Art over the Artist

Earlier this year, DC comics announced that the acclaimed author Orson Scott Card was to be contributing a script for an upcoming Superman anthology. This is a simple, standard publicity move; DC gets the kudos of an award winning author writing for their publication, and Card gets a boost to the demographic that is likely to see the film adaptation of his novel Enders Game, due to come out this year. Everybody wins.

Unfortunately, it also turns out that as well as being a well respected writer, Orson Scott Card is a prominent activist against gay rights.

Soon after the announcement of his Superman story was made, fans across the world began to wax online wroth at the fact that Superman, that icon of Truth, Justice and the American Way, was being written by a man who claims that homosexual behaviour is inherently evil. He sits on the National Organisation of Marriage, a fundamental anti-gay group, and openly speaks out that homosexuality as a sin that should be battled rather than accepted. There have been calls to boycott the book, and DC as a whole. People are calling for retailers to refuse to stock it. While DC have not cancelled the story, stating that that the personal views of their writers are nothing to do with them, the artist who was assigned to the book has quit rather than be associated with this furore.

As I read up on the story, it occurred to me to wonder how much we can, or should, avoid literature and art created by those who we fundamentally disagree with. I’m sure there are many people out there who have been fans of Card’s work for years and who had no idea he held these views. Now if they know them and find they disagree with them, should their opinion of his works be altered because of them?

How easy is it to separate the work from the author? Even if Card is an excellent writer, can we morally continue to support his work for its artistic merit if doing so implicitly supports someone who’s views we oppose.

As much as one controversial opinion can dominate the headlines, you cannot judge somebody by one aspect of their personality. Card has also been vocal in his support for renewable energy. If I boycotted him for an opinion I disagreed with, and encouraged others to do the same, would I not be belittling a different viewpoint that I actually agree with?

So how easy can it be to divorce the work from the artist? The Superman controversy came about because with an icon like that, many fans feel that he belongs to them, rather than a creator. Superman stands for something to them, and a certain group felt that giving that icon to someone they see as standing against those ideals was wrong. I’m sure that many people, like me, were completely unaware of Card’s views before this, and without the internet to spread such knowledge never would have.

So what is the line? I read and enjoy the work of many writers whilst knowing very little about their personal beliefs. Can we be expected to research these people before enjoying their work? Of course not. We’re never going to be able to know all the opinions of artists we admire. If you know about an artist’s opinions before you see what they create, it’s simpler to decide not to get invested. But if you discover these things afterward, at what point could or should you take a moral stance against them?

Is it down to how prominent they are with their opinions? Card actively preaches against homosexuality, rather than simply being against it. He is more prominent than most due to his celebrity, but I doubt that anyone who is not involved or directly following the debate on gay marriage was much aware of his work in this field. Occasionally a celebrity will cross this line themselves; such as actor and comedian Michael Richards whose career flatlined after a racist rant during a standup routine a few years ago, or born again folk singer Michelle Shocked who had her entire US tour cancelled out from under her just after verbally attacking homosexuality on stage in the middle of a show.

You could also argue that it is the sphere of influence that causes some to worry. Comics such as Superman are traditionally seen as aimed at younger readers. Are the original campaigners afraid that giving these young readers an interest in Card’s work might then lead them to look more into his views and be more likely to agree with them because they liked his it? For me, this veers too close to the “Comic Books Cause Violence” argument, that invalid debate stretching back all the way to the thirties. I doubt that Card’s Superman story would even have touched on his views on homosexuality, especially with DC’s current trend towards pro-gay story-lines. I believe that children young enough to be influenced in that way are still too young to associate stories with the authors in that way.

Now in the interests of openness, I have to say I have not yet read any of Mr. Card’s work. My opinion of him goes by reputation only. I know that many consider his works to be essential reading for lovers of Science Fiction, that he has written a number of award winning novels, and also books on the art of writing itself. To me he has simply been a name on that long mental list I have of writers that I should one day get around reading at some point.

And so for me? In this situation, not having any emotional connection to Card’s work, I can happily say that now I know of his opinions and work to promote them, I am happy to avoid both his writing and the upcoming movie adaptation. Can I say I will always avoid them? No, I don’t think I can, but I feel that I will endeavour to do so without paying any money that will eventually reach him. In a society such as ours, paying money for something is an indication that we give it worth, and I just don’t feel that I can morally do that.

But now I find myself wondering how many of the things I have paid to read, watch, play or otherwise enjoy has been complicit in supporting people whose opinions I massively oppose. If, for example, had I discovered that Brandon Sanderson held some beliefs that directly opposed my own on the day before the final Wheel of Time novel had come out, would I have been able to not go out and buy the book? No, I would not. My love of that series would have been too great, and I would have put the art above the artist without question.

Maybe, like so many other things in life, we’re all just happy not thinking about it, and live in happy ignorance until the internet make us. Maybe the line is simply the point of discovery and being forced to admit things to ourselves that we would rather ignore. Maybe we should enjoy the art and disregard the artist, ignoring them as people and simply acknowledging them as the name on the cover of our books.

But as with many things, the internet doesn’t really let us do that. Even ignoring the fact that artists must self promote to get their work out to the widest possible readership, the fact is that when something like the Superman/Card issue comes up, social media has lead to a state where it has the chance of expanding across the ‘net and into our newsfeeds in a way that was unthinkable twenty years ago. If you enjoy an artist’s work, be it book, film, music, television, anything, today it is almost impossible to ignore that artist.

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