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September 16, 2004

Reminder: My Whatever

A Bush supporter, taken somewhat aback at my estimation of his being either stupid, ignorant or hypocritical, has this to say in the comment thread in the previous post:

"Are you still going to be like this next year after Bush wins?

Do you really expect me to come back? Do you really expect me to buy your books?"

My response to these questions: Possibly to the first, and I really couldn't give a rat's ass to questions two and three.

Let's expand on these in backward order. First, if you think I'm going to watch what I say here to possibly preserve a book sale or two, you're out of your hollow gourd. For one thing, I don't want readers who think they can presume to tell me what I should or should not say by holding the cost of a hardcover over my head; it sets a bad precedent. Y'all can just take a leap off a highway overpass, as far as I'm concerned. For another, I've been writing this sort of crap long before I had book sales; strangely enough, the books seem to moving out from the bookstores just fine. By personal inclination and by experience, there's no advantage in me shutting myself up. So quite obviously I don't intend to.

Besides, only a moron buys books -- particularly fiction -- on the basis of the author's politics. Author Mark Helprin has written what is far and away my favorite book of contemporary fantasy: Winter's Tale. He's also an unregenerate neocon, which has been my least favorite political flavor for some time now. Orson Scott Card, who has written two of my favorite science fiction books, is a conservative member of the LDS Church and views gay marriage as a terrible threat to our nation. As we all know, I think that's pretty silly. China Mieville, who writes lovely fictions, is so socialist (speaking of lovely fictions) that he ought to be salmon-hued. I wouldn't vote any of them into office. But I will buy their books.

I'm sure if I essayed all my favorite fiction writers, the vast majority would have politics I view as impractical, immoral or flat-out insane. And in nearly all cases, I could not care less. What I care about is whether they tell a good story and I am entertained. I can say the same thing, translating for medium, for musicians, artists, architects, actors, dancers and, hell, I don't know, circus performers. I mean, if you want to limit your cultural consumption to only the people who agree with your politics, go right ahead, and then prepared to be bored out of your gourd by Thursday.

Moving on to whether I want people to come back to my site -- I remind everyone once again to read the site disclaimer, and to pay particular attention to the part in which I discuss why I'm not particularly interested in being "fair" to people whose views are different from my own. Read them. Learn them. Love them. They will save you the sort of sputtering indignation from which this fellow is suffering.

Also, as a reminder -- just because I personally believe something doesn't make it so. Yes, I do believe that generally speaking you have to be stupid, ignorant or a hypocrite to vote for George Bush in the coming election. But I allow for the possibility that I could be wrong. I don't really see how, mind you. But there it is. If you genuinely believe you aren't stupid, ignorant or a hypocrite for voting for Bush, you're welcome to try to impress me with your intelligence, knowledge and sincerity. I'm willing to be persuaded you are the exception that proves the rule. Good luck with that. Here's a hint, though: Suggesting that you'll just walk off in a huff because you don't like what I write here or how I write it isn't a good way to do that.

But of course, if you don't like what you see here -- move on. I mean, that's what I do; I'm currently on a break from most political blogs because at the moment I'm finding the lot of them generally profoundly irritating. Therefore, if you find what I am writing equally irritating, shouldn't you stop reading me? I don't want to be a cause of pain in your life. Please, scoot, with my blessings. It's not like I'm getting paid here, you know. It's all the same to me whether I have 50 people visiting the site a day, or 5,000.

As for going after Dubya -- well, why wouldn't I? He's already the most incompetent president we've had in eight decades, and at this late date I don't suddenly expect him to get any better -- indeed, since second terms are almost invariably worse than first terms, I expect him and his administration to get a great deal worse, alas for us all. It's bad for us in general, but it'll make for good writing. So, yes, if you're going to demand a Dubya-free Whatever, you might as well bail out now, because it ain't gonna happen. So long.

I hope this clears up any lingering confusion.

Posted by john at September 16, 2004 12:29 AM

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Comments

mythago | September 16, 2004 12:43 AM

Er. Small disconnect there--you can be a consumer of culture while choosing to minimize how much you enrich a loathsome producers of that culture. Of course, then you're risking the culture-producer slowing or ceasing output because of the lack of income; personally, I think Card would do OK despite liberal friends who only purchase his books from used bookstores.

