Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Some Artists Are Dicks. Does That Make Their Art Less Valuable?
Sometimes I wonder if the Internet is killing the balance that exists between writers and written works. The issue occurred to me while I was reading yet another article about Orson Scott Card. This one pondered whether his involvement in the Ender's Game movie (which looks amazing, by the way) would hurt ticket sales. Judging by the comments in the article, I'd say that there are some people who will not be seeing the movie because of their personal dislike of the author.
Honestly, that scared the shit out of me.
I have a lot of views too. I'm anti-gun, pro equal rights, I believe our government is too big but that we're not doing enough to help the least fortunate among us. I'm a smart-ass and I tend to mouth off before I think. I feel passionately about things. I am just as passionate about my views as I'm sure OSC is about his.
But I don't want people to judge my works based on my personal beliefs. I am personally agnostic, but one of my recent works features a significant religious arc for a character for whom faith is extremely important. I don't want people wondering what SHAUN was trying to say. I want them to wonder what the CHARACTER was trying to say. Because that character's views on religion are not necessarily mine. And the fact of the matter is that, even if I was trying to use my character as a mouthpiece for my religious views (which I wasn't) it might not have even been about religion, but instead used religion to explore our faith in things. How much a person can take and still hold onto their beliefs.
Maybe it was none of that. I don't set out to write themes. I set out to write a story. I believe in writing people. Some are like me, some are not. But none of them ARE me.
I don't want people to know me. I want them to know my works. My books and my characters and the worlds I've built. And if some of ME happens to slip into my writing, then I want people to discuss what it means in the context of my books. Not in the context of me, the person.
But the internet makes that difficult. I don't think superstars like John Green could exist without the Internet. Oh, John Green is talented, of that there's no doubt, but I firmly believe that his books' popularity have sas much to do with what an awesome human being John Green is as with the stories themselves. John Green provides us an example of someone using his influence and the Internet for good. Rallying likeminded people to change the world.
Don't think for a second, though, that JG doesn't have an agenda. It happens to be a great agenda, but it's still an agenda. Much like OSC, JG's personality and beliefs have eclipsed his books. People love his books because they love him. The same way people boycott OSC's books because they dislike the him.
Which is a shame, because OSC is a pretty decent writer, and Ender's Game has something very important to say about how people (especially children) can be manipulated.
For every John Green, there will be an Orson Scott Card. And there's nothing the Internet loves more than collecting their group outrage and piling on to one human being to express their displeasure. Is the Internet often right? Yes. OSC's views on homosexuality are disgusting. Seth MacFarlane was a douche. Chris Brown is a woman-beating asshole.
However, piling onto one person, focusing our rage on an individual doesn't solve the problem. Seth MacFarlane isn't the problem. The institutions that allow misogyny to exist are the problem.
I'm not saying we give OSC a pass. As I stated at the beginning, you have to let your conscience guide you. I'm just wondering if we've blurred the lines between art and artist so much that they can no longer exist separately? And if we have, are we at risk of losing some of our greatest art to our collective rage?
H.P. Lovecraft was a frothing-at-the-mouth racist and anti-semite. Ernest Hemingway was a misogynist, alcoholic dick. Frieda Kahlo was a communist. Charles Dickens was a supposed child abuser, adulterer, and anti-semite. James Joyce had a fetish for female farts (no lie). And don't even get me started on what an asshole Ayn Rand was.
I'm not sure any of them would have succeeded in the Internet age. Their works might have been forever lost as their personal lives and views on the world were splashed across Facebook; as Twitter went up in flames over their latest stupid thought.
And wouldn't that have been a shame?
Maybe. I'm pretty sure most high schoolers could skip Ayn Rand's back-breaking tomes and probably be better human beings for it. But for the most part, these artistic misfits produced some damn fine work. We look past their shortcomings because their art is more than the sum of who they were. We ignore their prejudices and political beliefs and examine the work. Sometimes we even study the work of horrible people because examining that art helps us learn who we don't want to be.
We treat the art separate from the person.
That's how I believe it should be.
But I'm not sure that that's feasible anymore. I've often thought about closing all my on-line accounts and leaving my Internet persona behind. No more Facebook, no more blogging or Twitter. But that's not reality. Even before a writer signs with an agent and gets a book deal, he's beat over the head with how important it is to have an online presence. That it's vital to a career in writing, despite some emerging evidence to the contrary.
The sad truth is that not everyone is the kind of person you want to know. I like to think that I'm a nice person, but I'm also outspoke, hot-headed, introverted, and can be extremely self-centered. But just because you might not like me in real life doesn't mean you wouldn't like my books.
I'm afraid I've rambled off a bit. Once again, there are no easy answers. Not that I expected there to be. Whether I like it or not, we're living in a world where art and the artist are intertwined. John Green's books would not be as popular as they are without John Green. Amanda Palmer has blurred the divide between art and artist to such a degree that I'm not even sure there is a line anymore. AND THAT'S NOT A BAD THING. I think what Amanda Palmer has done is brilliant. Sh IS her art and her art is her. But not everyone can do that, nor should they.
Like it or not, this is the world now. Our job is to figure out how to live in it.