Many years ago, I went to one of my first comic book conventions and met a writer/artist who I’d practically worshipped since I started collecting in the mid-eighties. It was my first time meeting someone I considered a legend. It couldn’t have been more of a let-down. The guy acted like I was wasting his time, shrugged off my compliments, and chided me for not bringing books from his latest series to sign.
I was nineteen and the experience was demoralizing. How could this guy, who created stories I loved, turn out to be such a tool? Today, getting very close to forty, I’m grateful for the experience. It was my first, and best, lesson in separating the work from its creator.
It’s an idea that makes sense on paper, but can be tough in real life. If you read a novel that touches you deeply, how can you not want the author to be a great person? After all, their art is a product of their self-expression. How can they touch so many people with a book, movie, etc., if they’re shallow in the day-to-day?
Well, it happens. It’s not unlike the psychologist who guides people to a better state of mind, all while their own life falls apart. People often don’t make sense on paper, so I worked very hard at keeping my hopes in check going forward.
But does it hit a point where you can’t separate the two? Take Roman Polanski. He’s one of the all-time great directors and probably still has the talent to make great movies. The problem is the whole “him raping a thirteen year-old and fleeing the country after the trial didn’t go his way” thing. I know he has his defenders, but if some guy down the street did the same thing, no one would feel sorry for him. I understand the guy was screwed up, but if he’d just done his time this whole thing wouldn’t be as big of a deal.
There’s a part of me that says it’s still okay to see his movies. They’re not about raping thirteen year-olds, after all. Isn’t what goes on in his life a separate issue from the content of his films? What about Orson Scott Card? Or even Woody Allen? Every time I read someone talking about boycotting their work, I see a reply about how their personal opinions or issues have nothing to do with the work itself.
But do certain creators take it to a point where it’s no longer about that separation, but instead about supporting a career of someone you don’t think deserves it?
I think it does. I don’t shell out any more money for Roman Polanski films. I can separate the artist from the art once he’s either turned himself in or shuffled off his mortal coil. I’ve also decided the same thing for Woody Allen, though that one hurts a lot more. While his good-to-bad ratio has tilted more towards bad in recent years, he’s still important to me as a creator. Twenty years ago, his movies opened my brain up about film making as a craft.
Of course, he could also be innocent, but when the victim herself steps forward to say he did it, I’ll fall on the side of not giving him any more of my money.
It’s not a perfect stance to take. I buy products all the time that are probably made in conditions I don’t agree with or the money goes to causes I don’t support. There comes a point, though, where it’s thrown in your face and you can’t ignore it. It may not be perfect, but you could go insane trying to be right all the time. If you take a realistic look at life, you know you have to choose your battles.
So I’ve chosen to not support certain artists in the present. I’ll make the effort to separate them from their work when they can no longer directly benefit from it. I think that’s as good as I can do for now.
By the way, I (and some friends) had dinner with Bruce Campbell about a year after that comic con incident. The guy was as cool as I’d hoped he’d be. It was good to know sometimes it can work out that way.