Guys, this seems to be the perfect time to ask this question: what do we do about artists we don’t agree with?
I’m not talking about just not agreeing with stupid, minor things. I’m talking about conflicting worldviews, and/or despicable acts that they are alleged to have done.
The recent controversy behind Casey Affleck being nominated for (and winning) Best Actor at the Oscars begs this question. He has a case of sexual assault on his recent record, and many are boycotting him to show their disgust.
And another recent discovery (or, rather, discovery for me and many others – I suppose for some, it was common knowledge) brings up this dilemma. It has been circulating in the media that Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss, was incredibly racist, and the proof is all over his political cartoons, predominantly against Japanese and black people.
Dr. Seuss, what the hell? You were my childhood.
These are not the first celebrities whose personal beliefs and actions have caused a disturbance in such a way that people literally stopped engaging in their art. And you know what? Sometimes it really sucks. Because there are a lot of really great stories out there in the world that have been told by really shitty people.
Honestly, that’s what makes this so hard for me: it’s that the art is in the form of a story. I’m a story girl, through and through. It’s like air: if you give me a really good story, I breathe it in. Second nature. And then afterward, I feel bad because I’ve beatherd in the byproduct of a pollutant, but it was there and my lungs were aching for it.
Okay, I’ll stop being dramatic now. But, I thought I’d document each story that has brought me this stress, to show my frustration and indecision of what to do. I will warn you that the following is not a decisive answer of how to deal with artists in this boat, but rather the clumsy thought process of Sam.
Speaker for the Dead
My favorite book is written by a bigot and homophobe. Orson Scott Card. Or at least, he’s a bigot now. Card wrote Speaker for the Dead (and for that matter, Ender’s Game) when he was younger, and with seemingly less conservative influence. It’s clear in the work: while there are still some major flags raised (in the earlier editions, you will see some racially and culturally insensitive terms being used, and even today’s editions the text does absolutely nothing for feminism), the major theme that the story focuses on is really pretty progressive: it’s about understanding, and acceptance, and cultural differences… there are just so many things that are good in these stories. But if you look at what Orson Scott Card has been representing in the last few years, most of his public opinions seem to be the complete opposite of the ideas he put forth in the Ender series.
Some speculate that early on, he was still experimenting with worldviews, and as his work gained popularity, his religion began influencing him in ways that ultimately have proved pretty narrow-minded. Thus, a seemingly more open-minded author became less open-minded. Or at least, that is what it appears… who knows, maybe he was just playing what he thought was Devil’s advocate when writing the Ender series, and was voicing all these viewpoints that weren’t actually his.
So what should I say? Should my favorite book not be Speaker for the Dead because of what the author became? Should I enjoy the book while abstaining from purchasing any of his newer work, so that he doesn’t get any money from me?
The Buffy Universe
This one is more of a non-issue to me, but it’s a point of conjecture for so many people, so I’ll add it in here.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been praised as feminist and dissed as anti-feminist, all in one breath. There are a lot of really great factors that land on both sides of this argument. Pro: creator Joss Whedon wanted to turn the “damsel in distress” stereotype on its head, and give women a chance to kick ass on TV. Con: some of the scenarios throughout the series do a lot of slut-shaming and/or treat Buffy’s womanhood as something that she should be ashamed to experience. For example, pretty much every time Buffy is involved with any kind of sexual encounter, she gets punished in one way or another for it.
In the argument against Buffy, the thing I’ve always noted is that this show started in the 90s, and was on TV. There are so many things that the studio required the Buffy series to include just to maintain that “correct image” for the kids — that’s why the first few seasons have so many “Smoking is bad” signs, and any and every instance that involves alcohol ends horribly (read: that heavy-handed episode where Buffy becomes a cave woman when she drinks at a party). Whedon wanted to push the show to the limits in terms of feminism, but obviously he could only go so far (this is also why Willow and Tara’s first onscreen kiss was so meaningful: there were several occasions prior to that scene in which a kiss was insinuated off camera, but in The Body, Whedon made sure that it was on screen because of the powerful statement it made for the characters and for their relationship. But I digress).
Also, this was the 90s. Why do we rag on Joss Whedon for not meeting the 2017 standards of feminism 20 years ahead of time? For real, the show may not have been perfect, but it was much more feminist than other stereotypical female-driven shows of the era, so can we please give it a rest?
Filmmakers with Allegations for Sexual Assault
We’ve come right back to Casey Affleck. Except there’s more!
