Friday, January 12, 2024

SETTLED: Separating Problematic Artists From Their Work

You all suck at arguing, so I guess I’m going to have to settle your shit for you. Today, let’s settle “Separating Problematic Artists From Their Work”, AKA The JK Rowling Conundrum

A lot of people are bad people. Most bad people start out bad out of the gate and never produce anything of value, and those people get jobs as cops or Fox pundits.

But other bad people either become bad later in life, or reveal themselves to have been bad people all along later in life, after they’ve made and released a form of entertainment you enjoy. Maybe they turned out to be racist, misogynist, and anti-Semitic after you bought Lethal Weapon on DVD. 

These days, it’s shockingly likely that someone British whose work you liked has turned out to be a raging transphobic asshole. See Graham Linehan, John Cleese, and of course, JK Rowling. So how do you handle it? Well, that depends. Do you want to be a good person or a bad person? Here’s what a good person can do.

First, stop contributing financial support in any way. That’s the simplest thing you can do at a problematic creator, especially one that’s both still alive and still actively engaging in the problematic behavior. Yes, that means that people who didn’t buy Hogwarts Legacy are better people that did. Don’t worry,. Your many rationalizations will keep you warm. There are, of course ways to acquire entertainment that don’t support the problematic creator, and several of them are even legal. 

What if the person is dead? Well, has their estate recognized the problem and apologized for the harm the person caused during their lifetime? Do you feell like the the apology is either sincere, or sincere enough to tell you that the estate isn’t going to be using the proceeds to do more problematic shit? Congratulations! You can go buy that new adaptation of their work, the one that takes into account and changes the problematic shit and doesn’t keep it in out of “faithfulness to the original”.

What if the person is alive, but has apologized and stopped? That’s a judgment call. A good apology not only clearly admits to wrongdoing, but also speaks to why they did the wrong thing they did. Ideally, it should come with a promise to stop doing things related to the whole worldview that led to the bad thing in the first place. A Nazi that apologizes for being a Nazi and explains how they were raised by Nazis still needs to add “And that’s why I’m not supporting Donald Trump anymore” or it doesn’t mean shit. This is the trickiest one, but good news! It almost never happens!

The thorniest question is, “can I be a good person and still enjoy X’s past works that i already own, knowing what I know about them?” Absolutely! I mean, you may not be able to, of course. The behavior may well poison the older work for you, and that’s fine. If it doesn’t, though, feel free to enjoy the older work you already own or can acquire without financially supporting the creator. Just, you know. Shut up about it.

Especially on social media, but really, in any situation where you don’t know how the people you’re talking to or near feel about the creator, their work, or their behavior. This is just basic politeness. You know there are issues, you don’t know how people feel about the issues, so don’t fucking bring it up. On social media especially, uncritical discussion of that stuff comes across as promotion, and promoting the work of a problematic artist is encouraging people to seek it out and get it, which is second-degree financial support.

See? It’s not that difficult. Don’t buy new stuff. Enjoy the old stuff you have, but don’t talk about it in mixed company. 

Or, you know, just ignore all this stuff and buy whatever you wanr. But live with your decision and what it means about you and what you care about. Don’t try to convince other people that what you’re doing is more than a rationalization you’re using to keep having fun or enjoying your fried chicken sandwich. We don’t need to hear it anywhere near as mich as you desperately need to believe it. 

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