned.

      That seems like silly behavior to me, to be honest.

      I mean, the outcry seems FAR in disproportion to the mistake.

      It’s like, hells, let’s collectively IGNORE everything the man’s done and all of his writing of strong female characters (I still think Dolores Claiborne or the Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon were pretty amazing books) and jump down his neck because of ONE ‘open mouth, insert foot’ incident.

      • Jenny Gibbons

        I agree, Perry. To me, it seemed like a really bad moment of thoughtlessness and/or male privilege. Having had bad moments of both myself, I’m not going to get worked up about it. It won’t make me forget the huge amount of charity work King’s done in his community, or the brilliant, nuanced essays he’s written on controversial issues like gun control, or the fact that he is the ONLY male writer I’ve seen who really, totally seemed to get what rape might mean to a woman. I am more shocked and baffled that a man who can write female characters like King’s could say something so thoughtless. For me, it’s a lesson in humility, not a cause for jihad.

  5. Ted

    I agree with the concept of divorcing the art from the artist, but I also think that is hard, especially for authors. Art is ways of helping others see reality. The artists own lens (worldview, beliefs) has to play into how she herself views reality and would have to some extent come out when she creates her art. This is even truer of authors. I think more than other artists, they have to put a little something of themselves into each character.

    If OSC’s objectionable beliefs didn’t come across in his novels, I wonder how closely they are held by him.

    Said another way, “The water is going to taste like the hose.”

    But I would continue to buy books or music of an artist whose personal views I didn’t align with. I’d like to think that I have enough conviction in my own beliefs that I can let other people be wrong. It feels like the cultural expectation is we have to destroy those who disagree with us. Boycott their product, get them fired, shut them down, etc.
    I’d rather show them tolerance.

    Real change won’t happen by silencing people who have discordant beliefs. Change will happen when one person in a close friendship relationship has earned the right to challenge another person’s beliefs on a particular subject. It won’t happen in 140 characters over Twitter.

    • Mother of Three, Anne

      *laughing at the beautifully stated comment*
      Ted! What are you saying? What about if I use 145 characters?

    • Jenny Gibbons

      I think there’s a critical difference between “allowing people to disagree with you” and “giving people money to hurt others.” For instance, I disagree wildly with the religious views of Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise. I still watch their movies. Card, however, actively campaigns against my friends and family. He works, through groups and his public interviews, to hurt people I love. I will not help him.

      I agree that my actions won’t change Card’s point of view. However I’m not trying to change him. I’m trying not to empower/enrich him. That I can do. It’s not that I’m so weak that I can’t stand people who disagree with me. I simply don’t want to support him while he hurts people.

      And refusing to support someone is not the same as shutting them down. I would not, for instance, try to convince my library or Amazon not to carry Card’s books. People have the right to choose whether or not to read them. I didn’t complain to Lionsgate or threaten not to watch any of their other films. But I won’t give Card money.

    • While I take your point about water tasting like the hose (:: cough :: D. H. Lawrence :: cough ::), I like to think artists exist that can produce things they themselves are not. (I especially like to think this when I read/watch horror.) I’m not familiar with OSC. I knew he wrote Ender’s Game and that he was a Mormon, but, until now, nothing about the controversy. But, he may be the sort of author that can fervently believe something that doesn’t leak into his work (because he intentionally avoids it or because he feels it isn’t related to the work and just doesn’t add it).

      So, to your point, his work *could* be (again, haven’t read it) completely hetero-centrist and questions about sexuality don’t really come up because they’re already answered. Against your point, his work *could* run the sexual gamut and he’s such a skilled author that he depicts believable characters without pushing his moral or political beliefs into the story. I think both are possible, though the former is probably far more likely.

  6. It’s a sticky question, to be sure. I agree with Jenny’s private vs public stance — the stuff you do in private isn’t my business, but the moment you start vocally hating on folks, I am going to judge you and I am going to stop giving you my money.

    I try to give some leeway — like Tom Cruise? I’ve seen things that point out his nutballitude, but also some things that indicate that he’s got some heroic qualities, too. So it’s hard for me to be a judge. Especially since I agree that people can change and recant and regret their past actions as they learn and grow as a person.

    The Orson Scott Card thing was very cut and dried. I’ve seen multiple quotes of him being not just a colossal ass, but hateful (both towards gays and other groups, and also his own fans). As a result? I did not go see the movie. Steven did, and I don’t consider that to be an act of war. My not seeing the movie was a deliberate choice, though.

    So yes. Once I know a public, provable thing about someone? It absolutely colors not only my view of them, but my willingness to give them money so they can continue to hurt other people.

    And I think that should be true regardless of whether I am gay or black or trans or anything at all. If folks only ever cared about cruelty towards themselves, we’d never have stopped slavery in the US.

