This discussion post was somewhat inspired by Chuck Wendig’s rant about the idea that writers and creative types should keep their political opinions to themselves. It’s Chuck Wendig, so, uh, expect profanity. I know that from the reader side of things, people often don’t want to know what the opinions of authors they like are — who wants to think about the fact that the man who wrote Ender’s Game is a homophobic, racist asshat?
But the thing is, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t interact with authors on twitter, get excited about them interacting with us and RTing silly pictures of cats, and then get annoyed because they’ve expressed an opinion on Brexit or the US elections. If we want them to be humans we can interact with, then we’ve gotta accept that they have opinions too — and also, of course, that they will make mistakes, say the wrong thing, and otherwise be flawed humans like the rest of us. We’ve got to accept that they live in the same world as us, and that by giving them an audience we’re also giving them a voice. It’s not a voice we have to listen to, but it is a voice they can use, if they so choose.
As for where I stand on whether I’ll read books by people I disagree with, it’s complex. I don’t want Orson Scott Card to profit by me, for example. But I do accept that authors are going to make mistakes and say things I find less than palatable — I’m thinking, for example, of Elizabeth Bear’s involvement in the fandom discussions called Racefail ’09, or Robin Hobb’s rant about the medicating of mental illnesses. In the end, for me, it’s a matter of degree, and also heavily ruled by gut feeling, and tempered by whether the person seems to have learned from or changed since a given meltdown or argument or horribly expressed opinion. I’ve bought Bear’s books, and I will probably buy more of Hobb’s in future (though goodness knows I’m behind on reading her series). I can’t foresee myself buying Card’s books, though. And I’m on the fence about Benjanun Sriduangkaew.
This is getting away from the point, and I’ve covered it before in my post about Liking Problematic Things. The thing is, I would never contest that people have the right to decide that someone’s politics preclude supporting them financially (by buying their books or tie-in merchandise, or whatever). Likewise, I wouldn’t contest that you have the right to say you like something anyway, and you’re not going to make your escapism a political act by buying or not buying particular books based on the authors’ views. Or any part of the spectrum between those two.
The thing now is that people are saying authors shouldn’t express their opinions. They’re interested only in their art and they don’t want to know what they think of feminism or gay marriage. Well, okay, that’s totally fine — so just read their work, and don’t follow them on social media. If someone turns out to be unpleasant as a person on social media, unfollow them and keep reading their books, or never pick up another again, it’s up to you. (Me? I don’t follow Nnedi Okorafor or Ekaterina Sedia anymore, for various reasons; I still read their books.)
But it’s surely not revolutionary to point out that authors are people, who have to live in the same world as us. If they have any influence, any platform, it’s what we give them by being interested in their lives outside the pages of their books. Of course they’re going to use that to get across their opinions — and it’s our responsibility to opt out if we’re not interested.