Can Art be Separated from the Artist?

Image retrieved from IMDb

These days, it’s difficult to be a fan of the entertainment industry. For one thing, most of the industry has been shut down for over five months, much like a lot of the rest of the world, and movie theaters only recently reopened. So there have been very few new movies to see and discuss in this time. But this is just a logistical reason it has been hard. The bigger reason is moral.

It happens way too often that I see someone whose work I enjoy has been exposed for any number of misdeeds. And I don’t just mean slightly controversial tweets or comments. When you find that Kevin Spacey, the actor who has portrayed so many iconic characters, has committed gross and heinous acts, it’s troubling. Or when Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who single-handedly created one of my favorite stories and worlds of all time, actively uses her massive voice, following, and influence to besmirch the rights of her fellow humans, I personally start to question the types of art and media I consume.

Now, I’m mostly writing this piece to try to work out my own feelings on this topic. Typically, movies are my main priority and the source of these thoughts and questions. What I tend to land on is the idea that so many people work on a film, and I don’t want to let a single person’s involvement ruin my enjoyment or the lessons I’ve learned. Because they likely aren’t the only person involved with a checkered past (the Kevin Spacey situation, for example, is its own animal, though, because of the gravity of the offenses). There is something undesirable in everyone’s.

But again, in some cases, this is more than a single mistake and those are what I want to focus on. Because too often I see people trying to “cancel” celebrities over minor perceived infractions. These are the plank in your eye versus a speck in another person’s eye situation. We can’t always be worried about making sure people in the public eye maintain a squeaky-clean image and persona, because that is impossible for anyone to maintain.

For some reason, though, the situation with J.K. Rowling has been bothering me more, in a strictly fan sense, than other celebrity problems. Harry Potter has been one of my favorite things since I was a kid. I’ve read all the books multiple times and seen all the movies even more. I even went to the Wizarding World in Orlando as part of my honeymoon. And I’m one of the few people in the world who was actually enjoying the Fantastic Beasts movies for what they are. 

But Rowling’s comments over the last few months have been troubling. Basically, she has been labeled a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) while only continuing to dig herself deeper and deeper into the hole. Thus, some ideas espoused in her Potter books have been reexamined – ideas about racial superiority and human rights are now seen in a different light because we know the biases of the person who wrote them.

The problem with all this is that she’s refused to let up. Her Twitter account can be a sad place to be when you don’t agree with her views. While just about every actor prominently involved with the Potter series spoke up for trans rights in the wake of Rowling’s comments, Rowling shows no signs of remorse, understanding, or even the desire to understand.

So where does this leave me as a fan? As someone whose house is partially decorated with Potter merchandise, I want to engage in the stories I love so much and which have helped shape who I am and how I see the world and consume stories. While this has all been going on over the last few months, I’ve often had it on my mind. And I do think it’s different from Spacey since Rowling created the Wizarding World and infused it with her worldview.

Basically, the conclusion I have come to is that I can still be a fan of Rowling’s work and love, appreciate, and cherish the lessons I’ve learned from it. And on a technicality, I can still watch the movies and read the books – but only because I already own them. I don’t feel comfortable at this point in time spending more money of which she would get a cut. She already has enough money, power, and influence. And I’m only choosing this route because of how big Potter is in my life. I can totally see and understand a lesser fan deciding to abandon the fandom altogether. And I wouldn’t fault them.

But while this is the conclusion I’ve come to with J.K. Rowling, it doesn’t mean it’s a hard and fast rule. Separating art from the artist is highly a case by case basis where you need to evaluate the case and even yourself in the process. It’s about deciding what you believe in, deem acceptable, and want to support in some way. There’s no right answer. And unfortunately, I’ll likely continue to get chances to put my method to the test.

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