10 Problematic Authors I Have Trouble Separating From Their Work
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10 Problematic Authors I Have Trouble Separating From Their Work

By Joanna Robinson | Seriously Random Lists | July 18, 2013 | Comments ()

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As the release of the Ender’s Game film draws closer, the controversy and conflicting emotions around its author, Orson Scott Card, grow ever more heated. And rightly so. We find ourselves, once again, in the crucible of this age-old, well-worn question: Can you separate the artist from the art? It’s an issue I go back and forth on pretty regularly. Usually right around the time Roman Polanski releases a new movie. In the case of Card, while I have a child’s love for “Ender’s Game,” I also have an advocate’s desire to send a strong message by boycotting the film. I’ve heard that some are contemplating seeing the film and donating to a worthy cause (like The Trevor Project) so as to enjoy both the pop culture event and peace of mind. That feels a bit like a well-intentioned cop-out, but points for caring at all, I suppose.

But boycotting a movie that (to be perfectly honest) doesn’t look like it will change my life is one thing. Purging my book shelves of all the authors who had problematic personal lives/views is another. (Problematic is the very nicest term I could use here. In some case “repugnant” would be more applicable.) I’m not here to smear mud over your favorite authors nor, especially, to speak ill of the dead. But I do rather miss the time in my life when I didn’t know much about the writers I loved. When I was able to judge them on their work alone. But in this TMZ/fishbowl/celebrity biography world we live in, it requires a huge amount of apathy to not care at all when you discover your favorite author was, say, a massive racist. And, sure, we can make some concessions for social context and historical mores. Some. But it will still shake your teeth loose to see an author you love pen something so hateful. In the end, I think, this question becomes a personal barometer. How many foibles and excuses can you stomach before you brush up against your moral limit? And how interesting to find out where that limit is. As for me, in my capacity as a bookseller, I don’t offer up “Ender’s Game” to curious young sci-fi readers anymore. I steer them towards Douglas Adams, Frank Herbert or Patrick Rothfuss. As for the rest of these, well, the choice is harder.

Dr. Seuss aka Theodore Geisel (1904-1992)
Most Beloved Work: Your mileage may vary, but mine was always “The Sneetches and Other Stories,” which, ironically, deals with tolerance and acceptance of others.
Most Problematic Issue: His early, super racist work.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
Most Beloved Work: Once again, this is a very subjective category, but I have to go with “Bleak House,” which strikes the best balance between personal melodrama and social activism.
Most Problematic Issue: The monstrous treatment of his wife, Catherine.

Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964)
Most Beloved Work: “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” which, in England, was titled “The Artificial Nigger And Other Tales.”
Most Problematic Issue: Uh, you guessed it, racism.

Forrest Carter aka Asa Earl Carter (1925-1979)
Most Beloved Work: “The Education Of Little Tree”
Most Problematic Issue: Carter was a former Klansman and a speech writer for segregation advocate Governor George Wallace. So, shall we say racism?

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)
Most Beloved Work: Hitchens was an absolute genius. Without question. I also had an occasion to work with him once and he was, without a doubt, one of the most genial (if unapologetically alcoholic) authors I’ve ever met. He wouldn’t be on the list if I didn’t respect him, and I almost didn’t include him because his passing is so recent. Speaking ill of the dead is bad enough, but speaking ill of the recent dead is almost sick-making. My favorite of his works was the intensely personal and heart-wounding “On Mortality.”
Most Problematic Issue: Warmongering.

Jack London (1876-1916)
Most Beloved Work: “Call Of The Wild”
Most Problematic Issue: His radical (sometimes violent) socialism is not the major problem. No, the problem is his belief that social justice was the right of white men only. Well, let’s just call it racism.

Lewis Carroll aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898)
Most Beloved Work: “Alice” (There And Back Again)
Most Problematic Issue: The implications of the child photography which may be nothing at all whatsoever and, in fact, was likely totally fine given the Victorian context but still gives the modern reader a twinge or seventy.

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Most Beloved Work: “The Just So Stories”
Most Problematic Issue: Downright lyrical racism.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)
Most Beloved Work: His short stories, particularly “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”
Most Problematic Issue: His atrocious treatment of everyone around him. Given that he died by his own hands, we can assume that Hemingway went through life a tortured soul, but that doesn’t give him license to tear everyone around him to shreds. Which he did. Relentlessly.

HP Lovecraft (1890-1937)
Most Beloved Work: “The Call of Cthulhu”
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Many thanks to the Bookseller Think Tank for help on this.

10 Reasons "Orange Is the New Black" Is One of 2013's Best Shows | The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Maryscott O'Connor

    Funny. No misogynists. Mailer? Roth?

  • fartygirl

    forgive me if this was already said, but didn't flannery o'connor write as a protest against racism? her racist characters were the assholes of every story.

  • stryker1121

    Agatha Christie was also famously racist and anti-Semitic, at least by the treatment of black people and Jews in her work.

  • ASterisk

    Kipling was, in fact, an outspoken opponent of Imperialism and 19th century racism. "White Man's Burden" isn't a justification of the American annexation of the Philippines, it's a subversive jab at the lengths Western imperialists would go to justify their heavy-handed expansion into lands that they had no business being in.

    But I'm sure he didn't like Maggie Gyllenhal, or something else tragically unhip, so by all means keep him on the list.

