Skip to main content

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). 


Popular posts from this blog

Book 23 of 52: Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

More romance? Of course! The world is on fire, and I can't ingest all the fires all the time. Sometimes I want to turn to genre fiction as an escape, even if an escape is into a patriarchal society where it's SCANDAL that a woman sometimes, when riding a horse, wears pants. Because of Miss Bridgerton is the first book in Julia Quinn's Rokesbys Series , which are prequels to her enormously popular  Bridgerton Series  (and now a  Netflix show ). These books are similar, of course, but instead being set in the Recency era of the 1810s, these books take place at the same time as the American Revolution (though still in England).  Here we meet Sybilla "Bille" Bridergton, who is stuck on the roof of a building because she chased a cat up there. She climbed up herself (scandalous woman!) but also twisted her ankle in the process, which is why she needs help to get down.  That help comes from George Rokesby. Their families are neighbors, and they've known each other

Book 12 of 52: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi is an author and graphic novelist who grew up in Iran and, as a tween and teen, lived in the country through  the Iranian Revolution before her parents sent her to Europe for school, and for her safety.  As an adult, she wrote Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood ,  a nonfiction graphic novel, originally in French. I read the English translation, which was published in 2003, three years after the original. It was a critical success, won a slew of awards, and became a movie . I haven't read the sequel, Persepolis 2 , but I hope to (you can also  buy them in a set . I found Persepolis  in a Little Free Library, or I'd have bought them combined).  In the tradition of Art Spiegelman's  Maus , which is about the author's father talking to him about the Holocaust,  Persepolis  is a memoir of trauma told through a mix of images and words that when combined, combust into powerful, beautiful and soul cracking art.  For example, Satrapi portrays the 1978 Cinema R

Book 26 of 52: The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown

I'm not going to write a long review of Tina Brown's The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil  for two reasons. First, it's been hashed to death already, as anything about the royals is, by people who are far more invested in this whole thing than I am. And second, I'm in the frantic "do I really need a jean jacket AND a windbreaker" level of packing before a long trip. I can say that I didn't mind listening to this nearly 18 hour audiobook while the rest of the world is on fire, although of course they are not insulated. We can pretend that the Royal Family lives in a bubble, but they are enormously influential; touched by the same issues of race, class and gender; and Queen Elizabeth II is one of most influential politicians of modern times — and she is a politician, no matter what anyone says. Her death will be a global, cultural moment. Same thing with the Pope, on both fronts. I listened to Brown's  The Diana Chro