Friday, January 17, 2014

Creative Work Versus Personal Life

Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris
If filmakers, writers, musicians or visual artists are jerks can we still respect their work? It’s a question that has come up recently on Facebook about Woody Allen’s history of sexual abuse, but it could apply to anyone.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that tomorrow your favorite lesbian writer commits a cold-blooded murder. Or your favorite straight male playwright molests his seven year old daughter. Should these folks face the consequences of their actions and go to jail? Of course they should. Do these actions make all their creative work null and void as though it never existed? My answer happens to be a resounding no!

I don’t need to like and admire the way a person conducts his or her personal life to appreciate their work. I condemn child molestation. I abhor murder but I can still respect a  creative end product that transcends an individual's personal failures, even criminal ones. It doesn't mean that I am fine with anti-social behavior. If Adam Lanza, the Newtown Connecticut mass murderer had written a beautiful poem before shooting 20 schoolchildren, would it still be a thing of beauty afterwards?

I used to idolize Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris as the ideal couple of heterosexual writers. I loved Erdrich’s “Tracks” and “The Beet Queen.” I found myself particularly moved by Dorris’ book, “A Yellow Raft in Blue Water.” To me he did an amazing job of taking on the voice of a woman as well as incorporating the struggles of Native women into his narrative.

When Dorris was accused of molesting his three daughters (one adopted and two biological) I thought that was a horrific thing that crossed the line of acceptable behavior.

But I still will continue to admire his writing.