  • luckypete

    In the Flannery O'Connor article, the author of the article wrote, "And yet, why is it necessary to like or sympathize with a writer to
    appreciate her strengths and complexities? There is, perhaps, a modern
    sense that within the realm of fiction there must be a certain shared
    understanding, particularly amongst women writers - but isn't this
    terribly limiting? Flannery O'Connor
    is not interesting in spite of her views, repellent though they may at
    times be. Rather, she is indivisible from them, frankly and openly." I think that sums it up perfectly. There is hardly anyone free from some sort of misdeed or wrongdoing or other similar bad traits. As the saying goes, "all my idols have feet of clay." If we only read (or watched) works by those who lived gallant, clean lives, we'd lose a large majority of great literature (movies, art, etc)

  • Queen Kortni_ of Cockistan™

    I get what you're saying, but as a minority, it's horribly uncomfortable to enjoy a racist authors work at times.

  • Maria

    i find it wrong to single out authors to be racist when basically the whole society at that time was racist.
    its not like there was total equality and those listed above tried to instill racism in people.

    especially the use of the N-Word was common and was not considered racist. that itself is racist but then you could basically write off entire generations.

    its a little bit like blaming someone who was 8 at the time for being in the hitler youth.

  • I’ve heard that some are contemplating seeing the film and donating to a worthy cause (like The Trevor Project) so as to enjoy both the pop culture event and peace of mind. That feels a bit like a well-intentioned cop-out, but points for caring at all, I suppose.

    Just to may a devil's advocate (sup, Satan), this argument made me think of Kickstarter donating to RAINN after allowing the funding of that rapey book. Good(ish) intentions, but really just trying to please everyone.

    Not that I'm judging, per se. In the past, if I wanted to see a movie but didn't want to contribute to their numbers, I would buy a ticket to a movie I wanted to support then just go into the wrong theater. I'm no better.

  • If this was a list of contemporary authors, then I could understand the trepidation to leave them on your shelf. But to pick these authors and label them as racist is foolish considering the term did not exist in most of their times.

  • Naye

    Im glad to have gotten on here and not found very many racism apologists like i feared a thread like this would expose. That being said I can't get with the idea of passing off racism as a "product of the times" I get that if you are exposed to something so regularly it can become philosphy. But the fact is somebody, one person at some point who grew up exposed to a culture of racism said "this is wrong." That's how the whole anit-slavery movement started. That's how civil rights started. For every plantation, you can bet there was some white person who thought "treating people this way is incorrect," when everybody else chose to ignore it. It has to start somewhere. I don't think there is ever a qualification for disregarding the life of another human just because it was the popular idea at the time. And I don't think it's wrong to hold writers to a degree of social responsibility. I hope I explained myself clearly.

  • Archie Leach

    So you know, American abolitionists were against slavery because they considered it a abomination against god (abolitionists were universally pious christians). And though abolitionists did see black slaves as human, they did NOT see blacks as being equal to "the white race".

  • Naye

    My point here is that, of those abolitionists, somebody said "these are actually people." And we are were we are today. And hopefully will continue further. But "a sign of the times" is just not an excuse for me.

  • the dude

    You can't really blame those people for being racist,it was the absolute norm. It doesn't make racism right, but they shouldn't be the fall guys of their whole generation.

  • e jerry powell

    And now that I think about it:

    What's worse, a writer who denigrates people of other races, or a writer who never even acknowledges that people of other races even exist in their work?

    Not rhetoric, I'm genuinely curious. For as much as I love, say, Tennessee Williams -- and I can't recall if he ever denigrated blacks, Hispanics, or Asians in his work, but there's so much work to read -- I could probably count on my fingers the number of minorities in the whole of his writing. And it's not as though they're all poor or domestic servants or what have you. Of all the people living in all the places that Williams lived and inevitably included in his plays, novels, short fiction, etc. -- they just don't exist.

    I guess, speaking personally, that perhaps given the two options, having nothing said about oneself at all is likely preferable to being repeatedly or continuously denigrated.

  • Jezzer

    Of course they exist. They ate Sebastian in "Suddenly Last Summer."

  • e jerry powell

    True, but only in the film version do we actually see them, otherwise it's Catherine only talking about them.

  • e jerry powell

    I'm beginning to think that there are no black racist authors, which is statistically impossible, but we're talking about authors who've amassed a great deal of goodwill over the course of at least fifty years.

    From a different perspective, I guess, I could have had some very serious problems with, say, a composer like Richard Wagner, who was not known for being the greatest person. He was Anti-Semitic, and some would say that his theatrical writing (particularly the clearly anti-Semitic portrayals in Meistersingers von Nurnberg) contributed to the rise of Nazism decades later. There have indisputably problematic figures in every artistic discipline for any of nearly innumerable reasons. One of my Music Lit professors made a forceful effort to emphasize the necessity of separating whatever moral shortcomings an artist might have (particularly those of Wagner, as this particullar professor was Jewish and a Wagnerian devotee) from that artist's work, as the work must stand on its own merit. I'm still not sure I completely understand, but I'm willing to accept it in the interest of not making myself insane.

    What I don't appreciate about the situation at hand is how Card is trying to play it. Transparently cynical backtracking in the interest of financial gain is worse than political campaigning in my mind. I don't know if it's the most practical mindset for me to have, but I figure that someone who can be as much of a loudmouth as Card has been in trumpeting his beliefs would at least have the courage of his convictions to stand by them when the shit hits the fan, so to speak, particularly since he'll probably return to those same beliefs -- much like a politician would -- once any threats to his short-term interests pass.

    What he's doing now that box office numbers are on the line is unspeakably craven, and moreover, insulting to the collective intelligence to think he can throw around some clearly insincere politically correct platitudes and everyone will forgive everything and fork over ten bucks a head for a bit of popular entertainment. But I am perhaps a bit too idealistic despite my years.

  • Some Guy

    I hear Jerry Seinfeld's an anti-dentite. He's an author.

  • Adrien

    How about Roald Dahl? Anti-Semite.

  • jeannebean

    ... and all-around shitty person.

  • Some Guy

    I'm gonna throw Richard Wagner into the mix. Amazing, innovative composer whose creations still influence music today, especially film scores.

