Sunday Reflection – When the Artist Fails Us

With everything going on right now, J.K. Rowling revealing herself to be at Orson Scott Card levels of “terrible person who wrote a good thing” may not be on a great many people’s radars. I try to follow a number of creators who are from different backgrounds than myself, and this includes queer, transgender, and nonbinary folks. They’ve given me a window to the pain that many of them are feeling right now, as a series that they loved and derived meaning from has suddenly been ripped apart by the shallow words of a narcissistic woman. 

To be sure, the truth about Rowling has been written on the wall for some time now. Instead of openly admitting she could have written the Potter universe to be more diverse, she tried to retroactively cram in diversity (“Dumbledore was super gay the whole time, I swear!”). Instead of engaging with different world cultures in appropriate ways to expand her universe, she used stereotypes and appropriated culturally sensitive subjects to her own use. And for some time now, she’s been giving indications of being yet another white “feminist” who centers her own victimhood over the horrific way that transgender and nonbinary people are treated in our society.

I’m not going to delve too deeply into how ridiculous her Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism is, although I encourage everyone to read more about it for themselves. (This article has some good background on why TERFism has become so prominent in the U.K. in particular).

But this has all caused me to once again reflect on the separation of art and the artist. It’s a big gray muddled mess of an issue, one with no clear answer. I’ve always loved Hitchcock films, and discovering that he was a complete bastard is hard. Yet I do occasionally still watch them, consoling myself that the man is dead, and no longer profiting. I still think Ender’s Game is an amazing book, despite Card being the human equivalent of toe fungus. Sean Connery famously gave an interview about how it was totally fair to hit women, yet I still laugh at his portrayal of Henry Jones Sr. 

On the other hand, I can’t look at anything with Kevin Spacey or Woody Allen in it right now. Seeing the word Weinstein on a film’s introductory credits makes me cringe. Famous artists, like Picasso, who were excused for being predatory jerks because of their so-called “genius”, have made me reevaluate what supposedly makes their art so great in the first place. 

And now we have Rowling. I have all her Potter books still, and had intended to reread for some time. Yet with every new story about her, I grow less and less inclined to pick them back up. She already has my money, so it doesn’t make much difference, but there’s a part of me that just doubts I can enjoy them. I’m guessing I’ll pick up on many more subtle prejudices than I did when I first read them. I’ll notice how almost everyone is white, and celebrates Christmas. I’ll pick up the coded language about the goblins and werewolves. I’ll see her descriptions of Nagini the snake, and remember that she decided it was a good idea to use the most recent films to insert the fiction that an Asian woman was trapped in that body, to then have her head cut off in a “heroic” moment of the final book. 

I have no answers here. I think this is a choice we all have to make for ourselves. What feels right, what we can live with. 

In the meantime, I know a number of people still struggle with the idea of transgenderism. We grow up in a society that is very focused on the binary, and most of us never went beyond our high school science class understanding of sex and gender (talk to or read some actual scientists, it is way more complicated than you think). Yet I would remind everyone, including myself, that if you’ve learned anything during these most recent protests, I would hope it would be that you need to take the time to learn about things that you don’t understand or that make you uncomfortable. If you have never felt uncomfortable with your gender role, or are really glad to be the sex you are, you are privileged. And privilege comes with responsibility. Listen to transgender people, it will teach you a great deal. 

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