Art vs. The Artist


I just finished reading Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card for the first time, and I had a very interesting experience occur when I was about halfway through what I was finding to be a pretty enjoyable read – I found out something about the author that I really didn’t like.  That’s an understatement – it’s not that I didn’t like it, but I actually found it to be wildly repellent, and it made me angry that I was finding pleasure from the words of a man with whom many of my core beliefs are completely diametrically opposed.  I learned that Mr. Card is apparently a world-class bigot, strongly supports the anti-abortion movement, believes that homosexuals are subhuman, is a raging anti-Semite, and also that he’s a hard-core Mormon and actually the great-grandson of Brigham Young himself (which I don’t actually hold against him since I really don’t know all that much about the Mormon faith, but what I do know sounds pretty far-out compared to my own personal spiritual beliefs, and if the stuff I heard is even half-true, it’s not really a belief system I have any taste for – but, that’s a whole other blog, now, isn’t it?).

I learned about Card’s values through a very random coincidence, and suddenly my enjoyment of the book was completely shaken.  I hate spoilers, so I refused to go on the internet to explore this any further just in case it accidentally ruined the end of the story (like I said, it was a good story – well written, paced so that the action flowed smoothly, a little predictable, but a fun ride all the same).  Instead, I found myself looking for hints of it in his writing – I was no longer only reading the story of Ender Wiggen, I was also searching for the subtext of Orson Scott Card.  He’d already made one joking use of the word ‘nigger’, and also spent a few paragraphs about how the Jews were the brains who ran the ruling governing forces on Earth, but even as a Jew myself, before I heard about Card’s bigotism, I didn’t take any overt offence when reading this, actually finding his tone to be somewhat complimentary, and assuming it was tongue-in-cheek about the old stereotype perpetrated most famously by The Zion Protocols that the Jews secretly rule the world.

Upon finishing the book today, and having found not one single other solitary passage that I found to be questionable, I became upset at myself for hurting my enjoyment of an otherwise perfectly good, fun, and smart story.  The book was good – not great or anything, but good enough that I’m curious to read at least one of the sequels – and I had besmirched my experience as a reader by bringing the real world into the fictitious one Card had created, and that was a mistake.  Even now, after looking Card up on Wikipedia and learning that at least some of what I’d heard was true – there was no mention of the anti-Semitism, he is a Mormon and descendent of Brigham Young himself, he had publicly come out as adamantly anti-gay in the early 1990’s but has since rescinded that opinion (whether out of a real belief he was wrong or out of fear of alienating his readers as popular social mores changed, one can only guess), and nothing about being a racist, either – I still wish I hadn’t have brought my suspicions over whatever aspects of philosophy he might have put into his story into my role as a reader.  It hurt my overall enjoyment of the book, plain and simple.

Now I find myself pondering over what our responsibility is as consumers of culture – can we approve of the art if we don’t approve of the artist?  My gut instinct is to say no, but I immediately see the hypocrisy in that as I am still a fan of Michael Jackson’s music, and he supposedly molested little boys.  So, as the people who support these artists – we’re the ones who buy their product and give them fame and fortune in return, as well a platform to further pursue whatever goals they may have outside of their art, whether it be supporting abortion-clinic bombings or touching kids where they have business being touched – what’s our role, our responsibility, in the grand scheme of things?  I can’t help it that I get happy when I hear Say, Say, Say or Beat It – they’re good songs, regardless of what Michael Jackson may or may not have done to Emanuel Lewis, and Ender’s Game is a good book despite of what Orson Scott Card may believe or do in his personal life.

I suppose our part in the equation is to not financially support their work, and I have to say that I actually haven’t in the two cases mentioned here – I haven’t bought a Michael Jackson album since Thriller in the 80’s, before the accusations of perversion were ever levied, and I happen to have come across my copies of The Ender’s Game Saga for free.  I haven’t seen a Mel Gibson movie since the whole Sugartits/Jew-hate tirade, and I’ve never seen a Roman Polanski movie.

But when I hear Michael on the radio or see a video on TV, I smile and I dance a little in my seat, and I am going to read at least one more of the Ender books before I decide whether the whole series is worth pursuing or not.  All of these things come for free to me, so the artists don’t actually get my financial support.  I guess my struggle is with whether that’s enough?  Should I enjoy the art of a person whose acts I find repugnant and repulsive?  Is it okay to do so?  Clearly, I think there’s something at least a little distasteful about it or I wouldn’t have written this much about it already, but is my distaste strong enough that it could possibly force me to forego my enjoyment of the abhorrent artist’s art?  What does it say about me that it isn’t?  What does it say about all of us that both of these artists are award-winning in their fields?