    Also hugely Anti-semitic, set out to destroy Mendelsohhn's career because he was Jewish, and of course the fact that his biggest fan was none other than Adolf Hitler.

  • KingEntropy

    Damn good list. Hitch will always be polarizing, and I never agreed with his support of the Iraq War, but his brilliant work will always remain a source of inspiration to me.

  • Natalie

    Albert Einstein. Horrible husband. Worse father.

  • e jerry powell

    And, on an interesting and totally coincidental tangent, music academicians are arguing about whether or not Stravinsky was gay and whether or not it would have had any influence on his work.

  • Milly

    In considering all of the above, I am minded of an episode of The West Wing where they debate the issue of genocide versus acts of genocide.

    Are racist statements in and of themselves racist? Or are they merely acts of racism?

    Take Kramer's performance at that comedy club - I don't know his actual name, and barely know his character's as I didn't watch Seinfeld - was that an act of racism or is he inherently racist?

  • Ben

    Yeah sorry I find it hard to hold racist views against authors from like up to the 50's. Because yeah, everyone was racist then.

  • Archie Leach

    VERY OT: I'm gonna chime in a little history on the Suess Japanese racism. What isn't known today is that the war in the Pacific was fought openly as a race war. It was even written about in a booked called "War Without Mercy". America was in a time of full-bore white racial superiority and Japan was in the full glory of its fascist "Japanese Yamato people are masters" and so when the two came to blows, it WAS to be a race war. But actually all of what was called World War Two was one of histories most horrific wars because it was a conflict about race and ethnicity. Most Americans/westerners know little about the war fought between the Germans and Soviets/Russians and know how horrific it was. The Germans and Russians had been traditionally rather close and were tied together thru culture and economics. But hitler and the other nazi scum indoctrinated the German people that the Russians and other Slavs were subhumans and were to be treated as such. Therefore the German military went into the Soviet Union and brutalized and butchered Russians and Ukrainians and Belorussians. Everyone is aware of the genocide against the Jews by the nazis, but few in the west are aware that millions and millions of Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians were outright murdered by the invading nazis. In all over 16 million Russians/Ukrainians/Belorussian civilians lost their lives due to the nazi invasion. In turn the Soviets/Russians having been so brutalized by the nazis (and by Stalin), brutalized and butchered the German people when they got their turn in Germany. The German-Russian war between 1941 to 1945 was the most horrific race war known in history. About 35 million people died in that war between the two nations, of which 27 million were Soviet/Russian.

    Many historians and social scientist have suggested that horrors of the openly violent racial aspects of World War Two is what put an end to the social darwinism that had completely taken over western thought since the advent of western imperialism. There is, of course, the spector of the Jewish genocide that horrified the west but the horrific malevolence of nazi and Japanese racial superiority and the massive brutal atrocities they brought to Europe and Asia really brought home to the west just what racial categorizing brought on and finally helped to end systemic racism in western societies.

  • Altius

    Some of these, yeah, duh. Others...the evidence behind them is flimsy, and really not monstrous to a point that I would find their work tainted. There are very few people whose work I admire whose every opinion, belief, or action I would agree with or condone. People are a messed up lot, but even out of these people can come brilliant, searing works of beauty or skillful genius.

  • Viking

    I JUST started reading H.P. Lovecraft stories, and had never known that about him. I am pretty surprised it has never, ever come up in anything I have ever read about him or discussed with fans of his work. Granted, it hasn't come up that often, but still I'd have expected to have heard something about it by now. My book is a collection of stories published by Barnes and Noble, and the first one was The Call of Cthulu. About three pages in I blurted out loud to my dog: "yeaaah...this is some racist shit right here." It has been disappointing but at the same time I can see how the man came to be a respected writer. He can paint pretty word pictures in your head, as well as some downright disturbing ones.

    I've also noticed that so far (I'm reading the third story now) none of the characters are women, except for one nameless woman, the widow of a sea captain. She has no description or personality whatsoever, and serves more as a prop to pass on information that would otherwise have been lost when her husband died. She is really more of a plot device mentioned in passing. I realize these are short stories which limits the number of characters that can be developed fully, but that isn't what keeps him from fleshing out women or the men he describes as 'primitives', 'negroids', or 'dark' among other things.

    Lovecraft's work contains an awful lot of elitist classism. Which pretty much goes hand in hand with racism and sexism, the belief that one group of people is superior to everyone else. So far, it has been a big part of every story I've read.

    I will point out that in The Lurking Fear he describes 'squatters' living in 'malodorous shanties'. As far as I can tell (this is the story I'm reading now, maybe there is more clarification later on) these nameless villagers are of Dutch ancestry, living in an isolated mountain community in the northeastern U.S. He had a problem with poor people, I'm guessing, no matter what color their skin. "When we came to know the squatters better, we found them curiously likeable in many ways. Simple animals they were, gently descending the evolutionary scale because of their unfortunate ancestry and stultifying isolation". Or maybe he had a problem with the Dutch, with their weird affinity for having a smoke and a pancake. I have no idea. But I am glad for this Random List because until now I had no one I could vent to.

  • Phellorian

    Re: Theodore Geisel. "Super racist?" Really? His war cartoons were very typical of the time. And his depiction of Africans and Middle Easterners in those 1940's ads were very similar to the depictions in many movies and pulp literature. Racist? Sure. Super racist? No. In fact, a better adjective to describe those cartoons, as the article you linked to noted, is "sad."

  • Add to Hitchens' negative traits an almost unrelenting Islamophobia. Richard Seymour has written a tremendous book on the subject of Hitchens, called 'Unhitched."

