I have a friend named Nick. He is a musician, a drummer specifically; very talented. On my 22nd birthday, June 13th 2005, he celebrated in my living room as Michael Jackson was acquitted. Forever an MJ fan, he sung Billie Jean and danced around, glad that one of his favorite artists wasn’t about to go to prison. I was indifferent, really. I liked MJ but if he was guilty, then bye. He was found not guilty, and really my own personal opinion of Jackson was that he wasn’t a child molester, he just had Peter Pan Syndrome-so when he was acquitted, I shrugged, and watched Nick cheer.
I tell you this little tale as a basis for a bigger conversation, Art Vs. the Artist.
There is so much art to enjoy in the world…music, theater, literature, film, fine arts…so much art. All created by artists, and likely all formed from their views on the world around them. I certainly can say that my world effects my writing on a daily basis. However, no person is perfect, so by that logic all artists are also flawed human beings. So, when we discover the personal flaws of our favorite artists, what do we do?
Around Academy Awards season, my favorite author, Mr. Stephen King, tweeted the following: “I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”
First of all…I think I know what he meant to say. If I was casting a show and received a script calling for actors of specific color, as is the occasion, then I would be casting in that group and looking for the highest quality actor. If no color is specified, then one should continue the hunt for the highest quality actor. I think what he meant is quality over color, which I can understand, but the world is diverse. For me, if I had two actors for said show and one was black and one was white and they were both just as good, I would probably cast the black actor. It’s nothing against the white one…it’s just that I know certain things, like my city’s demographics, and the plain fact that most white people have minority friends.
Anyway, for a few days after this tweet, I was sad. Stephen, oh Stephen…please don’t let them cancel you.
Which brings me to JK Friggin Rowling.
My friend Jaime and I have this kind of running joke about Harry Potter. She’s a total bookworm but has never read the series or even seen the movies. I loved them all. So, there was a heavy dose of “I told you so” when JK expressed her views on trans women on Twitter, and then followed that up with a blog post. As Jaime said, she “doesn’t seem to realize she could just be quiet.” Jaime is correct. Just shut the hell up and let me enjoy my butterbeer in peace.
Then comes the Harper’s letter. Tell you what, I didn’t read it. I mean, I know I’m writing about it, but I didn’t read it, because I’m not 100% sure all those people that signed it were on the same page. Yes, I am a big fan of free speech, especially in literature. However, you have an obligation in your position-these weren’t the authors I know, the self or indie published, the folks pounding the Twitter pavement each day trying to sell a few copies. These are multi-millionaires, with voices that reach billions. Free speech is all well and good, but you still can’t yell FIRE in a movie theater, guys. We all have a responsibility.
Now as much as I love Harry Potter, I do not remotely agree with Rowling. I have trans friends who are as valid as anyone, and I know the difference between sex and gender. I recall losing my cool over that North Carolina bathroom law…do people not realize that lots of trans folk are indiscernible from cis-gendered people? Like…you’ve been peeing alongside them all this time. And as for snatching your kids from the bathroom-you know straight cis-gendered men are like the most likely to pull that crap, right? Like…they’re the reason we travel in packs. Not some chicks who were born male but who we will still lend a hair-tie to if a sister’s in need. We are not afraid of them, we’re afraid of YOU.
But I guess Rowling is afraid of everybody. So, I battled with this art vs. artist question. And then she affixed her name to this letter, pretty much as a way to say “you can’t cancel me because you don’t agree with me.” Oh, but sweetheart…we can. Should we is a different story, but we can. Me? I’m pissed. I look at my shelf full of her books and I am saddened that now they are tainted. Much how I felt as a teen discovering that Woody Allen was a rapist after loving all his movies. Art is almost always wonderful, but sometimes artists can suck.
So, what do we do when we find artists that go against our moral codes, yet whose work we revere?
No, really. I’m asking.
E really enjoys Harry Potter. I’m not going to discourage that. She also hates no one, as she is 11 and has grown up in a fairly accepting environment. It’s my hope that she doesn’t hear about any of this, or at least maybe doesn’t understand it fully, so that she can enjoy JKR for as long as possible. But what if, someday when she is in her 20’s, she finds an artist she loves, JK or otherwise, that dose not line up with her inner beliefs? What will she do then?
Should artists just shut their mouths and make art? No, that’s unrealistic. Everyone has beliefs, no matter how virtuous or backwards they may be. And our beliefs effect our work. But why dig your hole deeper once you’ve stepped in it? And in the name of free speech? Just accept that you are not everyone’s cup of tea. If they want to “cancel” you, so be it. You will still have supporters somewhere. You’re still a millionaire.
I’m still pecking out words in my tiny office and only netting about 4 bucks a book, so your opinion really does not affect me.
It does, however, disappoint.