Thursday, April 30, 2009

Separating author from art

I wonder if there is much precedent for major authors in the world of children's literature stepping into hugely fraught political and social debates. Of course, I'm talking about Orson Scott Card (and I feel like I have to say I find everything he's said appalling, but that's not the point). Here we have an author who sells hundreds of books every week to teenagers. I am not worried that this audience will not be able to separate author from art or to think critically about this. I am more interested in whether and how they will do so. If there is any precedent for a prominant kidlit author taking a public position on a controversial issue, there is no precedent for an audience so used to interacting with authors. I don't know if Card is a beloved enough author or enough of a web presence to provide a true test, but it could be interesting.


Lisa said...

Oh boy, OSC. I devoured nearly all his books when I was a teen. I think he was less extreme back then -- or maybe it just seemed that way because the Internet (and his presence on it) wasn't so ubiquitous back then. Though now that I think about it, I followed his website back in the late 90s and even then he was not nearly so vociferous about his religious and political views. Certainly the more he talks, the harder he gets to ignore, and the harder it is for me to reread his older books (several of which I still enjoy... though less all the time) without a sour taste in my mouth.

When he first started becoming vocal about his anti-gay beliefs, I was surprised. One of my favorite OSC books, when I was a teen, was Songmaster, which features a gay relationship. As a teen, I was totally blind to underlying hatred; after the characters' only sexual encounters, one is rendered impotent and the other commits suicide. Now the message seems obvious, but at the time I wept over the characters' tragic demise without questioning what OSC *really* thought about gay love.

Ultimately I'm sure OSC far less influence as a popular author than a popular musician, actor, or athlete would have. And at least the teen segment of his fan base is composed of, I would guess -- given the science fiction subject matter and level of writing -- very smart individuals who *would* be apt to think critically about it. If Stephenie Meyer, on the other hand, were to start blogging anti-gay sentiments, I'd really start to worry.

Wyman Stewart said...

At least he has the courage of his convictions. But let me ask you this:

Tensions rise in the Middle East. It is in our best strategic interest to send troops there, which has been requested, let's say, by Saudia Arabia to assist in a potential war.

Now, Saudia Arabia tells the USA; because Islam is anti-homosexual and they have the two holiest Islamic cities, Mecca and Medina, in their country, no troops who are homosexual may enter their country, to step on their soil or they will be executed in accord with Islamic Law.

Does the USA, who has by this time, abandonded "don't ask; don't tell", keep its Gay troops home, sending only heterosexual troops to potentially die, abandon its own strategic interests, and watch probable enemies fill the vacuum, or what?

This scene could be real in a few years. One can argue this has always been the case, but not entirely so. In the future, it could be. If a President decided to keep Gay forces out of harms way, while being willing to sacrifice fathers and mothers, who have children, then how long do you think heterosexuals will remain in our military? Plus would Gays want an all Gay military?

I am sure there are other such decisions like it, which will need to be made. American History has been on the side of OSC. Those who reject that history, should consider all the consequences of doing so.

I have determined the Gay's have already won, but ask, what price will America pay. There will be a price. Maybe OSC feels he knows that price and wishes to fight it. The USA has a long history of people taking controversial stands; just ask Gay Rights activists about that. Should not OSC be allowed to take his own controversial stand, if you consider it that?

Openmindedness can be listening to and objectively considering the points of both sides through critical thinking. You might discover dilemmas not even being discussed. Thank you.

bennett said...

the issue of separating an artist from his art is pretty complicated, especially because an artist's work usually reflects his values. not all of orson scott card's books are homophobic but I can think of several off the top of my head that totally are. One wonders why he's got so much gay on the brain, but whatever. If OSC was an openly homophobic person writing not-homophobic books would there be a difference?

i'm not sure. yes, it's important to separate the person from his work. on a purely abstract level i believe that a person's art should be judged completely independently of his personal beliefs. judge books on their own bigotry (and artistry, obvs), not on the author's.

on the other hand, this is not a totally abstract world, and i'd rather not support a gross person with my $$, even if i like his stuff.

the argument that he should be free to say whatever he wants is silly. of course he can say whatever he pleases. the flip side of free speech is that people can (and should!) be criticized and even ostracized for their dumb opinions. that's the price you pay for saying whatever you want. there's nothing more annoying to me than bigots whining over being judged for their bigotry.

of course, i still love the Roald Dahl's racist and anti-semitic books so maybe I'm just a gay hypocrite. "Different times" seems like a weak excuse but it's all i've got...

as for Wyman's totally LOL question above, yes i think it's a great idea for the US gov to follow Islamic law. wait, no.

Wyman Stewart said...

Glad to have provided a laugh. I believe the topic came up in some form in the first Gulf War led by Bush the Elder.