  • I studied art history and maybe it's that my concentration was 500 years ago, or maybe it differs for artists, but the more radical an artist was, the more we looked at art as an extension of their personal life. It'd be hard to overlook Savonarola's influence on Botticelli's later works. Or the fact that Caravaggio was a murderer. Yet, we love them all the same.

    But that's also what comes with time. Both artists were shunned and for Caravaggio, he wasn't "rediscovered" until the 20th century. Now we look at him as one of the greatest artists of his time.

    I think, the closer you are to a subject, the easier it is to feel betrayed by it. Caravaggio and Botticelli were both sought after prior to their extreme actions. Learning about Card's abhorrent views has tainted the way I look at him and his work--and I don't plan on giving him another dime--but I also wouldn't be surprised if in a century or two he's not looked at as a pioneer for science fiction.

  • Maguita NYC

    There is also the financial benefit side of things. We know Card will benefit from any additional reprints of his books, because of the movie deal. This somehow becomes more irksome in a way it is related to directly financing racism.

  • foolsage

    True. I think it's one thing to pick up a copy of e.g. "Mein Kampf" because you want to understand how a person like Hitler could have done what he did, and another thing entirely to provide Hitler or his family financial support during his lifetime by buying his book.

  • wonkeythemonkey

    Orson Scott Card needs to make a living somehow, and he would be a homophobe regardless of his career. If Ender's Game doesn't promote homophobia, then how is selling it a worse way for him to earn a living than, say, working for the IRS (where you would also be paying his salary -- assuming you live in the U.S.).

  • Andrew

    The problem I have with Card that I don't with most of these other authors is that back in the day, most people were racist. That doesn't excuse it, but it means that the farther back you go, the more assholes you will find. It's simple arithmetic. Our current morality has evolved as a slow process from terrible to better. And it is, of course, still improving. A hundred years from now, people will be horrified at some of the things we did (do?).

    But when it comes to people like Card, they live in the present, when we (should) know better, and that's why I cut him no slack whereas HP Lovecraft is one of my favorite authors.

    PS One more horrible person who wrote things would be Frank Herbert (He wrote Dune). He was really heterosexist to the point of treating his gay son abominably.

  • Salieri2

    Oh shit. I love Dune. Edited to add: and the first bit of Googling about to learn more of this offered me a forum post somewhere entitled, helpfully, "Did Frank Herbert Hate Queers?"

    Yay. Faith in humanity once again sloshing tepidly around my ankles.

  • foolsage

    To each his suff'rings: all are men,
    Condemn'd alike to groan,
    The tender for another's pain;
    Th' unfeeling for his own.
    Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
    Since sorrow never comes too late,
    And happiness too swiftly flies.
    Thought would destroy their paradise.
    No more; where ignorance is bliss,
    'Tis folly to be wise.

    - Thomas Gray

    (Note that the poem does NOT say that ignorance is always bliss; just that sometimes you don't want to know some things.)

  • bleujayone

    All things being equal, this list could be infinitely longer. And really it wouldn't be limited to literary authors either. Most art forms be it painting, music, motion pictures, dancing... etc have their share of gifted assholes who produce masterpieces and if you look hard enough, most everybody else also has flaws we might find uncomfortable with at best.

    It can be very hard to look at a piece of art in and of itself without it being influenced by the artist that created it. One starts to wonder if the piece would have been the same if that person hadn't believed a certain way or done certain things or if those thoughts and experiences shaped and influenced that person in such a way that had they done otherwise the book or painting or movie would have turned out differently than the way we know and love it. Would Jim Morrison have been remembered by many as a rock legend if he hadn't turned to drugs for his person demons? Would Vincent Van Gogh have ever done the paintings he did if his hospitals stays were more helpful? Would Leni Riefenstahl ever have produced anything so memorable in cinema if she hadn't accepted Adolph Hitler's invitation? I honestly cannot say. No one can.

    But as hard as it might be for one to separate the art from the artist I would say that we really shouldn't try that hard to do so. I would ask that we try to look at each as part of an equation and consider that an artist's past should not be ignored rather it should be a part of the foundation that might be part of the elements that help make the final product in much the same way a tragedy, moment of joy or injustice might have also inspired someone. That is not "good" or "bad". That is life. Let history decided on the art and the artist but let us not allow one to prejudge the other.

  • Diallo Tyson

    This is slightly off topic, but people aren't REALLY excusing racists for their racism because of the time period they were born in, because that's kind of mind blowing. If you want to read the works of a racist author, whatever. Go forth and read. I can separate the private from the professional as well as onyone. But PLEASE don't disregard their RACISM as if it's merely a proclivity for not bathing because that's the time period they were born in and they didn't know about hygiene and soap. That's pretty insulting.

  • Nobody is excusing racism. But it isn't fair to treat a person who is constantly exposed to racism in a matter-of-fact way the same way you would someone who is much more aware of such things, but actively chooses to stay in ignorance and hatred anyway. This doesn't make them less problematic, just gives context and food for thought, if only in a "what if" sort of manner.

  • Diallo Tyson

    That doesn't make any sense. That infuriatingly makes no sense. And it is excusing racism. How do you delineate between those who were constantly exposed to racism in a matter-of-fact way and those who were much more aware of such things? How do you know? That equivocation is equally insulting. There is no "Racism Scale." You're not a better racist because you never burned a cross in someone's yard. If you change, then bravo. But don't act like their racism was somehow less than others.

  • First off, back the hell up with the attitude. I got enough crap going on in my life, I don't need some Internet crusader copping some righteous indignation in a goddamn comments section and snapping at me for daring to not have a simplistic view of the world.