I do agree that it's kind of silly to say one will only read/listen/watch things if the creator is likeable.

Michelle Sagara | September 16, 2004 01:00 AM

I want that disclaimer. I mean, for my own personal use. In fact, if it weren't so long, I'd use it as a .sig file <g>.

John Scalzi | September 16, 2004 06:45 AM

Mythago says:

"Er. Small disconnect there--you can be a consumer of culture while choosing to minimize how much you enrich a loathsome producers of that culture."

Sure, but at the same time if you really enjoy a piece of art ("art" being used loosely, here), the politics of the person who created it shouldn't be your first consideration, with a few strong exceptions.

And "loathsome" is a strong word. I'd apply it to someone like, say, Leni Riefenstahl, whose works I can't at all appreciate without divorcing them from their terrible context (she'd be the exception to the above), as opposed to someone like Card, who is not really loathsome at all.

Michelle: Feel free to appropriate the disclaimer.

what | September 16, 2004 07:45 AM

well, if anything, he's proven you correct, John.

Tom | September 16, 2004 09:02 AM

If it makes you feel any better John, I read your stuff even if I don't agree with your politics ;)

Jim Winter | September 16, 2004 09:25 AM

Raymond Chandler was a bigoted homophobe. I own every one of his novels. His estate got a royalty off of four of them. (Rest I could only find used at the time.)

Mickey Spillane writes from a paranoid, conservative viewpoint, a McCarthyist attitude. And I loved every page of My Gun Is Quick.

I am not a bigoted homophobe. As for McCarthy, I plan to use his grave as a urinal when Bouchercon goes to Madison, WI, in 2006. Doesn't mean I'll stop reading Spillane.

John Scalzi | September 16, 2004 09:29 AM

Tom writes:

"If it makes you feel any better John, I read your stuff even if I don't agree with your politics ;)"

It warms my black little heart, Tom. It surely does.

Ghafla | September 16, 2004 09:42 AM

John, I must take issue with your stand that only reading authors whose politics or philosophical bent you find palatable will result in instant boredom. I read a lot, and I am far from bored by the activity. Yet, there are plenty of times where I'll take a pass on an author for their politics. For me, if the author's politics/philosophy are clearly evident on the page, and if I find said views offensive, I'm not likely to read any more of that author's works; examples of people I won't read for this reason include Tom Clancy, Ayn Rand, Toni Morrison, and late Heinlein. If I find out that an author has disagreeable views that aren't evident in his or her fiction, it may or may not put me off of their reading, depending on how vile I find their views. You said that you can't divorce Leni Riefenstahl's work from her views; well, I consider Orson Scott Card's worldview to be utterly loathsome (and yes, I am quite comfortable with my use of that word here), and I can't separate his personal vileness from his fiction. I thought ENDER'S GAME was brilliant when I first read it, but knowing that its author was a festering heap of human excrement spoiled it comepletely for me. As I am not a moron, I understand that Orson Scott Card has hardly been rendered destitute by my refusal to buy his books any more. My feeling is that there are thousands of brilliant, worthwhile books by authors with non-repugnant politics that I'll never have a chance to read, so I don't feel bad at all about excluding hatemongers and neocons from my reading list.

John Scalzi | September 16, 2004 09:45 AM

Well, and of course, Ghafla, such is your right. My personal tolerance for the political stupidities of artists appears to be higher than yours; that's fine too.

BearDogg-X | September 16, 2004 09:46 AM

Jim Winter writes:
"As for McCarthy, I plan to use his grave as a urinal when Bouchercon goes to Madison, WI, in 2006."

Why do I have the feeling that you wouldn't be the first or the last to whiz on McCarthy's grave?

Personally, I'd go whiz on Steve Allen's grave, since he was nothing more than a scumbag when he died.