There are two avenues on this street: one, for above-the-line filmmakers who have a past allegation of rape or other crimes or just plain hurtful behavior. There are a lot of celebrities that walk this path: Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, or more recently coming under fire, Nate Parker, who directed 2016’s BIRTH OF A NATION. The second path is for actors who have an allegation in their past, like Casey Affleck.
With any of these instances, it is clear that past allegations can certainly be a reason to dislike a person — especially if that person has not made a public statement apologizing and advocating change. Here’s where people begin boycotting their work, to make the statement that encouraging the work of such a person is encouraging the things they do/have done. Their worldview affects the story they’re trying to tell: knowing their personal history, does this taint the message they are laying out?
There is, however, a pretty big difference between boycotting a director or writer versus an actor. If you boycott an actor, you are indirectly boycotting the work of other individuals, ie the director and writer of the film that the actor is in. So the question for me becomes: is the past of this actor bad enough to prevent me from seeing the work of someone else?
Guys, this just makes me sad. Of all of the things I have wrestled with, this is the one that I can’t even try to justify in my mind, because I have no way of proving that Theodor Geisel ever changed his mind about the racist things he said. For someone who shares a birthday with the man, and grew up reading his children’s stories and calling herself Thing 2 and Sam I Am, the news that he had such racist political cartoons is pretty devastating. I could say that his opinions were a little more mainstream back then (unfortunate as that is), and, you know, my Grandad can be racist, but I still love him… only, my Grandad didn’t take to mass media to mold the minds of young children, or even of adults, to hold the views that he had.
The only thing I can say is that sometimes shitty people write not-so-shitty things. Even if it’s in the midst of other things that they’ve written that are shitty. That’s not a great consolation. But it’s the best I’ve got.
I personally have nothing against Emma Watson, but the controversy in the media lately has been too bizarre not to mention here.
Watson is known for being vocal on feminist issues, but her recent photo shoot has gotten people up in arms about the validity of her feminism. You see, part of her breasts were revealed in the photos. It wasn’t even a nude photo, just a little side boob. The main comment that has surfaced has been, “How can she be a feminist when she’s putting her body out for everyone to see?”
Um. By remembering that feminism is about giving women the ability to choose their own life. That’s how. Look, women can be sexual and feminist at the same time. If you expect every feminist to cover themselves up, then isn’t that just as bad as wanting every woman to cover themselves up? Just because someone labels themselves as a feminist doesn’t mean that they take themselves out of the category of womanhood. Let women be who they want to be, damn it.
There is another complaint that people have, and that is that five years ago, Watson made a comment about Beyoncé flaunting her sexuality. People have been calling her a hypocrite for saying what she said, and then turning around and doing the same thing — which digs into the issue of intersectionality.
This idea is always puzzling to me. Not the idea of intersectionality, but the idea that a celebrity cannot grow as a human being over time without facing consequences. I do think that Emma Watson has made a recent statement about the things she said about Beyonce, so I’ll let you read that instead of my conjecture.
Back to Story
But it just goes to show: do the actions of an artist negate the meaning behind their work? Can we pick and choose which words we like and which works are good because of a person’s personal life? Honestly, this has always been tough for me, because while I’m really not cool with the idea of Casey Affleck brushing a sexual assault case under the rug, I still really, really liked MANCHESTER BY THE SEA. And while I hate the racism in Theodor Geisel’s political cartoons, I love his children’s books. And though I completely disagree with Orson Scott Card’s views on homosexuality, I almost want to laugh when I think about the way that his early work upholds understanding and inclusivity. It’s almost like his own work is slapping him in the face.
It’s kind of like the Bible, to me. Now… hear me out. There are some pretty horrendous things that happen in the Bible, and some passages that lots of people use to spread hate and fear. And yet, there are some really powerful messages in it as well. If I were to boycott the Bible because of the way people like Westboro Baptist Church interpret it, then I would miss out on a lot of really great stories that have really great messages.
I don’t know. Nothing is black and white, I guess. And I’m not going to be able to answer the question for most of these cases. But it should definitely be something that people think about when they ingest art… definitely be mindful of where the art is coming from. And make your own decisions about what you will do with that information.
Me… I will probably continue to read and watch things, because story is an addiction, and I’m caught up in it. I understand that I’m going against some people’s definition of solidarity. Maybe that makes me a bad person. But from what story has taught me over the years, I owe it at least a try before writing it off.