Outrage and Art

How much does an artist’s personality or views affect your appreciation of their work? I’ve been wondering about this a lot lately. If your favorite author’s view of life runs contrary to your own, do you stop buying? Stop reading?

Paul Di Filippo’s defense of the Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF angered readers, some of whom said they would not buy the anthology or read him again. John C. Wright’s recently posted views on homosexuality shocked and angered me (I think my exact words were that I wanted to scream and puke at the same time). A few people in the thread also said they wouldn’t buy his books anymore. I’m moderately fond of Di Filippo and have never read Wright. But I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d feel if I found out that one of my favorite authors—Ray Bradbury, let’s say—was really a bigot. Would I ignore it and keep on reading? Or would I feel betrayed and never read another word?

Even the most revered people can hold views others find abhorrent or at least bizarre. Undeniable accomplishments on the one hand, nasty business on the other. Charles Lindberg was a heroic pilot and an anti-Semite. Helen Keller, the most famous disabled person in American history, supported eugenics. Edison publicly electrocuted animals to defame his rival Tesla. Tesla wanted to build a death ray and believed his mother had been reborn as a pigeon. The list goes on and on. (And let’s not even get into Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.)

It’s natural, I think, that authors (science fiction authors especially) would hold strong opinions and be vocal about them. These are people for whom speculation is a major factor in their career, after all. And diversity of view is essential for ongoing discourse; without dissenting opinion, the genre could cease to develop. So authors will go on saying things that piss me off and I’ll go on being pissed off at them. But when, if at all, should you draw the line and say, “I’m never giving you another cent, you horrible [insert ideological, religious or political explicative here]!”

In supporting the art, while disapproving of the artist, do you become a tacit supporter of the views you oppose? If you choose to disregard the art because of the views or personality of the artist, is this a disservice to the art?

I’d like to say I have easy answers to these questions, and that my behavior is consistent, but that would be a lie. I enjoy H.P. Lovecraft though I know full well he was a racist. Though I acknowledge that G.K. Chesterton was a very clever writer, I have yet to read any of his mysteries because his comments on Buddhism offend me. I don’t think Orson Scott Card has ever made a political statement I agreed with, yet it doesn’t stop me from frequently recommending Ender’s Game.  Margaret Atwood’s statement about “talking squids in outer space” soured me on her. Stanislaw Lem has also said unkind things about SF, but I have read plenty of his books. I remember pirating (shh!) some Ike & Tina Turner songs because I didn’t want to pay for something that would give money to a wife-beating coward. But that’s pretty hypocritical of me, and only sidestepping the issue. And yet, “A Fool In Love” is a great song. Should I stay away from it since I think Ike was a crap human being?

Assuming you are not all as hypocritical and fickle as I am, how do you deal with this issue?

When Jason Henninger isn’t reading, writing, juggling, cooking or raising evil genii, he works for Living Buddhism magazine in Santa Monica, CA


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