Guy Matthews | September 16, 2004 10:10 AM

You've stirred up a bit of a hornet's nest bringing up Card :). Now me, I tend to take a slightly more subtle view on writings vs personality.. First of all politics in general don't much bother me, I'm not going to stop reading OR paying for someone's work just because I disagree with their world view; if things transcend politics into more univerally nasty personality issues I may be uncomfortable supporting the author in question (as is the case with Card, who imho has far greater issues in his head than the ones most commonly acknowledged), in that situation there's a fairly simple compromise, read but don't pay, s'what libraries are for after all. Pretty much the only thing that'll permanently drive me away from reading someone is a personal insult directed at my person; a good example comes to mind, a couple months ago a certain blogger (who shall remain unnamed as he's linked here) made a reference to one of Lian-Li's new case designs, noting quite rightly that it was pretty much a straight copy of certain Mac designs, but then suggesting that case designers are nothing more than talentless copycats (paraphrased, it's been a while since I read the entry.) I took exception to that as a case modder and responded in mail indicating that judging an entire artistic community based on a single commercial offering from an artistically unremarkable company was hardly accurate, I included links to one of my own case designs. The mail went completely unanswered, I wasn't particularly expecting any kind of apology, just maybe acknowledgement that no not all case designers are copycats, but the total lack of response to me constitutes a personal insult, so I'm gone, don't read the place anymore, but it's not like I'm keeping a lifelong grudge against the guy, just can't be bothered to be exposed to such ignorance anymore.

Kevin Q | September 16, 2004 10:47 AM

My feelings for Orson Scott Card sums up my feelings on the issue. Ender's Game is one of the most brilliant books I've ever read, and I re-read it often. I'm aware of his political and personal views, but they don't seem to be evident in this novel. His Homecoming series, on the other hand, is one of the most misogynistic writings I've ever been exposed to. I had to stop after a book and a half. The difference is that he's written some of his apparent personal leanings into a story which offends me, but I still love Ender's Game.

K

Jim Winter | September 16, 2004 11:15 AM

I can see where some people might be offended by an author's politics or personality. John himself has saved me $21.95 in...

Just kidding, John. I reminded Diane that OLD MAN'S WAR is the alternate SF Book Club selection for January.

I remember talking to my brother who said he was enjoying Stuart Woods work lately. (My brother also equates fart humor movies with CITIZEN KANE, so his taste is somewhat understandable.) I recoiled and said he's gratuitously insulted several friends of mine whenever he was on a panel. My brother said, "Thanks. Now you've ruined him for me." (My response was he could always buy them used or borrow them from the library, thus depriving the author of royalty payments.)

Brian | September 16, 2004 11:31 AM

Too many people take opinions waaay too seriously. If more people just dealt with others' opinions instead of getting offended by them (and then calling them names, and suing them, and getting a restraining order, etc.), things would go *ever* so much more smoothly. Opinions are personal, each person is slighly (or significantly) different from each other person, and so conflicts of opinion are inevitable. Accept that other people hold different opinions and just live with it!!

I don't think I've ever bought/not bought a book, watched/not watched a movie, etc. based on the political views of the creator (speaking strictly of fiction, here). <shrug> Never crossed my mind.

I'm in a similar boat as Tom... I disagree with some of your political and social positions, John, but I've been reading Whatever for two (three?) years now and it hasn't killed me yet. :-) Provides food for thought, and helps me examine and evaluate my own positions.

Dawn B. | September 16, 2004 01:06 PM

I had the fight with myself recently about OSC and his politics. And I decided that I didn't mind for some of his fiction.

Piers Anthology, who I enjoyed as child, I refuse to read anymore due some politics and his personal interactions with friends of mine or people I respect.

Having just attended WorldCon there are few books I bought because the person was nice. Likewise, after reading Whatever & Michelle's LJ, I'm planning on buying your guys books 'cause I enjoy reading the nonfiction. I don't expect the books to be same, but I like ya'all and don't mind supporting your writing efforts.

So negative personal feelings on a person will not necessarily prevent me from buying a book that I believe I would enjoy. However, positive personal feelings will increase the likelihood of me buying a book I might otherwise pass on. Kinda like a recommendation from a friend I trust. I like you. I bet you would recommend your book. So, I'm buying a book you recommended. ;-)

Dawn B. | September 16, 2004 01:06 PM

Gah... can't type. Piers Anthology should be Piers Anthony.

