Orson Scott Card’s Personal Beliefs Are Appalling, But...
...does that mean you can’t enjoy his work? A lot of comic book fans are asking themselves this question since the controversial news broke that Card was tapped by DC to write a two-part story in its forthcoming Superman Anthology - The Adventures of Superman.
Since originally writing this piece, artist Chris Sprouse has dropped out of the project, adding new dimension to the problem, but also miraculously saving DC from having to go through with Card's story -- at least for now. Supposedly DC will be re-soliciting the story at a later date when a new artist has been hired, and will kick off the anthology with a different story. Sprouse's reason for leaving? "The media surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work, and that's something I wasn't comfortable with." Which, to this reader and fan, seems like a way of stepping out of something you're uncomfortable with, without taking a side or position.
Originally I had no interest in discussing whether DC was right or wrong in their decision, since it's already been discussed to death, and I still feel that way. And from Sprouse's statement, it seems he is wrestling with the same issue we're discussing here. Where does one draw the line in supporting (or engaging) in a book that has become controversial, driven by media speculation, and perhaps doesn't align with your personal views? The Adventures of Superman was not a book I was very interested in to begin with, so it’s very easy for me to ignore it/boycott it since I find Card’s personal anti-gay beliefs and activism to be abhorrent. But it got me thinking of other creators I vehemently disagree with when it comes to personal beliefs whose work I have much more trouble ignoring. It also got me thinking about how hypocritical it was to boycott or ignore something I didn’t really care about when I disagreed with the creator, but to fail to do so when I disagreed with the creator but was highly interested in the work they created.
I think I really began considering this issue the first time I caught a weekend re-run of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, after the racist Mel Gibson freak out. I looooove Mad Max (especially Beyond Thunderdome) and suddenly I found myself unable to focus on the film, consumed by guilt over enjoying it and difficulty separating Gibson’s racist behavior from the film. This of course sent me on a downward spiral. On examination there were so many things I loved that came from people whose personal beliefs and behaviors were anything from suspect to outright disgusting.
Some were easy to let go of. I’ve never read Card’s beloved Enders Game novels, so I probably never will, no real loss. I’ll likely never be the wiser to what I’ve missed and I’m okay with that.
Other things are no so easy. Roman Polanski is a great example. I mean, forget for a second Chinatown. CHINATOWN!!! His recent film Carnage not only starred a ton of actors I like, but it just looks like the kind of movie I’d love. My boyfriend wanted to see it in the theater, but in the end I couldn’t justify it. I’m sure I’ll see it eventually, but I’ve rationalized that catching it on cable allows me to see it without putting any money in Polanski’s pocket and unwittingly “supporting” him or his actions. Besides, if I do a full Polanski boycott do I have to boycott Kate Winslet for being in his film? Because that’s going to get complex and fast (also, there’s no way I can do a Winslet boycott, I’m just not that strong).
In 2012 DC comics began a prequel to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons groundbreaking (and best selling) Watchmen called Before Watchmen. Given DC’s treatment of Moore and Gibbons (especially Moore, who has been very outspoken about his feelings regarding DC) I opted not to buy, read, or review any of the Before Watchmen books. But a lot of creators I respect whose work I love participated in Before Watchmen – writing, drawing, and contributing covers. Do I not follow those insanely talented creators because they disagreed with me about DC’s behavior relating to Watchmen and creator’s rights, or because they didn't disagree with DC enough to turn down paying work that they surely needed? And if we're talking about creator rights — comics have been terrible about that issue for just this side of forever. So this is getting incredibly complicated and the list of what I can't ingest is becoming massive. What a mess!
Perhaps the most difficult one for me personally is Woody Allen. Just thinking about his personal life “situation” turns my stomach, but I’m hard pressed to think of a writer and director that I respect more. Sure, he’s made some crappy ones, but he’s also made some of my favorite films of all time – Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah & Her Sisters, and his recent Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona are all wonderful. And again, am I supposed to swear off Scarlett Johansson for not only being in Allen's films, but also being a muse of sorts to him? I just can’t do it. Allen has brought me so much joy, so many brilliant films — is that worth nothing when compared to his personal choices? How do I distinguish between the artist and the art? Should I? And is there a line? What's the line? Does it have to do with what the personal belief is? Or how active they are in supporting it or living by it? Or should the line be about the quality of the work created and not the creators themselves? How far does guilt by association work? Should I not be watching the Seinfeld re-runs I love because Michael Richard's had a disgusting freak out/break down years after the show ended? There's no end to this madness and now I have a headache.
I doubt I’ll ever again pay to see a Mel Gibson movie again, but I’ve watched (and enjoyed) Mad Max (as well as that silly Ransom movie) since I started thinking about this issue years ago. Does that make me a hypocrite? Does it somehow not matter because I’m not actively putting money in his pocket anymore? Where is the line? Wait...IS there a line?
I'm curious how each of us, especially those of us that consider ourselves creators (or "future creators") approach this issue. Can you easily separate creator from project? Can you separate the personal from professional? Do you take each on a case-by-case basis? Is this a black and white issue for you, or is it filled with shades of grey?
In the end, I think I’m going to try to embrace the philosophy of a creator I DO love and respect – Neil Gaiman. Just this past weekend he answered a fan’s question about this issue by reposting something he’d written in 2006, which used Ezra Pound as an excellent example of getting something terribly positive out of a creator’s work, even though Pound himself was a nightmare (fascist, anti-Semite, possible traitor, confirmed collaborator). Here’s the link to the full post, but the gist is his feeling that “the art isn’t the artist, the poem isn’t the poet” and to “trust the tale, not the teller.” But he also encouraged people to do what they felt was right, and that does indeed feel right to me. Keep perspective but follow your gut…so that’s what I’m going to try to do, what about you?
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