Do I Have to Agree with an Author’s Politics?

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?

22 thoughts on “Do I Have to Agree with an Author’s Politics?

  1. I think the content that a person creates determines whether someone should enjoy it or not. I know plenty of atheists/anti-Christians who enjoy The Lord of the Rings even though Tolkien was a devout Christian. It’s because LOTR was such a revolutionary tale. And though I disagree with a lot of Rowling’s political views, I still love the Harry Potter series. People are going to disagree with each other about something sometime, but why does that have to hinder us from enjoying the content they create? Especially if that content has nothing to do with the personal opinions of individuals. People just like to make a fuss for no reason at all. Well, while they’re doing that, maybe I can block all of it out with a good book.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I’m a very private person so every time a very public person shares something like that. I’m always like wow, didn’t need to know. However I don’t seem to notice these things in their writing if it’s an author. I’m not sure with being such “powerful” people they should choose their words wisely, however every is entitled to their own opinion. So as long as it’s their opinion but they aren’t being mean about it, I am okay with it. I love learning different points of view about different things so maybe that’s why it doesn’t bother me so much? Did I just ramble a lot about nothing??

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No, I totally got you! Thanks for commenting! I think it’s interesting to see which authors will use their fame as a platform to affect change, and which ones kind of keep their thoughts to themselves. I think it says a lot about them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is an interesting topic for discussion. I try to let the creator’s product to speak for itself, so I can separate the author from their book. Personally the only exception I could think of is if the creator is obnoxiously outspoken about a particular belief.

    Also, I support all kinds of creatives. I try to be a diverse reader and that means supporting diverse creators.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. very good topic! i was thinking about this myself, because i recently got into a discussion with a friend of mine about brandon sanderson. i didn’t know about his believes. i read books by him and i met him at a signing and he was so nice to me. i didn’t know more about him. but then my friend told me about the tweet. she was shocked and she was angry and didn’t want to read any of his books. then i thought about myself. and no, i won’t stop. because no believes of him were pushed on me in the books i’ve read so far. they were just great books. so yeah, i will continue reading and won’t influence my opinion by his personal believes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I had always heard that he was a nice guy too. I think that’s a big part of why people were so shocked, because he never put any personal beliefs out there, really. He was just … nice. Thanks for that perspective!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I personally have no problem reading/buying something from someone who has differing views than I do. In fact, I will deliberately read people with whom I disagree so that I can understand where they are coming from rather than constructing a stupid “straw man” version of their beliefs.

    When it comes to fiction, if an author has a worldview that I find particularly repugnant (e.g. support of Nazism) and it is a major theme in their work, I’m probably not going to read a whole lot of it, but that doesn’t mean that we need to go out and burn all their books. Also, if within their work an author is obnoxiously preachy about their views and/or needlessly insulting to those with whom they disagree, I’ll probably not bother reading them whether I agree with their views or not. There’s a big difference between naturally weaving your worldview into your story and using your story as a blatant propaganda vehicle.

    I’m the pastor of a relatively conservative evangelical church, a notoriously boycott-crazy segment of the population, but I’ve never bought into that mentality as being particularly effective or godly (I Corinthians 5:9-13, 10:25-30). If someone (author, business, whatever) makes a big deal about donating a portion of proceeds to something that I can’t in good conscience support, I’ll probably refrain from buying, but I’m not going to set out to ruin them. And I’m certainly not going to dig through a person’s/company’s history to make sure I am 100% in agreement with everything they say/do/believe…that way lies madness.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I mean, did you SEE how long my post was? lol

        I often also feel like a minority within my religion, but being in a less conservative domination it comes up a lot less often. Where I feel more at odds with people is in my friend group, especially on facebook. My Christian friends get frustrated with my beliefs, and my non-Christian friends get frustrated with my beliefs. Being in the middle ground seems to put me in a tough spot a lot. Hence my blog as a location to rant! Haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t think my views about a book changes if the author has different political views than mine but it does make me look at the author in a different light. Because as a reader, you tend to look up to your favorite authors and sometimes it throws you off when they have different views. However, if their views borders on hatred towards a particular community, I would probably not support his/her work regardless of whether or not they force their views through their books.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This was a fantastic post! You’ve captured the difficulties many readers go through (or at least this reader) when they discover their favourite author has a morally repugnant viewpoint of the world. And you’re totally right about this being a deeply personal issue.

    I don’t just mean a simple disagreement, I mean when the politics involves an important issue: I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with me, but when it comes to topics I am passionate about, then I’m in two minds. I like that you brought up Brandon Sanderson, because he is an author I have a major problem with. As someone who falls under the LGBTQIA+ category, hearing someone who has a massive fan following and a large global reach say that I (and people like me) can’t get married made me physically sick, to the point where I do not want to support this author at all. He goes against everything I stand for as a person – I am a very large supporter of LGBTQIA+ rights, so I don’t want to be at all associated with him, even through something as simple as reading his book. Which is difficult, because I have wanted to read his novels for years and now I personally feel that I should not. That being said. if someone is reading his book, I’m not going to go up to them and call them a bigot or abuse them or something – they can do whatever they like, and so will I.

