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What do we do with art from problematic people?

An update on a previous review.


Earlier this week, I learned that the author of book 1 in this year's series is transphobic. I've put a note linking to this post at the top of the review, and because I had more to say about it, and on finding out that something you love was created by someone with hateful views, I wrote a full post here.

To start: in this discussion, I mean art we've enjoyed before we knew the artist is problematic, like riding along on an adventure with Harry Potter before J.K. Rowling started spouting transphobic views, or laughing at The Cosby Show before knowing what he did to women, or even learning something interesting from an early Dr. Oz show before realizing he's a crank. What I don't mean is seeing that an actor has been arrested for beating his wife and then saying "yes I need to give this man more of my money!" It's about realizing something that brought you joy was created by someone who is also terrible.

The place I've landed on is that finding out the artist is a bigot/transphobic/domestic abuser doesn't erase the experience their art brought you, but it doesn't mean you continue to support that person. For example: J.K. Rowling's campaign against transgender people doesn't mean that my memory of rushing directly from a flight home from college right to the movie theater to see a Harry Potter movie with my parents is tainted. But do I need to buy any more of her books? No. I've said I would never go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but what if my nephews are in town to go the Harry Potter exhibit currently in Philadelphia? Would I go? I don't think so, but I don't know - and I still went to Walt Disney World despite them having a Johnny Depp animatronic on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

See how tied up it all gets? 

The TV show The Good Place, where the goodness of someone's life is determined by a points system, showed how futile it is to try to be 100% good, using the example of buying a tomato:




What this shows (and what I believe) is that it's impossible to do the right thing all of the time as is, especially when you have no idea of every factor at play, whether it's what chemicals were used to grow a tomato or what an author thinks of the LGBTQ community. 

I never suspected that the author of book 1 was transphobic. She writes historical fiction about the atrocities of the Holocaust for pete's sake. But I saw she retweeted a positive post about people protesting vaccinate mandates. Then in reading up on another transphobic British writer, I thought "hmmm I wonder if this author is part of that crew." I did a deep dive into her twitter feed, which is abhorrent. Since I know all this now, I won't support her going forward. She followed me on Twitter, and I've now blocked her. I don't need that in my life, and she doesn't get easy access to mine either.

And unlike what some ignorant people say, including a now former friend who I banned from my life, there is real harm in "just asking the question" and allowing these hateful views to spread. Today, Texas governor Greg Abbot has directed Family Health and Protective Services to prosecute the parents of trans children as child abusers and for anyone who is a mandatory reporter (teachers, coaches, etc.) to "report" trans kids. 

In the last year alone, more than half of trans and gender nonbinary teens considered suicide, and 21 percent made attempts according to the the Trevor Project's 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. So the answer to this very serious issue is to rip transgender teens away from their families, jail their parents, and incentivize a modern version of witch hunts where people who are meant to protect kids are told to out or else...what? So no, I'm not going to continue to support artists who also hold any views on the long, dark scale of transphobia that is actively hurting our families, friends, and our kids.

But onto what smarter people have to say about this. I highly recommend Jo Reid's piece in Polygon about how the Harry Potter reunion on HBO isn't really about nostalgia but rebranding. I don't have Showtime so I have not been able to watch W. Kamau Bell's docuseries We Need to Talk About Cosby, but I have been able to listen to him talk about it on the podcast Code Switch. The podcast Fanti often digs into these issue as well.

I wish I had some uplifting message to close this one out. I'm worried and scared and sickened and appalled that anyone would see a community already in distress and decide to make their lives worse. Not supporting artists who believe in such actions is the least I can do.

(And for those who want to know why I didn't take the post down entirely - nothing is ever truly deleted from the internet, and I believe in transparency. But I can add what I learned about the author to a piece I published a few weeks ago, especially since the book is slated to come out in the U.S. later this year, which is what I decided to do). 

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