A couple of months ago one of my professors from college posted an article on his facebook. (Yes, I am facebook friends with my former professors. Judge me all you want.) The article was about racism in the music world, but at the end of his comment he made the offhand remark “The symphony shouldn’t even be playing Orff’s music anyway because he was a Nazi collaborator.” This remark took over the comment section as an impassioned debate began over Orff.
My first response was shock. The piece of music in question, Carmina Burana, is one of the most popular and crowd-drawing pieces in an orchestra’s repertoire, and has literally nothing to do with Nazis. Why wouldn’t they play it? But both sides had a lot of interesting points.
A month or so later my twitter erupted. Popular fantasy author Brandon Sanderson tweeted an “open letter” stating that he didn’t support gay marriage. Everyone was pretty furious, and book bloggers declared they would never read his books again, and would promptly get rid of any of his books they did own.
Around the same time I saw a couple of bloggers chatting about Roald Dahl, about how people’s childhoods would be ruined if they realized he was an anti-Semite. Again, I was confused. I’ve only read one of his books, Matilda, but it seemed to me that the message was all about how being different is good! Why would that message change just because Dahl didn’t like Jews? (For the record, as far as I can tell Dahl wasn’t an anti-Semite, just anti-Israel. Also, he liked to push buttons and get a rise out of people, which caused them to misunderstand him. I can relate!)
These three social media incidents have been pestering at the back of my mind ever since. The clear question has emerged: Do an author/musician/artists’s political/philosophical/religious beliefs affect the quality and/or enjoyment of their books/music/art?
Let me start by saying that I don’t think there is a correct answer. I think every person in the world would have a slightly different answer. I can only present you with my impressions of the most common opinions I’ve encountered.
On the one hand, as long as the novel doesn’t present the opinion in question, what’s the problem? I mean, if a book is good, the book is good, right? Take Brandon Sanderson as an example. I haven’t read any of his books, but clearly his readers had no sense of homophobia from them as his announcement came as such a shock. So why not continue to read them? If they loved them before, why can they all of the sudden not? The books themselves haven’t changed…
Now, it is completely different if a book/movie/song/whatever actively expresses the beliefs of the creator. C.S. Lewis and Ayn Rand, for example, are authors who used their novels to convey their personal philosophies. I think we can agree that that’s a completely different conversation!
On the other hand, many people feel as though supporting the work of a person is support of their beliefs. For example, by purchasing a Brandon Sanderson book, they feel as though they are monetarily supporting bigoted ideas about LGBTQ rights. And if they read a Sanderson book they may feel that they are morally supporting those beliefs.
I can’t help but relate this back to the cake baker in Colorado who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding. Many people then chose to boycott bakers who weren’t gay-friendly rather than supporting them. It’s the same basic principle.
Personally, this point-of-view makes me a little nervous. I think boycotting an author because they’re anti-gay-marriage isn’t really any different than boycotting an author because they’re pro-gay-marriage, and think of how outraged we would all be by THAT. But that’s just my opinion.
Readers may also be left with a bad taste in their mouth when they learn about beliefs they strongly disagree with, and that might genuinely ruin their enjoyment of anything that person creates. For example, many people find themselves unable to enjoy or even tolerate Chris Brown’s music in light of his treatment of Rhianna. All they hear when they listen to his music is domestic abuse.
Though I lean to one side, I can genuinely see both points-of-view. For personal examples, I’m going to contrast two authors who are vocally anti-Christian, an opinion that I don’t care for, what with being a Christian and all.
First, Phillip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials. Despite his religious denouncements, I REALLY enjoyed HDM, especially the first novel, The Golden Compass. I find the story unique, intriguing, and magical. And despite his intentions to the opposite, the whole series seems to sing of humanity’s deep-rooted belief in something more. When I read Pullman’s books, I am able to completely forget about his religious beliefs and just enjoy a good story.
On the other hand, there’s Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and a half dozen books on evolution. I have a particular dislike for Richard Dawkins because of how he treats anyone who believes in a god or gods like they are incapable of rational thought. I don’t like being treated like an idiot. As a result I can safely say that if he wrote any novel about anything I would certainly avoid it.
However, I lean more toward not really caring. Primarily because I am pretty good at separating what I know from the experience of reading or movie watching. But, more importantly to me, I don’t want to stop interacting with everyone in the world with a different opinion than me! I rather like being friends with people who have a different world view than me. I think it helps me grow as a person.
But that’s just my opinion. And like I said before, I don’t think there is a CORRECT answer. I think this is probably a very personal opinion that everyone comes to in a different way. And I believe that it’s important to understand and respect that.
So what do YOU think? Does an author’s political or philosophical beliefs affect whether or no you want to read their books?