When an Author’s Politics are a Problem

Given the recent controversies surrounding Frank Miller and Orson Scott Card, I thought it might be a good idea to explore what to do when an author’s politics (or other beliefs) become a problem.

If you don’t like an author’s works, then his or her politics won’t influence whether you read the work. Example, I read Card’s Ender’s Game in high school and haven’t touched a work of his since because I didn’t like it. I find his politics scary, but it doesn’t change whether I read him or not.

Now, let’s take Frank Miller and Ian Fleming as writers that one likes, but then discovers that their politics are scary. What do you do? Well, if the issue is more important than your enjoyment of their work, then quit reading them. If you are torn, you love the work but you don’t want to support the artist financially, then check out their stuff from the library (or buy their books used). And if you want to purge the author from your bookshelves, donate or sell the book. Then at least you or someone else is making money off of the author rather than the author him/herself.

For example, given Miller’s rant, I am not going to buy any of his stuff again. But if I ever want to read or watch his stuff, I’ll just check it out of the library (like I did with all but The Hard Goodbye).

Now, dead authors are more problematic. How do you deal with authors whose politics were mainstream (or not) in their day, but are today out of bounds? Again, you don’t have to read them. But if one wishes to read the work, look at it critically. Be aware of the history and what your opinions are on it. If reading Huckleberry Finn troubles you, that is perfectly legitimate. Be aware of why it makes you uncomfortable.

Take Ian Fleming. The James Bond novels are racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and classist. Reading Fleming when Bond goes off on those monologues are painful. But just as Fleming deploys stereotypes, those stereotypes are sometimes subverted (whether Fleming intended it or not). This subversion can come either by the characters themselves or by the knowledge that the Bond series can be read as wish fulfillment on the part of Fleming himself. That Pussy Galore “gets cured” of her lesbianism by falling in love with Bond is laughable, and reveals the narrative for what it is, a straight man’s fantasy. That similar antics were common in the literature of the day should come as no surprise, and my anger at it should not come as a surprise either.  And who can’t feel a sense of satisfaction when the American and British intelligence services so grossly underestimate Mr. Big’s operation and power?

In the end, how one deals with an author’s politics is up to the reader. Should authors stay silent when it comes to speaking about politics? I would say no, but don’t lay everything out there. If one’s political positions are so outside the pale of accepted political discourse, maybe one should not advertise it.

P.S. Rachelle Gardner has a good list of things authors may not want to write on their blog at her blog.


Posted on November 15, 2011, in Books and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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