(CW: Some vague mentions of bad things happening to kids and homophobia)
I don’t know how common the title of this post is outside of fandom, but I think it should be fairly clear to the average reader: Your favorite [whatever] has problems. This phrase gets tossed around a lot by fans, certainly, especially any time someone likes someone who’s ever done anything wrong. Maybe it’s the musician who’s kind of a jerk to their fans or the actor who’s great as long as you don’t get them started on religion.
And here’s the thing…everyone’s fave is problematic. (Unless your fave is Fred Rogers, in which case I’m pretty sure you’re in the clear.) Every public figure, whether they’re an artist, author, politician, musician, composer, actor, or something else, has said or done something at some point to piss people off. (Yes, even Lin-Manuel Miranda. Honest. And he’s my fave in a big way.)
No human being, except possibly the aforementioned Fred Rogers, is perfect. Everyone has bad days or bad ideas. Everybody spouts off at the wrong time or never bothered to interrogate their own prejudices/privileges in one arena.
And that includes you and me, ladies and gentlemen and others and neither. We’ve all said or done things that make us squirm in embarrassment and OMG why can’t we just erase all memory of that time? So given that, I think we should all try to keep in mind our own residence in glass houses before we throw stones any time someone has a fave.
Of course, it gets tricky when we try to decide just how problematic our faves are and what we should do about it.
For one example, let’s take one of my faves: author and Youtube celeb John Green. I think he’s awesome and has done a lot to promote education and nerd culture and the general idea that we should be good to each other and good to the planet.
He has also said some bad things. Although he’s a feminist, he’s occasionally said ridiculous things about nerd girls. I believe he may have made some foolish and comments about transgender folks, too? I don’t recall exactly, but for the sake of this argument, let’s pretend I actually looked it up and that’s what it was. He hasn’t harassed anyone (I hope!) and he’s not a TERF or any such really awful thing, but he’s made some comments that are cringeworthy.
I have zero problem with someone getting irritated or pissed at statements that are problematic. I have zero problem with someone calling him out when he says or does something that’s problematic.
But should someone shame me for having John as my fave? (Yes, this has happened.) When someone’s fave is mildly problematic, I kinda think we should mostly shut up and let them enjoy things. If we demand that nobody can have a fave unless they’re unproblematic, all that does is piss in people’s Cheerios. Yeah, my fave is problematic. So’s yours!
I don’t think I have to give up John Green as my fave because of the things I’ve heard people complain about. I can acknowledge that he has screwed up on more than one occasion and urge him to be better next time…and then move on and fangirl him.
Should everything John Green has done or will do be ignored because he has occasionally said something he really shouldn’t have? I think he’s a pretty clear case of no. Please call him out when he does something wrong, but his entire career should not be condemned for some infelicitous speech. (Neil Gaiman’s another example. He’s said some facepalmy things, but overall, I think he’s great.)
On the other extreme, we have our (ick feh) current president, who will not be named here for my own mental health. President Voldemort has clearly been shown to be a lying, cheating, racist, sexual harassing sumbitch. His problematic nature overrules any good he might possibly have done (if such a thing does exist in his case).
Not only are we obligated to call him out, we are obligated to call out his supporters for their (tacit or obvious) support of lying, cheating, racism, and sexual harassment. For those of us who care about humanity, we can safely say that he can be dismissed as far beyond problematic into actively dangerous to our physical and mental health.
But what about the folks in between? Where is our line? When can we hold on to our fave and when do we have to give them up to be true to our principles?
I think we have to learn how to discuss this without just telling people their fave is problematic and expecting that to be the end of the discussion. I know my fave is problematic! Give me a cogent argument as to why their particular problem is more like President Voldemort and less like John Green. Maybe you know something about my fave that I don’t. Tell me about it, instead of blasting me for having a fave you don’t approve of.
So maybe it turns out that my fave is more problematic than I thought and I have to give them up. This is a big one—what does it mean to give them up? It’s not as cut and dried as you might think.
I have two personal examples of this: the authors Marion Zimmer Bradley and Orson Scott Card. Both wrote books that were very important to a young Mara. And the former was posthumously accused of dreadful child sexual abuse and the latter turned out to be a vicious homophobe who donates widely to anti-gay causes.
Bradley was dead by the time I learned of her crimes. So…should I get rid of her books that I already own? Are they tainted by what I now know about her? Since she’s dead, could I buy copies of books I didn’t already own? So far I’ve kept her books but not read or purchased any I didn’t already have.
With Card, I stopped buying his books and will not take any out of the library, but…I still own Ender’s Game and wasn’t that interested in his newer stuff anyway. So I’m not sure that really qualifies as taking action. Should I recommend Ender’s Game to people who haven’t read it?
With both, should I recommend their books with the caveat that the authors are both scum in their own way? Or should I stop recommending them? Can I go back and reread them?
Going back to my question of when we can hold on to a fave…what’s the dividing line? Child sexual abuse is pretty clearly on the other side of the line, so we’re good there. And Card regularly says extremely horrible things, so I put him on the other side of that line with no great difficulty.
But homophobia or racism…what if once when they were young, they said something awful? Maybe they used the N word or F word once? I condemn the use of those words unreservedly, but is one use enough to make your fave untenable? If they’ve grown up since then and now take positive actions, is that enough? Do they have to have apologized?
And how much can an apology erase? Even assuming it’s a real apology rather than a not-pology, how much bad stuff can we ignore?
I would love to say I have brilliant and insightful answers to the questions I just proposed, but alas, I do not. I struggle with this question with so many of my faves and so do many folks I know.
I want to hold my faves to a high standard, but how high is reasonable when we’re dealing with human beings?