Separating the art from the artist

Science fiction author Charlie Jane Anders takes on the J.K. Rowling brouhaha in a post to her Buttondown newsletter. Anders asks, can we separate the art from the artist? Or, to be more specific, can we separate Hogwarts from notorious transphobe J.K. Rowling?

Anders reminds us that not every artists gets to have their art separated from the artist:

“…I don’t think marginalized creators, including trans creators, ever quite get that luxury. Our identities are always going to be bound up with the stuff we create, even if we aren’t explicitly writing about our own marginalizations, and we’re highly dependent on our own communities to support us. Someone like Rowling has a lot more leeway to behave like a jerk in public, because she belongs to most of the default categories: white, cis, straight, abled. If you are not viewed immediately as a ‘mainstream’ creator, your life is going to be scrutinized a lot more no matter what you do….”

Anders also points out that part of the problem with J.K. Rowling is that she’s been turned into a celebrity:

“We really need to stop turning authors into celebrities, y’all. It’s toxic and shitty, and leads to bad behavior at least some of the time. One of the many problems besetting the publishing industry is this star system, which turns a handful of authors into supergods, and keeps everyone else, even pretty successful authors, in a lesser category. Even if someone wrote books that are really, really good and they’re selling like hotcakes, let’s resist the impulse to turn this person into the One True Author To Rule Them All.”

Anders has a good point. If J.K. Rowling hadn’t been turned into a celebrity (acknowledging that she herself was eager to turn herself into a celebrity), we would not care what she thought about transgender people. Nobody pays much attention to Jane Yolen’s opinion about much of anything, even though she’s a successful writer who’s written a successful book about a wizard’s school (Wizard’s Hall), along with some 350 other books. While Yolen gets to check off the same identity boxes that Rowling checks off — white, cis, straight, abled — she’s not a celebrity like Rowling. (Parenthetical note admitting my bias: I love some of Jane Yolen’s books, and in my opinion, she’s a better writer than Rowling.)

So yeah. Maybe we really do need to separate the art from the artist.