Life Intimidates Art

melThanks to the Internet we now know more about the people who provide us entertainment than we ever did before. We don’t just have the occasional interview. We have blogs. We have tweet. We have Facebook posts. We have hacked cell phone texts and photos. For many people, our artists and entertainers don’t only have to amuse or enthrall us, they must also match our values in their personal lives.

We no longer want Paula Deen to tell us how to make Zucchini Bread on television because she’s exhibited signs of being a racist. We don’t see Ender’s Game, a movie sci-fi fans have been waiting decades for because its author, Orson Scott Card spends his money actively fighting against the concept of gay marriage. Mel Gibson is a box office pariah because of anti-Semitic meltdowns. The NFL has recently been plagued with domestic violence problems among some of their players. And now legal crime novelist John Grisham has said in an interview that people who look at child porn shouldn’t be in prison.  (Grisham didn’t say that exactly but that’s what all the headlines will read.)

While many of these the actions or positions taken by these and other famous people are reprehensible, it’s worth noting that almost none of their actions or opinions has anything to do with their ability to make good art. Sure, one can argue that Card isn’t ever going to create a gay hero in any of his novels. That doesn’t make Ender’s Game any less of a science fiction masterpiece. At least not in my eyes.

And yet, I didn’t see Ender’s Game because I really didn’t want to support Card’s campaign against people of the same sex who love each other. Yes, I know that he got the same amount of money regardless of whether or not the movie did well, but he hasn’t sold the sequel rights yet and I didn’t want to be a part of him getting to do so.

This is something that I’ve struggled with quite a bit and I want to have a strong, informed opinion about it if for no other reason than I’d like to think people who aren’t liberal Democrat atheists should enjoy and purchase my work. Unfortunately it’s not an easy issue and there aren’t a lot of hard fast rules about it.

Charles S. Dutton is one of my favorite actors. Before he was ever on screen he got into a fight where he killed a man. He was charged with manslaughter and served seven years. A few months after that, he was sentenced to three years for a weapons violation. During his second stay in prison he found read some plays and became so interested in theater that he started a drama group. He now has over a hundred rolls to his credit and a Masters degree from the Yale School of Drama. And while I haven’t seen everything he’s done, his involvement in a project instantly makes me interested.

So where do I draw the line? Where should we draw that line? I’m not sure. As I said, I don’t have any hard fast rules and it seems to be something I approach on a case by case basis. I think contrition is part of it. If they’re willing to admit wrongdoing and aren’t currently doing or standing behind their previous behavior it’s a lot easier to support their future endeavors. Honestly another part of it is how much I like the person involved. I’m much more willing to give Mel Gibson another shot because he’s Mel Gibson and I like most of his movies. He’s also apologized and managed not to get into too much trouble over the last few years. Whereas Orson Scott Card has made it clear that he still vehemently opposes gay marriage and thinks we should ignore any political stances we might not agree with.

It can be difficult to separate the art from the artist. My girlfriend is unable to enjoy Marion Zimmer Bradley’s work because of her participation in a horrible child sex scandal. And I’ll likely never read another Orson Scott Card book again. Are there crimes and behaviors so abhorrent that the people involved should never again be able to do the job they clearly love? I’m interested in your thoughts on this.

– Jack Cameron


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