    Great discussion, and great topic TO be discussed. I saw valid points from pretty much every comment and I don’t think it’s an issue that can be cut and dried — or even one that SHOULD be cut and dried.

    • Jenny Gibbons

      To me, Card was cut and dried, too. Mel Gibson may be an anti-Semite. But he doesn’t join Neo-Nazi groups. He doesn’t use his position as a famous actor to encourage people to investigate Holocaust revisionism, or give interviews blaming the financial crisis of 2008-2009 on Jews. He doesn’t publicly advocate laws that would ‘keep Jews in their place.’ Card’s done the anti-gay equivalent of all those things.

      Like you, however, I don’t think this is a call to war. I have friends who saw the movie, and love Card’s book. We agree to disagree.

  7. KristenSue

    Does anyone feel it is their duty as a consumer of written or visual media to seek out the public stance of the artist so you can make an informed decision?

    I honestly don’t. I just happen to learn whatever I do through random news stories, internet articles and conversations with friends. If it wasn’t for this discussion, I wouldn’t have known how horrible OSC’s public views are.

    I can consume ALOT of media, it seems like it would be so cumbersome to research every author, publisher, screenwriter, actor, director, singer, musician, etc. etc. etc.

    • Perry

      “I honestly don’t. I just happen to learn whatever I do through random news stories, internet articles and conversations with friends.”

      ^

      That’s me too, Kristen!

      Let’s call it ‘practical apathy’ and try to coin the phrase haha.

      But it’s generally not when I seek to find out someone’s awful opinions that it becomes a problem…usually when they get stupid enough to throw it in people’s faces so that it can’t be ignored :(

    • Jenny Gibbons

      Some days I feel like I should. But, I don’t, for two reasons.

      Well, okay, three. I’m also too lazy.

      Real Reason #1 is, I’m only trying to catch the worst of the worst. I don’t want to shut out all people who disagree with me. I only want to avoid supporting people who do appalling things.

      Real Reason #2 is, I have family who do this kind of research, and it does horrible things to a person. My aunt, for instance, will not read a book or watch a movie that is not written by a Christian. She waits until an ‘authorized’ person, a pastor she trusts, views the material and certifies that it contains nothing contrary to her faith. (Kind of like the Evangelical version of the old Catholic ‘nihil obstat’.)

      I certainly think she has the right to do this. But when you demand absolute political or religious ‘correctness’ from an author, you you cut yourself off from anything that challenges your world-view. Anything that might make you think. That’s not good, in my mind.

  8. willydd3

    Wow, great discussion! I think I agree with most everything. One thing I discovered about myself while reading: I’m not consistent.

    Stupid example: I did not register my website at GoDaddy because I don’t like their commercials. They had a better price, but I didn’t want to give them my money. Even though their ads weren’t really all that high on the offense-o-meter (YMMV on that point).

    However, I didn’t let OSC’s bigotry stop me from seeing the movie. A much worse situation than some tasteless commercials and I looked the other way.

    Like Perry (and others) have said, it should probably bother me more, but it doesn’t. I think I’m just too lazy to care enough.

  9. On the one hand, I tend to be a bit selfish here. On the other, I’m a bit lazy. And on that third hand, it’s really pretty tricky.

    As an example, I avoid Tom Cruise (and the work of other Scientologists) because I don’t want to support Scientology. But, really, I avoid the works I’m not that crazy about and/or know about. I don’t have a list of Scientologists that I compare against nor would I flat out refuse to see a film that had Tom Cruise or John Travolta in it.

    I’m the same way with any number of things, really. I like my iPhone. We could debate the ethics of buying one while Apple continues to use Foxconn for components, but, at the end of the day, I’m still likely to get one. It doesn’t mean I advocate for crummy work conditions or the economic subjugation of other people. Volkswagen was originally a Nazi product, championed by Hitler himself. PepsiCo (through Senomyx) experimented with using aborted human fetal cells to create artificial flavoring.

    In some ways, I really wonder what a life that never supported anything immoral would really be like. Even buying groceries can be an ethical nightmare (from ecological impacts to animal rights to economic impacts to bioengineering).

    • …and that assumes we really know what really *is* unethical/immoral in any given situation (which is a whole other deal).

    • …and I meant to add that, while I might avoid John Travolta, Tom Cruise, and Kirstie Alley because they’re well-known Scientologists, I also don’t really care for most of what they’ve done as actors. I liked Pulp Fiction, but I didn’t care for Travolta in it. The last movie I saw where I really enjoyed Tom Cruise was Magnolia and that was mostly his character (and I don’t like most of the rest of his body of work that I’ve seen). And, I never really got into Cheers, but Drop Dead Gorgeous was fun in spite of Kirstie Alley.

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