    I didn't say there were different types of racists. That IS stupid. Racism is racism. I said I don't automatically write off people just because they lived in a time of widespread ignorance. OF FUCKING COURSE THEY WERE RACISTS. THEY JUST LIVED DURING A TIME WHEN RACISM WASN'T SEEN AS A BAD THING. SO WHY WOULD THEY THINK OTHERWISE? This idea of all humans being equal regardless of, well, anything, is still a very young idea in the context of human civilization. There is no delineation. Just an acknowledgement of historical reality.

    Racism is based on ignorance, whether intentional or not. People fear what they don't understand, and they hate what they fear. The only true cure for racism is knowledge. With your rationale, why should anyone bother changing their racist views? I mean, there could never be a slow,growing understanding over time, no sir. It has to be a switch that gets flipped, either anything goes or nothing does. Sorry, but people are more complicated than that. And I try to acknowledge that, rather than just shut down any discussion because I hear something I don't like.

    That is my view on it. Not an excuse, but another viewpoint. I can understand WHY they may have felt that way then, even though I don't agree with it. So excuse me if I don't enjoy a black and white view of the world.

  • kucheza

    Dude nothing gets white people so riled up as a black person calling them on their quaint and convenient theories on racism, huh? White people raised by racists in racist environments who ended up fighting against racism alongside the disenfranchised prove that environment is not everything. White people who have college/advanced degrees who are *currently* all up in our politics/media trying to disenfranchise/demonize black people are also proof that ignorance is not the only basis of racism. Environment and education are important, but they don't wholly determine what kind of person you're going to be. Not every human is going to rise to the level of choosing his or her better angels, but then not every human gets invoked as literary canon of one sort or another, either.

  • foolsage

    "Racism is based on ignorance, whether intentional or not. People fear what they don't understand, and they hate what they fear. The only true cure for racism is knowledge."

    Very well said indeed.

    Today, we have devices in our offices and homes and pockets and purses that allow us to access the vast majority of human knowledge, and the vast majority of living humans for that matter. We ought to know that all people are really the same in most regards, and we shouldn't hate or fear others for being different. We have no excuse.

    In the past, that simply was not true. Rapid transport is also a new phenomenon, historically speaking, and culture takes a while to catch up to huge changes like these. Tribalism and rejection of outsiders was the norm in the past across the globe. That has a lot of attendant problems, and bigotry is one of the most prominent.

  • foolsage

    An ordinary person born in Virginia in 1700 would NOT have the same attitudes about slavery as an ordinary person born in Virginia in 2000. That's just common sense. If you feel differently, then I am deeply confused by your views. If you agree, then your indignation seems misplaced.

  • Diallo Tyson

    And that makes it OK? Silly me, wanting to hold racists accountable. If you were to go back in time, is that what you would tell ALL minorities who were suffered from racism? "Hey bruh, that's just how it is. We feel you're subhuman because, well that's how everyone feels. Nothing personal. Don't worry, though. It gets better in 200 years." I'm sure that would be solace to those working 15 hour shifts in the field.

    One question. You ever ask yourself WHY people in 1700 felt that way in the first place? Why would anyone inherently feel that owning other humans was OK? You think maybe THAT'S the bigger point?

    But, I'm the one with the problem. Makes sense.

  • kucheza

    Just a historical footnote, Quakers and other abolitionists would object to the whole "no ordinary [I'm assuming white is an unspoken adjective] person back in the day would have resisted racism" thing.

  • foolsage

    No, the fact that racism was common in many places and times in the past didn't "make it ok" at the time. I didn't suggest anything of the sort. No, I wouldn't express the racist sentiments you tried to put into my mouth either, and no, I also wouldn't offer slaves pointless insight about a future they'd never see, if I had a time machine or whatever your hypothetical scenario was meant to suggest.

    Yes, of course I've asked myself why people felt that way, because I happen to feel strongly about bigotry.

    You seem so worked up in your indignation that you're falsely attributing views and emotions to anyone that disagrees with you. It's not terribly polite or constructive, as an FYI.

    I didn't say or suggest that you're the one with the problem, either. I might need to change my position on that point if you remain so needlessly hostile though. :)

  • Diallo Tyson

    I'm far from needlessly hostile. I haven't attacked anyone. I am worked up by those that are equivocating racism as if people born before 1960 had no choice in whether they were racist or not. But, hey let's have a civil discussion.

    You replied to a post I made about there not being a difference between "passive" racists and "active" racists by saying that people born in 1700 thought differently than those born in 2000. You said you were deeply confused by my views.

    I feel there is NO difference between "types" of racists. You either are or you're not. You choose to be or you don't. Whether born in 1700 or 2000. I'm sure there were those who grew up around racism that weren't racists. I know this because racism has been prevalent in this country since its inception. So it wasn't a fait accompli that one would automatically be racist given their surroundings. My initial point was that "explaining away" people's racism is insulting. It takes their responsibility away.

    So those are my views. I don't know that it's all that unreasonable. If you have a counterpoint, I'd honestly love to hear it.

  • Krystyna

    You've gotten a lot of completely ridiculous but unsurprising hate on here for your comments. But I just wanted to applaud you for being the only one on this comment thread to say what I was thinking. Which is that racism didn't just disappear. It's built into our entire legal system, our education system, the infrastructure of our entire country, and it affects the way people are treated on a daily basis. It makes no sense to say that people back then were living in a racist culture, so of course they were racists, because we still live in a society where racism is present every day. I'm not going to leave a long-winded comment here, I just wanted to give you props for calling out the truth. I'll just leave a quote from Malcom X: "Racism is like a Cadillac. They bring out a new model every year."

  • foolsage

    Fair enough. I am not forgiving or excusing any bigotry, to be very clear. However, it's quite true that almost all bigotry is the product of the environment in which people live. In that sense, I think it's unreasonable to ignore the context and think of all racists as the same.