Lisa Nichols | September 16, 2004 02:07 PM

And here I thought that was just a clever dig at how crazy prolific he's been... ;)

Tripp | September 16, 2004 04:17 PM

Oooh, Dawn, I used to be quite infatuated with Peirs Anthony's books. Would you care to dish a little dirt? What are his politics? What are his personal interactions like?

Tripp | September 16, 2004 04:19 PM

Sorry for the multiple posts, but I forgot to add that I love it when someone gets on his high horse with John and John high horses him back!

Hi Ho Silver, away!

Sal | September 16, 2004 04:27 PM

I tend not to buy books written by people I've bumped into whom I dislike. It's less a boycott thing and more an avoidance of the person's spore.

If I've never dealt with the writer, ugly behaviors are one-step removed and I'm less inclined to let the pock-marked soul determine whether I buy the book or not.

A friend read a book recently by someone I know and told me she didn't much care for it and was interested in my take, once I'd read the book.

What didn't you like about it? I asked.

Well, she didn't like the characters. The characters were flat. They didn't engage her.

When I asked why, she wrote, "I think that maybe the reality of characters comes out of the author's feeling about real people as well as an ability to write. I suspect that if a person feels that most people are opaque to them, then their characters are going to be too. And that given the ability to write well (certainly not a given for all writers, of course) what comes through is the writer's personality: empathy, understanding of others. Which doesn't mean the writer has to like people, but I suppose it helps to make likeable characters."

Interesting comment, I thought. Accurate pop psych and she'd never had any dealings with the writer.

Keep on whacking at things and people and ideas and idiocies, Scalzi. If you start pulling your punches because someone threatens not to buy your books, you'll be far less entertaining.

Bread! Circuses! Scalzi!

Ian Mathers | September 16, 2004 04:53 PM

Okay, you have to use "Bread! Circuses! Scalzi!" somewhere. That's brilliant.

I fall into the "love-Ender's-Game-but-think-OSC-has-a-head-of-poo" camp myself. It' nice when an author also seems like a good person, but it's far from essential, unless (as in the Homecoming series), they keep poking their badness in your face every second paragraph.

And I'm in major agreement with the first paragraph of Brian's post above.

PeterP | September 16, 2004 05:24 PM

I generally could care less about the views of the author, provided it fits with the story. The only one ive really been turned off by is the later books in Terry Goodkinds Sword of Truth series, and only then because every 5 pages it devolves into some half baked Rayndian Sociology lecture. I view it much the same as the songs in Lord Of The Rings - skip it, youre not missing anything, and you can still enjoy the book.

Jim | September 16, 2004 05:54 PM

It's curious -- My son loves Card's Ender books and my wife loves his Alvin Maker books. I recall enjoying the original Ender books many years ago but have no interest in diving into the many Ender sequels and prequels and the Alvin Maker books fail to maintain my interest. However, I was captivated by his 2001 novel "Enchantment." I've read some of his essays on politics and current events. There were some where I agreed with much of what he said and others where I totally disagreed with his views (indeed, where I found them to be repugnant).

His opinions about gay marriage (he is against it and I support it) would not stop me from ordering his next Ender book as a present for my son. I've not cancelled my subscrition to Men's Health because they carry Ted Rahl's cartoons.

(Hell, I even buy books that this guy named John Scalzi writes!)

PixelFish | September 16, 2004 09:03 PM

(What's really whack is that for the Mormons, Orson is a flaming liberal. He even admits to voting Democrat occasionally.)

Here's my thoughts on OSC, whose politics I often disagree with, but will still probably read for many years to come:

http://www.livejournal.com/users/pixelfish/250435.html

(You have to scroll a ways down to get to the bit about Orson's infamous screed.)

But a few salient points: I was raised Mormon, and I wanted to write science fiction. It's this lingering side effect from believing in a religion whose main religious text is basically speculative fan fic for the Bible. And...being raised Mormon, I was undoubtedly homophobic. The idea well and truly squicked me out, and was reinforced by every single cultural stereotype you could perpetuate or find while living in the morass of social conscience that is Utah.

