Saturday, December 4, 2010

[Twitter Talks] Can you separate author from writing?

There is not much interlude, when it comes to this subject matter. So I will let the cat of the bag. I asked Twitter:

"Can you separate author from writing? When an author offends you, do you abandon his/her fiction?"

Recently, authors have been speaking their minds on sensitive topics, expressing less than favorable by the public opinions and the reaction of the community has been more than noticeable. Neal Asher took on Global Warming, which puzzled me personally, because I think it was undisputed. Elizabeth Moon does not want Muslims to build a mosque near the Twin Towers and she's not being delicate about it.

Then there are the less than recent examples. Orson Scott Card expressed his very backward and crude opinion on homosexuality, which personally offended me. Not so much that he's a homophobe, but that he had such radical opinions. Last and mildest offender, Atwood. When will she admit that The Handmaid's Tale is science fiction? Anyway, to be honest, I don't judge these people for having their opinions.

Asher can not believe in Global Warming. Moon can not be happy about Muslims and what they want to build. Card can be against homosexuality and Atwood can deny that she contributed to science fiction. I'm pro free speech and I'm fully aware that every opinion out in the open will be met with support AND catcalls.

The element I want to pay attention here is the community and their reaction. When the Card scandal hit the Internet [yes, I gave it an official name] I was one of the many to vow never to read or support his fiction. A stronger reaction [and a less rational one at that] that formed this particular question in my head. When this year Moon's attitude towards Muslims became known, she was revoked the spot as guest of honor at WisCon.

In both instances, the careers of these authors got damaged one way or another. The opinions they voiced resulted in direct blows to their reputations. Obviously, the two authors came as a full package: person, bias and writing.

Again, I don't try to imply that they should lie about their beliefs. I also don't want to discuss, if it's right to boycott authors, when they offend us with their worldviews. I want to check, if it's still possible to draw the line between the author's views and his/her work, especially now that most authors run a blog or participate in social networks.

I went to the people that should now aka the readers and asked them.

Here are the answers:

@redhead5318: I've ditched books & authors if they cross the line from SF or lit fiction into preachy "Praise Jay-sus!" land. It's happened.

@unwyn: I easily separate an author from his views. But I stop buying their books if I feel I disagree with them enough and library it.

@Rhube: It depends. I understand Dylan Thomas was a twat, but I can't not love Fern Hill. Mostly, though I do find it very hard. I don't mind an author not being a saint, but there are some things that are Not OK, & knowing them changes how one reads the book.

@readinasitting: Sometimes, sometimes not. I've never touched Card's work again after hearing his particular perspectives...

@warpcoresf: Depends on the manner of the offense. There are a lot of authors I don't agree with politically who I'd still read.

@MarkTimmony I find it difficult. If they offend me I do abandon their work - unless the work means more to me then 'knowing' the author. But that rarely happens. The more accessible I've found authors the more disillusioned I have become with their work.

@Skarrah: Most of the time. There's books I read & love by an author I don't like but there is 1 author who I can't separate from books.

@gavreads: Depends why you are offended? The core of what Moon and Asher have said hasn't fundamentally shocked me. Thought it makes me aware of their bias

@belovedsnail: Mostly. Some exceptions. I've never really forgiven Ted Hughes.

@stujallen: It's a hard one, Harry. There are writers I dislike and still read their books like Amis & Grass for example.

@DDog: Hard for me to support Orson Scott Card or Elizabeth Moon after reading some of their opinions.

@mrsean2k: Ooh, that's a good question, worthy of some thought. I remember reading some SF writer's homophobic remarks but just thinking "silly sod", and continuing to enjoy his novel. Now who the jell was it?

@dreamrock: Depends on how much they offended me. There's only one SF author that has managed to offend me to the point of not reading.

@katheastman: Yes, I can. If I really want to read the book, I will, irrespective of how the author behaves in his or her private life. If I love the author's writing/books, then I'll read them. If can take or leave them, I'll leave them.

@chasingbawa: I try to separate the two, but if an author is rude and offensive then it does put me off their work.

@Jenni_Hill: I dislike authors who can't separate their own offensive views from their writing - OH HAI TERRY GOODKIND.

@Paul_C_Smith: Yes. No.

@pornokitsch: I can... but often choose not to. Not buying a product is one of the few ways that we have left to register discontent. I also get the sulks with authors that aggressively deny writing genre fiction (Margaret Atwood, for example).

@slushpilehero: Ah. I'd say yes (freedom of speech + American psycho)

@CorbSilverthorn: If I don't agree with an author's views I can separate it from his/her work, as long as it's not an integral part of the work.

@thedilettante: Once I'm actually reading their work, yes. It makes me less inclined to read them (and certainly to buy their work) though.

The community has spoken and in short, we try with moderate success. If we are not sensitive to what the bias relates to, then we can. Should we be truly offended, then it's gloves off.

An over-generalization perhaps, but this is what I draw from the answers.

What is your take on this? Can you separate author from his/her work?


Bryan Thomas said...