    In just the same sense, people's opinions about child labor have changed over time. I don't excuse or forgive people who, centuries ago, espoused views about how children ought to work in factories for sixteen hours a day, but I don't view them in the same light that I view someone who holds similar views today. Why not? The person who holds those views today should know better, but I don't have the same expectation of the person born centuries ago.

    Again, that doesn't mean that I condone child labor, merely that I view support of such in the context of the times.

    A person born in Virginia in 1700 who felt that all men were truly equal, and that slavery was abhorrent in all senses and in all times and places, would have been a very exceptional person indeed. I would be VERY impressed by such a person. A person born in Virginia in 2000 who holds the same views would hardly be of interest and would impress nobody, because that's now a commonplace attitude. I'm sure you can see how this same argument can be made for bigoted instead of enlightened views.

    I'll honestly have a lower opinion of someone today who espouses a foolish view than I would of someone who held that same foolish view 300 years ago, pretty much regardless of what the nature of the foolishness might be. Again, that's not because the moral absolutes of what's right and what's wrong have changed, but because better education is available now, and because our society has become more aware of and less tolerant of bigotry. Really, this is about salience, in my view anyhow.

    I do understand your view, truly. You're saying that bigotry has always been wrong, and that societal acceptance of a wrong doesn't make it right. I agree wholeheartedly. You also don't think there's any value to expressing nuance about bigotry, but I don't agree on that point; I do think there's a difference between e.g. feeling nervous around a young black man, and belonging to the KKK. Both reflect bigotry, but they're not the same, are they? They don't cause the same harm to others, and they don't reflect the same depth of commitment to bigoted views.

  • L.O.V.E.

    When it comes to literature, particularly classical literature (but applicable to other arts and sciences) I long learned to separate the artist from the art. I learn about the artist to provide context to the work and its meanings, but I treat the art as its own living thing. They are discrete entities that need not be soiled by their creator, any more than I would have disdain for a child because of his/her parents.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    That's kind of how I feel about something like Enders Game. The book itself - that one, anyway, the only one of his I've read - doesn't espouse his anti-gay views, and does have a thought-provoking story. I'd recommend people check it out of a library.

    But I love the writings of many of our founding fathers, even though they, er OWNED SLAVES even while some of them wrote that slavery was immoral.

    Take what is good from people. Learn it'll take you a little while to sort through it. Learn to discard what you can't abide.

  • BWeaves

    There is a part of me that deplores censoring anyone for any thing they have written. However, I have no problem censoring myself when the magic is gone. It's sort of like when I get a crush on an actor, and then find out he's a dickweed, and he no longer moistens my lions (sic).

  • foolsage

    Choosing not to buy a book is not censorship. Advising others not to read a book is not censorship. Censorship involves literally removing the author's ability to express himself or herself; e.g. blocking the publication or sale of the book.

  • $27019454

    I am a pretty judgy person much of the time. i am also an avid, slavering reader. This article on Pajiba (and the issue at large of the work versus the person) gives me the major sads. I cannot click on any of these links.

    Here's a point I ponder when I skirt this issue: Maybe the person was horrible. Maybe the work is significant and amazing. But just as no man should be judged solely by his worst act, he should not be forgiven just because of the significance of his work.

    I have NO idea what I just said.

    But if any of you spoil Daphne DuMaurier for me, I'll cut a bitch.

  • PaddyDog

    I heard DuMaurier hated mandolin players.

  • foolsage

    I heard she had chronic halitosis.

  • PDamian

    I heard she was a lousy tipper.

  • $27019454

    I die. I die.

  • JJ

    "As for me, in my capacity as a bookseller, I don’t offer up “Ender’s
    Game” to curious young sci-fi readers anymore. I steer them towards
    Douglas Adams, Frank Herbert or Patrick Rothfuss."

    I can relate to everything else in this article, all of the grappling with where to draw a moral line if one can exist when it comes to artists, except for this.

    So, as a result, do then you wish that you'd hadn't read and experienced books by authors whom you later found to be "problematic?" Like many here, I read Ender's Game as a kid, and while now I revile his views, I wouldn't take that away from someone else. Isn't that growth process important?

  • Ruthie O

    Hmmmm... Good question. How do folks around here feel about used books? For me, my motivation for not buying any more Orson Scott Card books is because I don't want the money I spend on the book to end up in his hands and then in the bank account of the National Convention of Homophobes Who Are Offended You Think They Are Homophobes (the National Organization of Marriage). Used copies allow the stories to be read and discussed, but then the money never ends up in the pockets of bigoted asshats.

  • foolsage

    I see that as a valid solution to the problem.

  • marumori

    There's a huge difference between choosing to recommend less problematic books and actively discouraging the reading of problematic books. Nowhere did Joanna say she wouldn't sell Ender's Game, just that she wouldn't go out of her way to recommend it.

  • JJ

    It is a fair point and good distinction. I'm admittedly battling with the idea of recommending something based on my moral purview versus something that is largely believed to be a great novel.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I think if someone's soliciting your opinion on reading material, it's perfectly OK to tell them exactly what you think and let them make up their own mind. You can comment honestly on the work without necessarily recommending anything, and add a big red caveat about why the author is a major douchebag.

  • JoannaRobinson

    Oh yes, I will sell Ender's Game. There are booksellers who preach at the counter. I don't do that. Your book choice is yours, not mine. "Educating" someone is not my job. But as marumori said, I don't have any problem steering. Yes I'm glad I read Ender's Game, but my issues with Card (who does NOT get the benefit of historical context) are strong enough that I'd be pretty okay with my kids and any kid I know and love not reading Ender's Game. But that's me. Not you.

  • JJ

    Of course. For me, I'm grateful for having had many challenging or problematic books recommended to me while growing up and am extremely grateful to not have been "steered" around views that I ultimately ended up disagreeing with.