Ironic that I would first find a sympathetic homosexual character in OSC's book Songmaster. (Some people have decried this book as being hopelessly homophobic, and it may well be--but I'm merely relating my experience at the time.) Songmaster was probably the first time where I was able to separate people's attraction and behaviours from who they were, and go, "Hey, they're just like us. They feel the same things, they want the same things." Ironic, I guess, that OSC was one of the first authors to wrench me out of my narrow-minded views.

BTW, no longer Mormon, I obviously disagree with OSC on many things, but thankfully I'm not required to agree with him to enjoy MOST of his writing.

...

Ditto to the person who finds Piers Anthony hard to read now. I went back and read one of the Incarnations series, as it was similar in theme to a short that I was working on, and I had one of those paranoid moments where you wonder if you were too influenced by something you read ages ago. The Incarnations story happened to deal with a lot of women's issues, and it made me scream and grit my teeth every time the women did something that emphasised their too too sweet and "feminine" nature.

And Robert Heinlien falls somewhere between OSC and Anthony for me. Most of the time, I don't mind his writing, but there were a few teeth gritting moments in Stranger and Friday for me.

mythago | September 16, 2004 09:13 PM

"Accept that other people hold different opinions and just live with it!!"

That works when those opinions are insignificant, and don't affect you in any way. Brian, I'm assuming that you have the luxury of not being on the receiving end of any of the more loathsome of those opinions--it's very easy to tell other people to chill when you personally have nothing at issue.

That said, I agree that it's kind of silly to vet every movie, book and song for compatibility before reading it. In between that and the Werner von Braun point of view ("He spends his royalties on purchasing sex slaves? Not my department"), there's a lot of room. I personally prefer to avoid books where the author is shouting polemics at me--even if I agree with 'em--and if it's just that the author is a twit, there's the library, or the used booksthore.

Mark Atwood | September 16, 2004 11:21 PM

Actually, OSC is a *liberal* Mormon, not a "conservative" one.

Brian | September 16, 2004 11:58 PM

How do you deal with the politics of a book's first audience, the editors at a publisher?

John Scalzi | September 17, 2004 12:03 AM

Brian asks:

"How do you deal with the politics of a book's first audience, the editors at a publisher?"

So far it hasn't come up, actually. I know the politics of my editor (he's more liberal than I am, I suspect, but not by a whole lot), but I don't either my politics or his came into play. And I know he edits people whose politics are well and truly not his own. Whether all editors are this ecumenical, I do not know, but I suspect that if you're an editor and you let your personal politics get in the way, you're likely to lose a lot of potentially profitable work.

Charissa | September 17, 2004 10:50 AM

Along the lines of Bush and dumbness, some on this forumn may find this site entertaining: www.youaredumb.net

Today's essay is a good one for Bush dumbness, as is the one for Monday (though that one focuses more on members of his administration). Actually, there are a lot of entertaining columns on political, as well as many other kinds of dumbness on that site.

Dawn B. | September 17, 2004 12:05 PM

Re: Peirs Anthony dirt

From what I've heard he carries aroud a little notebook where he records every slight and imagined slight. His Author's Notes (before editing) then include responses to those slights and many of the "bad" characters in his books are pokes at people who have offended him. He's one of the only author's out there who have been told point blank to cut his Author's Notes for being too mean and off topic.

As for politics: Can you say mysogenistic?

mike | September 17, 2004 12:08 PM

Do you think it becomes a little less clear with composers? Is it possible to listen to, say, Wagner and allow oneself to be moved (not to say have one's emotions manipulated) in spite of knowing what thought processes and feeelings motivated the writing of the music? I may be mistaken, but I believe even today Wagner is not played (or rarely played) in Israel for that reason. Just a thought.

John Scalzi | September 17, 2004 02:01 PM

Mike wrote:

"I may be mistaken, but I believe even today Wagner is not played (or rarely played) in Israel for that reason. Just a thought."

He's probably not played in Israel because he was an unrepentant anti-semite. I seem to recall a personal character note in which Wagner would wear gloves every time he conducted a piece by Jewish composers, after wards he'd take off the gloves and not wear them again.

KenL | September 19, 2004 03:04 AM

Dave Sims is disturbing on so many levels.

But Cerebus, particularly the early years, is astoundingly funny. Even knowing that Dave Sims is the man responsible for it, I still go out and buy it for friends who haven't yet discovered what comic books can be like....

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