I personally would have to say it depends what the opinion is and how much it invades their work. I thought Moon and Card should have stated their opinions with more tact. I think Moon, in particular, was villianized unfairly for stating what a lot of Americans believe. It should have instead prompted a healthy dialogue and reeducation on the falseness of Muslim stereotypes. And I actually don't believe in Global Warming myself, so I can't hold that against Asher. I think if a person was spreading hatred, anti-Semitism for example, and wove that into their work, I'd avoid reading them. I don't read a lot of Hitler. On the other hand, I don't agree with many authors' beliefs and still enjoy their books. It's just not a prerequisite.

SQT said...

I can read an author if their bias doesn't bleed into their work. If they really offend me, I'm disinclined to try. But I also think readers can be really unfair when rushing to judgement. I read opinions everyday that offend me on Facebook. For some reason a lot of people have no problem voicing their opinions in a public setting and not caring about who they offend and then turn around and judge someone else for doing the same thing. I find the most judgmental are usually the biggest loudmouths in their own forum and the first to call for boycotts. Seems rather hypocritical to me.

Harry Markov said...

@ Bryan: Which is basically what all the people said. It's good to see consistency. I'm glad that you can do this successfully.

I minded most about Moon & Card was that their tone was offensive rather than their beliefs. Card went a bit too far for my taste.

Harry Markov said...

Oh, excellent point. It totally goes both ways, though I'm not sure whether the question automatically excludes trolls or not.

Jared said...

Very nice introduction to the issue & the ensuing discussion. Really interesting survey, and it is fascinating to read all the responses in one place.

Harry Markov said...

Thank you for stopping by. :)

Fat Roland said...

What SQT said, really.

I'm currently reading Knut Hamsun's Hunger. He amazes me because he's a 19th century postmodernist. And he horrifies me because he ended up supporting the Nazi party.

Harry Markov said...

This is a comment from Senerity Womble, which appeared in my inbox, but somehow did not make the thread:

It's an interesting topic. Funnily enough, Solelyfictional was blogging about it just yesterday: - she has a poll going, if you, or any of your readers would like to take part. She's focusing more specifically on online behaviour, and also asking whether positive author behaviour online influences people. It's fascinating. I feel like it does, but I can't think of any exact purchasing decisions I have made as a consequence.

Actually, Orson Scott Card may be the one case. I lost all interest in reading his further work after I heard his views on homosexuality. Atwood's comments annoy me, but (whether she likes it or not) she has still *written* good SF, and although I get all over the marginalisation of genre as an issue, it's not something that tends to affect one's view of *people* as strongly, and hence doesn't colour the content of a book as much.

Harry Markov said...

@ Fat Roland: Woah, that is something chilling for sure.

cj said...

I've had a couple of authors through insults at my beliefs and my political affiliation in their novels. With both, it's almost to the point where I will stop reading their work. Why would I want to read an author who clearly wants nothing to do with me?

On the other hand, I've never heard of Moon (that I'm aware of) but I will be going to check her out.

Bottom line: Authors are entitled to their opinions but they're risking a lot if they put that opinion into their stories.


Harry Markov said...

@ CJ: Well in that case it's very understandable you should stop reading. The point was to separate such opinions when they are voiced outside of fiction like in essays or web journals like the cases I've listed.

Sarah (Bookworm Blues) said...

Very interesting discussion.

For me it depends on if these views which may or may not be offensive to me are inserted into their literature. For stuff like this, if the writer can separate their personal beliefs from what they write, I don't usually see a problem.

Then again, there is an author who I've seen has been deliberately insulting toward reviewers who do not enjoy their work. I won't read that person's stuff. If I don't have a right to think whatever I want to think about someone's book without being afraid of some sort of verbal retribution from the author, I have no interest in it.

Kate said...

Usually I can separate authors from their writings, just as I can usually separate actors from the movies they play in. It has to be an extreme case of offensiveness or attitude- interviews I've read with Nicholas Spark have deterred me from reading his books for instance. And as for Asher, there are lots of scientists who don't support the theory of Global Warming. Now, if an author doesn't believe in the Holocaust or something completely offensive to my core beliefs, then I might pass on reading their books. I've never read Card, and whatever inclination I had towards reading his books is diminished by his statements. But if someone handed me a free copy of one of his books, I'd probably read it just to see if his prejudices are reflected in his writing.

Harry Markov said...

You are one of the few that can do that. I wish I could, but if the person's views are particularly offensive, inside or outside [which is the case I'm discussing here] the fiction, I can't ignore that. Call me thin skinned.

Harry Markov said...

@Kate: Asher's beliefs on Global Warming were not so offensive as they are peculiar [at least for me] and they stood out, considering the majority firmly believes of the Warming.

Even with a given free copy, I would not touch Card.

Kate said...

I certainly tend to be turned off by offensive statements made by authors. It's not intentional, but I haven't had the slightest interest in Card's books since I read about his views. On the other hand, an author expressing views that I agree with can make me prefer them even more (Terry Pratchett's stand on assisted suicide makes a lot of sense to me, and I don't know if I could adore the man any more than I already do). If they have time for their fans and are generally courteous to the public, even better (I'm thinking Gaiman here - he's a champ). My views are definitely tied up in what I read, but I don't see that as a bad thing.

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