musing on ethics of art and the artist

This morning, from Alyssa, on ethical consumption of art:

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past couple of days about how to approach Ender’s Game, Summit Entertainment’s forthcoming adaptation of the beloved science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card…I think I’m not alone in finding Ender’s Game to be a foundational text… And at the same time, I find the political views that Card holds abhorrent: he’s a member of the board of the National Organization for Marriage, and has publicly committed to fighting back against a government that, to his interpretation, would change the established definition of marriage… I have no interest in giving Card any of my money to pursue an agenda I find hateful and dangerous. I’m trying to figure out if Card has points on the back end, and if purchasing a ticket would mean, even in an extremely small way, giving him money above and beyond what he’s already received for the film rights to the novel.

She calls this the “paradox that plagues politically engaged consumers of culture: a terrible person who has made significant art.” I think about this all the time. The individual artist and the art he or she creates can cause serious ethical problems. I’m with Alyssa in thinking that Card’s politics are terrible, and on the wrong side of history. But I also believe the work of one’s craft must be held apart from its maker. I’ve always thought this. If not, everything beautiful will fade into history at the mercy of the judgment of future generations. We should judge the art itself, not the behavior of its maker. Art stands alone. This is my theory and philosophy.

Which sounds good but is not in any way representative of how I live. We pick and choose. It’s easy with someone like O.S. Card. Card’s politics are completely distasteful to me, but holding such values is his right; even though he’s wrong, it’s his choice. He writes excellent science-fiction; that’s his legacy. I’ll reward him for that with my dollars, not because of his politics, but because of his craft. I question that politics are enough  to reject the artistry of gifted men and women; politics, though, is different than violence.

I never really gave a thought to Chris Brown before he beat up Rihanna, but he’s now as famous for being a cultural outcast and abuser as he is for being a musician. He has less good-will than any celebrity I can think of, and he deserves it. I say that I will never support a man who beats women; I won’t buy their music or movies, or feed the gossip industry by clicking stories about them in fashionable news/celebrity sites, or even let their songs pass on Pandora without a big Thumbs Down. We all know what he did. He doesn’t deserve to have his craft rewarded with the few dollars I can spare. Chris Brown is a monster. Of course, he’s not alone, and I promise one day I’ll get rid of the work of Michael Fassbender and Sean Connery, and my beloved 30 Rock*. Sean Penn beat Madonna with a fucking baseball bat; I have given Sean Penn a lot of my money. And this is just off the top of my head, on-screen. This isn’t politics, this is physical violence against women. They are all monsters whose work has contributed something meaningful to my life. Contradictions abound, as usual.

Be clear: this isn’t a defense.  There can be no defense. Sexual assault, violence, bigotry, racism,  these behaviors have no place anywhere in life, either in celebrity culture or in one’s home hidden from the world. They cannot, with absolute certainty, be tolerated. If you beat your girlfriend, we should stop supporting your craft. If you’re an anti-semitic or racist asshole, if you’re a bigoted anti-gay son of a bitch, if your politics support the continued ravaging of continents, well, I reject you. But, being honest, the toil of your creative life is still likely on the shelves of my home.

Consistency is a virtue I try to uphold. But these things always break down. I think of the victims of this violence and shudder. As always at TTMY,  everything boils down to multitudes: we walk our way through culture without a guide, and try to be good, and yet are moved by the work of monsters.

*Michael Fassbender, Alec Baldwin have been accused of domestic violence. Such events are generally settled out of the public record. Sean Connery, though, admitted in an interview that he hits women.

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3 responses to “musing on ethics of art and the artist

  1. Pingback: Should we tolerate Orson Scott Card’s intolerance or boycott Ender’s Game? | Third Ten Million Years·

  2. Pingback: loose ends from the comic-con coverage. | Third Ten Million Years·

  3. Pingback: R. Kelly, Jim DeRogatis and Consuming Culture with a Conscience | The Stake·

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