  • foolsage

    Agreed. I wouldn't KNOW e.g. that Ayn Rand's views were morally abhorrent to me unless I took the time to actually read what she wrote.

  • Maguita NYC

    It is a very valid point that you bring about. However, in this age of broader social consciousness, where does your social responsibility exactly stop in regards to contemporary bigots?

    Or does it? Honest question, not being facetious in the least.

  • JJ

    Where does it stop with respects to what when it comes to contemporary bigots?

  • Maguita NYC

    Can we say 1986?

    Not too far, and not too close. Right before internet access, when the population realized the AIDS epidemic was exacerbated by an intolerant government making an otherwise easily-available treatment in Europe inaccessible to Americans. At that time, people started recognizing how filtered the press was, and often to suit political purpose.

    I was too young then, but my parents started loudly speaking of it, and kept on ever since.

  • $27019454


  • Bea Pants

    This may get long and rambly. So I apologize in advance.

    1) This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend who was condemning a certain historical figure due to their support of eugenics. The thing is, history is FULL of racists and misogynists. It wasn't until the second half of the last century that it started to become socially unacceptable to be those things. Before that...hell most most white abolitionists didn't even believe in equality of the races (John Brown being a notable exception). Most of us would like to believe that if we lived a hundred years ago we'd love every human being of every race as a brother (or sister) but realistically most people hold on to the values their parents instill in them unless they are significantly challenged (e.g. by the Civil Rights Movement).

    2) Given that most of these artists are dust in their graves by this point, I don't feel like I'm financially supporting things that are against my principles by purchasing their work.

    3) The works that I love by those particular artists aren't reflective of their beliefs which I find repellent. For example, as a teen I LOVED Anthem by Ayn Rand because I thought (mistakenly) that it was an ode to staunch individualism and freedom. When I learned all about Rand and her jacked up belief system, it shed a whole new light on the book and it's since been bounced from my list of favorite books. Conversely, The Shadow Over Innsmouth wasn't inherently different for me after finding out Lovecraft was a big old racist.

  • While not nearly as deadly or expensive, Christopher Hitchens also has the women aren't funny thing working against him.

  • PDamian

    Parameters ... I have them. Like PaddyDog (excellent post, BTW), I distinguish between historical racists and present-day racists. I also make some allowances for social and economic class, which allows me to enjoy Kipling and other British Victorians and Edwardians, and for certain personal circumstances like illness and sexual repression, which allows me to enjoy Flannery O'Connor. To put it another way: both Kipling and O'Connor are products of their environments, and while I greatly admire people who manage to transcend their early experiences and settings, I'm not overly critical of those who can't manage to do so. Why admire the transcendent if anyone can do it -- and if anyone can do it, is it transcendent?

    On the other hand, there are things I can't excuse, regardless of time or place. Polanski rapes a child? Fuck him and his "genius." Woody Allen writes great roles for women (as a recent, fatuous article in the NYTimes states)? He took advantage of a minor in his care, if not his custody. Fuck him, too, and the actresses making excuses for him. He's not absolved because he wrote you an Oscar-winning role.

    Unfortunately for me, I love Dickens, and I didn't find out about his abominable treatment of his wife until I was an adult. I'm still grappling with that.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    It was a very strange BBC 4 Book Of The Week entry for me.

  • Maguita NYC

    Love your post. This made me reflect upon the importance of DIVERSE reading. You cannot forgo Sade, Nabokov, even Flaubert if you want to develop a more discerning palate in literature. No matter your disdain for the way they've lead their lives, or painted their heroes.

    And admitting to this bothers me, for can we apply the same philosophy to film making, and subsequently to film makers?

  • Sara_Tonin00

    um, you sure as hell can forgo Sade. It's an important footnote in history, but it is not great writing. It is pornography of the violent kind.

  • Maguita NYC

    "Are not laws dangerous which inhibit the passions?
    Compare the centuries of anarchy with those of the strongest legalism in any country you like, and you will see it is only when the laws are silent that the greatest actions appear."

    Sade is primordial in any philosophical-political conversation.

    Not all writers mentioned above were necessarily considered "great writers", and not all writers are necessarily appreciated equally by all (see Dickens references), but most foretold a future their contemporaries could never foresee. The power of a writer is the value of his words that gets you thinking outside the box. Whether you agree with it or not.

  • PDamian

    I think we can. If one claims to truly love any art form, then one has an active responsibility to develop that love, nurture it, and help it to grow into a mature, discerning and analytical love. I'm astonished by the number of people who say they love film, but can't name a single silent film of the 1920s or film noir or anything else filmed before 1970 or so. If one claims to love literature, one should at least sample literature of multiple genres and cultures. Love poetry? Step away from Yeats, Bishop, Larkin and Tess Gallagher, and try some Yehuda Amichai (fantastic, sexy love poetry) or Jorge Luis Borges. Love science fiction? Put down the William Gibson and get yourself some Octavia Butler. And don't forget the roots; grab some Jules Verne while you're at it!

    [Being Chicana, I usually put people who won't sample art outside their comfort zone as people who say they love Mexican food but eat at Taco Bell. Toss the friggin' chalupas out and get yourself some menudo!]

  • foolsage

    Hey now. Chalupas can be tasty. ;)

  • Maguita NYC

    "people who say they love Mexican food but eat at Taco Bell."

    Ha! Let the people eat their chalupas if they prefer, but have them admit that there is more than chalupas to Mexican food.

    I am still however quite iffy about your latest comment regarding film makers. For the life of me, I cannot watch a Polanski production no matter his reported genius. I saw the pictures of the girl, and I cannot forgive him the monstrosity of his acts on such a young naive CHILD.