    But I think you can also expand beyond just an author’s politics and make the same argument for an author’s behaviour: for e.g. there’s authors like Anne Rice, who encourages her fans to attack and threaten reviewers who gave negative reviews of her books. I am definitely not going to support such an author by reading her books. She can write the most amazing novel, but her behaviour is disgraceful and I want nothing to do with her. I think sometimes a reader needs to take a stand when they disagree with an author – whether it be calling the author out (I personally don’t have the courage to do that but I have seen some people do it), or silently protesting by refusing to support them (that’s more comfortable for me).

    But when it comes to favourite authors, I find myself in a difficult position. For e.g. Cassandra Clare. I know Clare does not have a good reputation as an author – she has been accused multiple times of plagiarism – but I have actively stayed away from finding out the exact issues with her because I don’t want it to affect my opinion of her, or unconsciously affect my enjoyment of reading her novels. Like an ignorance is bliss kind of situation. That may sound a little hypocritical of me, but I think many readers can sympathise when it comes to their favourite author. You want to uphold your personal values, but at the same time you’ve spent years reading an author’s novels and fallen in love with the characters that you almost feel like you’re betraying the author. So I guess, like you mentioned, I can also see two sides of the story. I think at the end of the day this really comes down to a personal opinion. If you want to ignore the author’s politics or behaviour to read the book, go ahead. And if you don’t, that’s your prerogative too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thanks for that great comment!

      I think for me it’s easier to just go with “ignorance is bliss” for pretty much every author. I find the news so depressing and frustrating, and it seems like everyone always lets you down. I just like to live in my personal news-free bubble and pretend like the world doesn’t suck quite as much as it does. Decrease the world suck just by being a good, nice person. That’s just me though.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Well, I largely agree with you here. For the record, I’m Jewish (I don’t normally bring that up, but it’s relevant) and I *don’t* think you should boycott things based on what the author believed. In my opinion it is cutting off your nose to spite your face, because for instance you’ll find a ridiculous number of people in history (and presently) who have some kind of prejudice. Does that mean I should be foolish enough not to consider their writing because of one offensive thought they had? Especially when everyone had an offensive thought at some point? My answer is no. There is too much to learn to insist on being narrow minded just because other people are narrow minded.
    FYI, I’m sorry to say this but in Roald Dahl’s own words he was an anti semite, and I quote: “I am certainly anti-Israel, and I have become anti-Semitic.” (I’d send you the link to a list, but I don’t like spam jail- if you would like I can go through said list and break them down why each one was anti-Semitic if the above quote isn’t enough- though of course I understand if you don’t have the time 😉 ). And I do know what it’s like to wind people up, but there’s a clear difference here. But- in spite of all that- does that mean I think you shouldn’t read his work? Like I said, I don’t. I mentioned this on my blog once, but Stephen Fry did a whole programme once on being Jewish and loving Wagner’s music. Incidentally, Wagner is important to listen to since he revolutionised music and his work underscores virtually every film soundtrack. Do I like the guy? (I mean after all he said “Jews have no souls” and his family funded the Nazis) No. But do I think people should avoid him, also no.
    I also think that when it comes to people like Dawkins etc, while their personalities may overshadow their ideas, for instance, Dawkins’ dislike of religion overshadows his work, it’s not his personality that’s up for debate here. So again, it may be more relevant to understand where they’re coming from, and even help to construct a counter argument, but that shouldn’t mean you don’t engage with them- even with people we don’t like, we can’t relegate them to thought-crime penitentiaries simply by name calling. It’s not an effective way to argue with them.
    I hope you don’t mind me bringing my own personal experience into this- I don’t normally like to do that when constructing an argument- but I thought it might provide a bit of insight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s really interesting that you brought up Wagner because that’s exactly what I wanted to do with my professor, and I was shocked that no one did. Wagner was easily one of the most vocally anti-semetic musicians of all time, however we don’t have any problems learning about, listening to, and performing his music! He was revolutionary, to do so would be a musical crime. Honestly, I think the difference between the way they treat Wagner and Orff is musical snobbery. A lot of “real” musicians don’t like Carmina Burana in the way a super hipster might not like the Beatles.

      I do not mind at all for you to share your opinion! That’s exactly what I wanted you to do! I found that Dahl quote I think, but it was different on the site I read. You know you can’t trust the internet… *sigh*

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I first ran into this debate when I read “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. As the book was finally being turned into a movie (horrible idea, they screwed it up royally), many people discovered that Card was a supported of groups that opposed homosexuals and same-sex marriage. I love all of the Ender books, but hey, I’m gay. I still love the books. I was trained in political science, so I am more able than many to put an author’s biases in the background and take their work on its merits. I understand that this is difficult for some. You are right, there is no correct answer to this. People should follow their hearts and not feel bad about their decision.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great perspective! It’s especially NOT difficult to understand if Card was opposed to homosexuality when you consider the time period he was living in. Who wasn’t? He was on the same page of 99% of the population, how can you get mad at that? For me WHEN somebody lived (and where, to an extent) has a huge affect on how I view their beliefs. That’s just me though.


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