There was a bit of controversy in my field of vision this weekend. No, it wasn’t my nemesis disparaging a group of people after being told that a term he used was a horrible slur. The controversy cropped up on Doug TenNapel’s online comic, Ratfist. I’d say exactly what went down, but according to my Twitter feed, that’s already been covered in multiple locations with a variety of interesting and colorful terms thrown into the mix.
But, if you want to see it from the source, check out page 99 in the comic and then frolic down to the comments section; be warned: it gets kinda heated in there.
So, clearly, there are many ways to take the creator’s comments as well as other commentors’. I had my own knee-jerk reaction that peppered my facebook page and twitter feed, but I reined it in a bit because, hell, I compared Eric Cantor to C’thulhu a while back, so I don’t have much in the way of room to talk.
Anyway, it go to the point that Jon Lim and I actually started talking to the dude on Twitter. (Yes, my friends, that deserves italics. I tweeted to the guy who created Earthworm Jim.)
It was a really, really cool few minutes, and I was geeking out pretty hardcore – built on by my juggling of Fallout: New Vegas at the same time. Nothing particularly substantial was said, and I’m sure we’re just another couple voices in the crowd, but as it went on, Jon mentioned “disassociation” after TenNapel brought up a blogger writing about boycotting his work after having posted about listening to Wagner and watching Polanski films.
And that’s what started me thinking about it’s incredibly hard sometimes to separate the artist from the art. It’s like all of the Mel Gibson insanity that keeps cropping up every couple of years. The man is obviously a well of interesting insults, and a lot of times, the question crops up about whether people should keep giving him money. (Or, in other words, people start talking about a boycott.)
Now, as a Jew who – according to Mel – starts wars and is a horrible person all around, should I watch Braveheart? How about Apocalypto? Well, I shouldn’t watch Apocalypto, but that’s more because it was a dull movie that had an enraging ending. But I should watch Braveheart, because, historical warts and all, it’s a classic film. Same with Mad Max.
From that, you should be able to glean that I’m a person who (after the dust settles from bug-eyed self-righteous rage) believes that the art should be separated from the artist. If someone’s a terrible person, that doesn’t mean that his art is terrible. That just means I shouldn’t listen to what they have to say at risk of my head exploding.
Let’s take the case of Richard Wagner. Wagner is most famous among Americans for composing “Ride of the Valkyries,” a prelude piece that’s been used in films from Apocalypse Now to Rango. He is less famous for being a virulent anti-semite. He went so far as to once state “we always felt instinctively repelled by any actual, operative contact with them.” In addition to that, there’s a claim that Jews lacked passion enough to create art. Now, whether or not this was a professional anti-Semitism or a personal anti-Semitism seems to be up for debate, but it is quite obvious that it’s led to the perception that the man hated Jews.
And that leads to encounters like this:
See what happens when people don’t disassociate? Godwin’s Law is broken.
Is it right to flip out over that? Well, no. Not at all. A person’s views may be reflected in their work, but that’s a pretty big “may,” that depends on a reader or viewer’s interpretation, which is often wrong. I think it’d be a pretty big stretch to make the case that a piece composed for his wife is representative of Wagner’s hatred for German Jews, which brings me to my next thought.
As every English professor told me, when arguing a point about a work – or in relation to a work in any way – condemning the author for being who he is is verboten. See, you can condemn a work for being badly-written or performed or whatever, but you can’t say that the work sucks because the author’s a prick.
Dickens was liberal for his time, but that meant that while he wanted the best for English poor, he wished that the colonies would stay were they were and should thank their stars that the Crown did not blow them up with a Death Star.
And so as I read through the comments over at Ratfist and saw the shit going down, and then reflected about it much later and after a nap, some coffee, tea, sweating outside, and playing some video games, I thought about the above Curb Your Enthusiasm clip.
I don’t think anyone would defend the man in the tan jacket. He’s got a bit of a persecution complex and – it turns out – isn’t the best person, either. Yes, he makes a good point that racism should not be tolerated, but he does it in the wrong way. Instead of making a point about the work – or even making a point civilly, period – the man starts a screaming match with Larry.
And that’s about what we do online. It doesn’t matter what the argument’s about, if a message board member has a point to make, he’s going to compare the other person to a Nazi and turn out to be a huge dick in the process.
So nu, what’s my point? Well, I don’t agree with Doug TenNapel’s views on the subject of gay marriage, or the role of government in society, but I’m going to try not to call him a cock online. I definitely won’t try to do that in a comment section (unless he were to bring it up), but I would discuss that, perhaps, his take on government regulations might be a bit heavy-handed, hyperbolized for the sake of illustrating a point as it may be.
Further, you’re well in your rights for boycotting Ratfist because you disagree with the creator’s views, but you’re missing out on a pretty cool story and some great artwork.
Oh, and you should definitely listen to Wagner even if you’re a Jew. “Ride of the Valkyries” is some of the best pump-up music ever created.