  • PDamian

    Oh, I concur wholeheartedly. Like I said: parameters. There have been artists who were reviled whose reputations were rehabilitated due to changing mores, like Oscar Wilde. But I can't imagine any future in which rape becomes excusable -- and I don't want to.

  • Since it is indeed tradition here, in the case of any SRL, to point out any and all omissions:

    Ian Fleming
    Most Beloved Work: James Bond. Lesser known, the story for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
    Most Problematic Issue: Whooboy, what a racist.

    That does raise an interesting question: can an author really be "problematic" if their issues were more cultural than anything ingrained? If they grew up in and wrote their work during very repressive and ignorant times, can they really be held accountable for what ends up being values dissonance? Especially when they didn't live long enough to have those views challenged in the cultural zeitgeist?

    Card is problematic not just because he has awful views, but that he has exacerbated them immensely in direct contradiction to modern culture. A lot of these guys lived during periods where their views were not just tolerated, but celebrated in some cases.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Lesser known work THE BOOK Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which is barely the basis of the movie.

  • Sorry, I knew it was somehow connected but not quite to the film.

  • Aaron Schulz

    thats what i was thinking, Card is a sack of crap because he lives now and hates the gay, Rudyard Kipling was born in British India, he was taught from the star of his life that england and the british in general had a right to rule over India, and you know some of that was based on the idea that they were inferior people. Doesnt make it right but it makes me feel that hes a little less responsible.

  • LucyKlein

    It makes a different if their work directly or indirectly reflects their racism/homophobia/sexism.

    For example, I had to read "Glory Road" for a class, the teacher didn't mention that while Heinlein like strong woman, he also had serious love for bullshit female stereotype. In one scene the female love interest, Star, is upset their extra clothes were destroyed because she wanted to model for him. When she warns him about the dangers (he's not from her world) he tells her he'll spank her with her sword if she ever talks back to him, he makes her repeat what he just said to make sure she understand. I didn't finish the book.

    It's a little difficult to ignore a writer that's racist or sexist (those seem to be the big ones) when it's part of what their writing. A lot of the time it has nothing to do with the actual story or characters it's just random stereotypes of comments.

  • Aaron Schulz

    Yeah that does seem a bit more glaring then alot of the entries on the list.

  • Yossarian

    Maybe I need to do more reading but I would like to think that Geisel, Kipling, and London have at least demonstrated a capacity for human compassion and an affinity for progressive ideologies that would allow me to buy the "product of their time" excuse. I grew up in Indiana thinking that being gay was kind of weird and unnatural because I didn't know any better until progressive alt rock bands showed me the error of my ways as an adolescent.

    Geisel lived long enough to acknowledge and apologize for those early cartoons, and spent most of his life encouraging tolerance and acceptance. Some of the others on that list never got a chance to explain or contextualize because society never thought to question them because their views conformed to (were shaped by?) accepted social norms. Orson Scott Card, on the other hand, did have the opportunity to respond to criticism of his faults and he responded by being a bigoted asshole.

    And Hitch? Well, he's not necessarily wrong in claiming a moral imperative to removing Saddam Hussein from power regardless of WMDs or connections to al Qaeda. If we believe in universal human rights we should care about entrenched brutal regimes and be compelled to act. The justification was sound, his mistake was falling for "by any means necessary". Because it can always get worse, and did, and it was a direct result of the incompetence with which it was carried out. And Hitchens absolutely should have known better.

  • Heather Mooney

    Dear, departed Hitch- The man's intellect, wordcraft, and general badassery were lust provoking. As they say, brainy is the new sexy.

  • mariolatry

    Ugh, vomit provoking. The man never knew when to shut up.

  • The Lovecraft one hits me the hardest. Many of his stories are excellent, but when put in the context that he was expressing horror over the unknown other (which to him were non-whites and non-Americans), it just feels sad. You want that sort of brilliance to go untouched by something so gross.

    At the risk of sounding too Forest Gump: my ma was fond of saying that people who achieve great things and/or champion a great cause seem to have something very dark and upsetting tucked away to balance it all out.

  • emmalita

    I feel like Dr. Seuss grew as a person and used his later works to teach and encourage tolerance and egalitarianism.

  • NateMan

    Agreed. Seuss downright apologized for his previous views and publications.

  • Maguita NYC

    Proof that you can forgive those who had no better access to information for their ignorance, i.e. the era they lived in, but later on evolved with the times and became more embracing of diversity.

    As opposed to writers who live in today's world, but still forgo free access to global information in the name of bigotry.

  • It's in the name of bigotry, I agree, but I also think it goes more complicated than that. This is going to be a bit of a walk, but I promise there's a point:

    The sort of glib point is often made that our current cultural/political climate is highly polarized and that point is usually tied into a story about the sorry state of news media. As fashionable (and sort of cheap) as it is to say that, I definitely think there's some truth to that statement. The news media, in realizing that a more sensationalized and opinionated coverage garners a larger viewership, has contributed to the us-vs-them mentality that pervades issues great and small. There's very little room for understanding or concession. One of the symptoms of that is a nasty thing called confirmation bias.

    In broad terms, this simply means that people are more likely to believe things that validate their beliefs. In practice, this means that people choose the slanted news source that caters to them and sees the other opponent news sources as huge liars and dismiss whatever information comes from them.

    I think a similar concept is at play here. Bigots have their bigoted beliefs, so while they have access to information that could very well disabuse them of their ignorance, they don't, because they get the information they want elsewhere. Even when confronted with the truth, I think many bigots don't and won't believe it.

    This isn't to say that all bigots are beyond help and hope. They're not! Many, many people start with prejudices that they cast off later. But I feel like the issue of confirmation bias contributes to why many bigots never do.

  • Maguita NYC

    I respectfully disagree.

    Fox News.

    Would you forgive anyone demonstrating intentional racism because all they watch is Fox News?

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