We live in a day and age where it is possible to know a whole lot about anyone with even the slightest bit of fame or notoriety. Through a simple google search, you can find names, net worths, and—so this takes more than a simple search—records of pretty much everything that person has said in public, anywhere, ever. I mean, pretty much.
Some of this stuff is harmless enough and the desire to sate one’s curiosity through easily accessible data is completely relatable. But how much is too much? And what does what we might learn about an artist, in terms of political views, spiritual views, criminal pasts etc… mean as we think about their creative work?
For instance, when Ender’s Game came out last year, there was a huge debate about Orson Scott Card’s alleged homophobia and racism. People across the net called for boycotts of the, then, upcoming release because of his strange statements. Another example might be the well-documented case of Woody Allen and his inappropriate relationships and potentially criminal involvement with his adopted children.
When I see these things, I get it. I really, really do. I mean, on the one hand, I don’t want to support artists who subscribe to thinking or participate in activities that I find unsavory, unethical, repugnant…the list goes on. On the other hand, my background is literary and I have spent the better part of my life reading stuff written from 800 BCE to the present, and let me tell you this: those guys (and there were so very many guys), the ones that wrote these books, are not all the fine, upstanding fellows that you might suppose them to be. And, to finally get back to the Einstein quotation in my title, the more I learned about some those folks (as actual human beings) the more I found them to be idiots and the less I want anything to do with anything they’ve created. So the question is, the one that I struggle with, is how much should the artist’s personal (potential mess of a) life influence the way that we understand her/his contribution to our collective culture?
For me, there are two parts to this question. The first is financial. Like I said above, theoretically, I don’t want to support, and that means by buying the book (album, painting, movie ticket) the work of known sexists, pedophiles, racists, homophobes, or the like. And, as much as I have a choice in that matter and am aware of the artist’s background, I don’t. (I didn’t see, for instance, see Ender’s Game; I can’t think of a Woody Allen movie that I’ve watched.) The second part, however, is this trickier question of cultural contribution—people whose stuff we should know/read/hear because it’s foundational or game-changing. There are so many folks in that category who also fit into one or more of the other less respectable categories I listed above (Card and Allen arguably among them). Do we throw their work out the window because of what we now know or potentially will learn about their prejudices and predilections?
I don’t have any answers here, but it’s something I think about a lot. What about you, dear reader? What are your thoughts? Where or how do we draw the line?
As long as war is regarded as wicked it will always have its fascinations. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.~Oscar Wilde