(TRIGGER WARNING – CHILD ABUSE – PEDOPHILIA – RAPE)
This morning was a very disillusioning one full of debate and controversy. It began with the sickening news of one of my literary inspirations being a real life monster. It has transformed into a conversation about whether or not people can separate the person from the art – and whether or not we should. It is an interesting argument and I believe being able to do so indicates a useful yet troubling skill borne of personal detachment, distance, and denial. Many disagree with me and say that the art in the world should stand on its own merit – regardless of the personality of its creator. In many instances I agree but I draw the line at child abuse. That is a hard line for me – and knowing that one of my idols was busy destroying her female child while she created a world of feminist heroines is truly horrifying to me.
Normally, I pay no attention to celebrity news because I too am detached and I don’t know any of those people nor do I really care about what they do. I make no judgements on how they live or how they die, unless they hurt someone along the way. Even then, I tend to be lenient because it doesn’t affect me personally – until it comes to children. I have no kids of my own by choice – but I do love the many I have in my life – and I cannot tolerate cruelty or abuse toward someone who cannot defend themselves. When Michael Jackson died, I think I was the only person on earth who refused to listen to his music or celebrate his life. When Roman Polanski’s victim recommended that the charges on her behalf were dismissed, I applauded her decision simply because it was hers to make but have still never seen one of his movies, nor will I ever watch a Woody Allen film. Bill Cosby, James Brown, Ike Turner, Chris Brown, Rick James – they were predators and abusers of women and family if even half of the alleged charges against them are to be believed and so was Hemingway. Millions of pieces of art, literature, comedy, and music would never be heard or seen if we judged it all by the disturbed people who have created it. Where then is the line drawn? When do we see the art as an extension of the drunken or cruel person who makes it and refuse to support it?
For me, it’s all about the children. I realize that it’s a shade of grey that makes me uncomfortable, in that one type of abuse shouldn’t be worse than another. All of it is deplorable. I just can’t get past the person who would prey on kids. It’s why I don’t read Ginsberg, despite what I hear is amazing poetry. It is why hearing the news of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s horrendous personal life is so upsetting to me. Her books were my first glimpse into feminism and how strong and beautiful the female identity could be. It shaped my personality, my preferred fiction genre, and my own writing. I was looking forward to sharing it with the young girls in my life as soon as they were old enough to understand. I am heartbroken that now I do not feel I can do that – and to have such an emotional reaction to such news is bewildering.
After all, I have already read everything I was going to read by her. The books are already purchased – I cannot undo it. The argument some posit about the fact that no proceeds can go to her anyway, as she is dead, makes some sense…and that not sharing a book that influenced so many women in the world could be considered a waste. I get that. I also feel that knowing what little I do about her alleged abuse has turned my stomach all morning and I can’t in good conscience use that book to help shape little girls’ destinies, not with hearing about what she did to her own little girl. I don’t think I can ever pick it up again, for that matter – though the urge to look for clues to her behavior in her fiction is strong. Hindsight is always 20/20.
The good news is that many of her co-authors or writers who wrote stories based on hers are now donating a large portion of their sales to things like RAINN or child abuse centers. That’s wonderful – and who knows, maybe I’ll read some of those. But the haunting work of her daughter, Moria Greyland, in music and verse is enough to make me weep, particularly her poem “Mother’s Hands”. To support anything that has even a tiny connection to her mother, including sharing her very influential and inspiring book, after reading that piece is something I am not capable of.
Maybe I’m too sensitive. Maybe we should separate all the art from the artist and accept the darkness as something that does not effect the consumer. It’d certainly be easier. But how can we support the person financially or creatively while their victims plead for acknowledgement and help? How can we say that a book, movie or song is greater than the suffering that the creator inflicted on another human? How do we put Woody Allen’s genius in front of his daughter? I don’t think we can, without losing a little of ourselves. But, as I said, maybe I’m too sensitive. You decide.
(Scroll through the article to see the poetry)