I recently watched this video by Jim Sterling (Warning: transphobic content used to illustrate the point) regarding the recent release of the video game Hogwarts Legacy. Sterling is a trans woman and is open about it and speaks to it often on her channel (which has been running many years) which is mostly PC game journalism.
The Tl;Dw version is Sterling is no fan of J.K. Rowling and Rowling’s antagonism towards the trans community. During the video Sterling says that, while she is not saying no one should buy the game, she is saying that she, as a trans woman, cannot trust anyone who does. No amount of, “But it’s just a game.” works for her. While maybe not an “enemy” of trans people she certainly does not see them as allies.
And it is this that I wonder about for the purposes of this thread and something I have wondered about before.
For example, I was surprised when I found out Eric Clapton was a racist and (later) an anti-vaxxer. Should I burn all my Clapton albums? Turn off the radio when a song of his comes on? This can go the other way too such as when people in the South decided K.D. Lang was too gay for comfort and stopped playing her music that they apparently enjoyed previously.
We can do this with painters and actors and authors and so on.
I get Sterling wanting more support for the trans community and people could avoid buying a given product that a transphobe profits from.
I think my problem is this then becomes a world of people with an axe to grind and it makes consuming various art very difficult. Keeping track of who is on the “approved list” (of which there would be many different ones) becomes difficult.
To be fair, I knew of J.K. Rowling’s transphobic history before this and I have not purchased the game (although I cannot say I avoided the purchase to support trans causes).
So, should we consider an artist’s background before we do something that might give them our money? More, should we disdain those who do consume that art if we dislike the artist?
“I don’t trust anyone who plays a game because of an issue I feel strongly about” is a bit nuts, especially given most people playing the game are probably unaware of the issue. I was playing Xenonauts last night. For all I know, the producer of that game is an anti-semite. Should I be distrusted because I didn’t know that? I’ve already paid for it, can I keep playing it now?
The idea we must filter all our entertainment for political purity is so obviously a terrible idea that I cannot understand how adults can’t see the issues. If an entertainment product is very specifically meant to raise money for the Nazi Party clearly that’s way over any line I am willing to cross, but “a person involved is IMHO bad” is just not a practical way to live. A video game, movie, or TV show involves so many people that it is absolutely impossible to watch/play one that did not involve significant input from people you will find repellent. Impossible.
Like, can I no longer watch The Marvellous Ms. Maisel because Zachary Levi is an antivaxxer? (Or so I read from the social media panic.) Should I avoid Chris Pratt films because he’s apparently a Republican? Or maybe you’re a Republican and believe I should eschew Neil Young music? It’s fucking impossible.
Don’t get me wrong; if someone elects not to consume it, hey, fair enough. Screaming at someone else not to is just nuts.
I think it can vary depending on the art form. For something non-verbal, like music, it doesn’t worry me. In fact as a musician I have played with people who I suspect have very different worldviews from mine: but as long as we stick to the music and avoid religion and politics etc, no worries. Likewise visual art, I guess, though I’m neither a creator nor an expert in that field.
When it comes to verbal arts, it gets trickier, I guess. When I think of novelists I like (often in the SF field), I suspect I gravitate to authors who I would probably mostly get along with: socially liberal but scientifically realistic. But I can sometimes read an author whose views I dislike, on the basis of ‘this is well written, even though I don’t like the worldview’.
Yes - I do this. Doesn’t mean I avoid every artist I dislike. But I try and do my research on artists whose work I consume.
It depends. Quietly consume the art in your own private space? Not really, that’s on your own conscience. Openly stan for them? That’s more sus. Try and shut me up when I try and raise awareness of whatever it is they did? Hell, yes.
I know trans people who have all but begged me to read the Harry Potter series, so there cannot be only one correct response to the issue. Everyone has to decide for themselves what they can and cannot tolerate. Speaking for myself, there’s no rhyme or reason whatsoever to what I can and can’t tolerate. Some stuff I can let go and some I can’t.
I’m not going to let my purchase of a video game be dictated by the personal feelings of a stranger on the Internet. But in this case I definitely don’t want any of my dollars going to support Rowling. But I’m also not even interested in the product.
Some art, like comedy or literature, is somewhat dependent on me agreeing roughly with the artist. Other art not so much. I really don’t care about a actor, musician, painter or sculptor’s’ political views unless they put it front and center.
Without making an argument one way or the other, I think there are some false equivalencies in the OP’s examples. JK Rowling is alive, active, and making money from the sale and licensing of her intellectual properties. Moreover, she’s on the record as saying she explicitly views consumption of her products as endorsement of her views - in other words, she is tangibly encouraged to continue pushing her agenda when you consume Harry Potter products.
This is a different situation than you listening to your Eric Clapton albums, which you had already purchased in good faith. Ditto reading H.P. Lovecraft, who is dead and cannot profit from his work nor propound his racist views.
That said, here’s my take: I’m trans, and I don’t trust folks who still buy and/or publicly celebrate Harry Potter stuff. I don’t go out of my way to shame or chastise people who do - I’m a librarian, and I’ve given HP books to folks who asked for them more times than I can count. But Rowling’s transphobia is well-known, and trans folks have by and large communicated that we’re hurt by it. If you can’t abstain from buying her products, I think it shows how little you value the feelings of trans folks. Just my two cents.
