Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Artists’ Politics Don’t Define Their Own Work

Illustration by Kels Lund

A couple of weeks ago, I watched a film that I have wanted to see for a long time. Ever since I read “Ender’s Game” for the first time in 2005, I always wished for a film version. Blissfully engrossed in a 10-year-old’s fantasy, I sat through the movie without a care in the world.

But when I stepped out of the theater, I was hit with a cold reality. I had just contributed to a part of Orson Scott Card’s royalty check. Normally I don’t have strong objections to paying artists their dues. But Card is a different story. Vehemently anti-gay and prone to going on racist, sexist and otherwise disgusting rants, Card himself doesn’t have a lot of appeal to most of his audience. He’s also served on the Board of Directors for the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-gay activist group. So it’s not too much of a stretch to believe that some of his income from “Ender’s Game” will go toward unsavory causes.

The question becomes this: Can we separate the art from the artist? Plenty of artists have unpleasant aspects of their personal and political lives. John Lennon beat his wife through much of the most successful period of his career. Frank Miller, who wrote “Sin City” and “The Dark Knight Returns” (one of the best Batman series ever written), also attempted to publish a graphic novel in which Batman goes to the Middle East to indiscriminately kill Muslims. Plenty of artists have ugly sides to them, and they’re often less publicized than Card’s. Led Zeppelin fans like to forget that Jimmy Page once had a relationship with, and possibly kidnapped, a 14-year-old girl. And somehow it’s easy to forget Eric Clapton’s nativist cries of “Keep Britain White” when he’s so good at playing music derived from African-American roots.

So should I have skipped the movie ticket? Can we in good conscience consume the work of people with such unpleasant views? Does the art speak louder than the artist?

I think that, in most cases, it does. While some art does show the ugly colors of the artist (Some of Frank Miller’s work, for example, is less than friendly to homosexuals, racial minorities and liberals in general), Card and Clapton do an excellent job of separating the personal and the professional, as do many other artists.

I’ll admit that I’m not much of a boycotter, even when I do think something is wrong. I guzzle Coca-Cola like I’ve never heard of human rights abuses, and the only things I look for on T-shirt tags are the price and washing instructions. It’s apathetic and probably immoral, but it’s habit. So long story short, I don’t have any moral high ground in those terms. But I would also like to argue that we can look at art through a different lens. When companies and other entities express unsavory views or commit atrocities in the interest of the creation of their product, it warrants eschewing that product. If a product is made with blood money, with unlivable wages or by any other immoral means, the ethics of using the product come into question. But Card didn’t write “Ender’s Game” in the margins of anti-gay bills. Not a single offensive mention of homosexuality or race appears in the book. So despite Card’s terrible personality, I’m willing to give his books a pass. Separation of the author from the work is possible and justifiable on those rare occasions that the author manages to make the same separation. And while I don’t approve of Card’s probable donations, where he spends his paychecks is hardly my business. Card did his audience a favor by keeping his politics out of his work; we can return it by keeping ours out as well.

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