EDIT: By way of more explicitly answering the OP question, my ethics are largely based on questions of consent and harm. I think that we generally have a duty to minimize the harm our actions cause. You listening to a Clapton CD that you already own, in the privacy of your own home, manifestly doesn’t harm anyone. You going out and buying a new Clapton product, while publicly pronouncing that you’re doing so and don’t care that he’s racist… I think that’s shakier moral ground. As with much in life, everyone has to do their own calculus.
As I mentioned before, I spoke to a trans friend of mine who is a huge fan of Harry Potter and they told me despite their issues with Rowling, I would be doing myself a massive disservice not to read the books.
I still couldn’t bring myself to do it, but the point is, what “trans people feel” is an appropriate response to Rowling’s bigotry varies from person to person and it’s strange for that not to be recognized or acknowledged in this moral calculus of what we are all collectively supposed to do about it.
I said “by and large,” not “universally.” Nobody’s a monolith, I acknowledge that. If you like, we can remove “feelings” from the equation entirely. Rowling is a billionaire with an enormous public following. She uses her wealth and power to influence public opinion (and by democratic extension public policy) against trans rights.
Of course, the same argument holds true for lots of things - eating at any one of a thousand restaurant chains, buying any one of a million products that ultimately fund nefarious ends. I fully acknowledge that! It’s a complicated world. I do think there’s a special duty to avoid supporting persons or businesses that have publicly taken harmful positions, but that’s my moral calculus. Others will have their own.
Which seems quite an entitled position to take no matter where your views lean, when you are writing popular entertainment fiction. I mean, that goes well beyond “let my work stand on its merit”, it’s the author herself actively contributing to the “bubbling” of everything.
She’s a truly noxious human and that’s why she won’t get a cent from me.
I won’t watch Polanski movies either. I think generally once someone is dead, the calculus changes considerably. I once read the hell out of Nietzsche and can still articulate why I admire him so much while also knowing he was a raving misogynist and flawed in so many ways. I think Polanski is way worse than Nietzsche though.
She can view whatever she wants however she wants but, let’s be honest: (a) very, very few people are consuming Harry Potter franchise stuff because of her views (I’m sure some tiny amount of trolls are) and (b) if everyone stopped tomorrow, she’d just say she was being cancelled so now she’s gonna TERF even harder. She is not going to change her views or how vocal she is based on the success of a game or film or book when she’s already rich and can spend all day everyday being a shit on Twitter regardless of how well anything sells.
As for the OP, I suppose it’s entirely a case by case basis. I probably wouldn’t buy a new Roger Waters album based on his inane Ukraine remarks but that’s just because it wouldn’t be fun for me, not because I think his stated opinions hinge on my purchases. But that’s also something Rogers has direct involvement in. In the case of the Hogwarts Legacy game, Rowling had no input into the story or development and, although she’ll get her percentage of a penny per game sold for licensing the IP, it doesn’t feel the same to me as buying something she actively created within the last few years. It’s more akin to shopping at a store where the CEO donates to a political group you dislike. Depending on how strongly you feel about the cause, you may or may not decline to shop there but I don’t stand outside Chick-Fil-A saying everyone getting a sandwich must just not care about homosexuals or anyone using Twitter must hate trans people because its owner mocks pronouns and uses Twitter engagement to prove how much everyone loves him.
He said or wrote that he would have nothing to do with musicians who had not listened to Robert Johnson. Hunh.
Wagner was mentioned above. He was a pre Nazi, but I do enjoy his music.
Clint Eastwood is a wealthy jerk, but I watch Rawhide.
I am able to separate the person from the art.
I think we need to make some distinctions between “people whose views I dislike” and “people who are actively promoting dangerous ideologies”. I can read an author who thinks taxes are bad, and that government should stay out of their lives as much as possible. But Rowling has gone far beyond that. She doesn’t just “dislike” trans people, she’s using her fame to actively campaign against them, and their rights, pushing an agenda that is known to cause harm to real people.
Where the dividing line between “dislike” and “actively harmful” is can be debated, but I’m pretty sure Rowling has crossed it.
What kind of connection needs to exist between the artist and the product?
Certainly JK Rowling had nothing to do with the design or development of the video game and most of its visuals were lifted from the movies. (I have no idea how involved she was with the movies.)
I agree with the idea that, if you know someone is the worst, you’re probably offering tacit approval of those opinions by continuing to engage with their body of work. You can’t ironically listen to the Alex Jones podcast because you think it’s funny. I don’t think people need to audit everything they consume because no one has time for that, but people should do the best they can with the information they do have.
That said, I need a kind of minimum proximity between the artist and the work. Like I’m not going to cancel my NYT subscription because they ran some article Rowling wrote about children’s books 2 years ago.
In the nerd-o-sphere, there have been a growing contingent of people who want any mention of H.P. Lovecraft removed from Dungeons & Dragons. His name sometimes appears in lists of author’s whose work influenced the creators of specific products. I don’t recall anyone floating such an idea in 2010, but these days are different.