To paraphrase Socrates; the unexamined thought process is not worth thinking. I’ve pondered something for a week or so and seem no closer to a resolution.
Last weekend, friends came to town to see a production of Wagner’s opera Der Fliegende Hollander. At one point, the discussion turned to the fact that Wagner operas are relatively poorly attended in Phoenix. Scottsdale has a large Jewish population and many in the Jewish community choose to boycott Wagner’s works because of his notorious anti-Semitism. Some see him as one of the intellectual and cultural fathers of the Holocaust. I would not presume to judge the feelings of the Jewish community on this matter but the result is that 130 years after Wagner’s death and 70 years after the Holocaust there are empty seats at the opera.
I attend the operas. Wagner was a brilliant composer who fundamentally changed his art form. He was certainly a vile and despicable facsimile of a human being but the operas themselves are not anti-Semitic. There is more blatant anti-Semitism in Shakespeare’s plays and Dickens’ novels than in Wagner’s operas. I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of boycotting an artist’s work based on their views or conduct unrelated to the work itself. Isn’t that what the Blacklists did?
Our conversation about Wagner led into a discussion about the new film Ender’s Game. Some LGBT activists have called for a boycott of the film because the author of the book on which the film is based, Orson Scott Card, also a producer of the film, has been outspoken in expressing his virulent homophobia. It is off-topic to detail the litany of his hate-speech here. Suffice it to say some of his public comments read like they were lifted from homilies at the Westboro Baptist Church.
I haven’t read any of Mr. Card’s books. Some of his writings are reported to have a homophobic bent but Ender’s Game does not appear to be among them. It was a moot point for me. He lost me as a potential consumer when he claimed recently that the furor around his beliefs and Ender’s Game had subjected him to; “…. savage, lying, deceptive personal attacks“. Apparently in his writing hyperbole is the standard of excellence. Matthew Shepherd was the subject of a savage attack. People said mean things about Mr. Orson Card because of hate-speech he chose to voice. The fact that Mr. Card does not recognize the distinction suggests to me his writing may lack insight. With so many books and so little time and money, I’ll continue to skip the ‘Science Fiction Written by Cry-Baby Drama Queens’ aisle on future visits to B&N. But I digress. We agreed, that we’d all probably skip Ender’s Game. I enjoy CGI spectacles as much as the next guy but there is no shortage of them.
So why the different outcomes in similar situations. How is Card different from Wagner? It’s easy to argue that Wagner is ‘art’ while Card is, at best, ‘popular culture’. I can also rationalize that Wagner is not rewarded financially when I attend one of his operas while Card would profit were I to support his work. I’m not sure those arguments are sufficient. I hope it’s not true but I fear part of the explanation may lie in the fact that I am gay but I am not Jewish.
There are issues on which agreeing-to-disagree is not a strong enough statement. But how do we identify those issues? Is it simply a matter of taking action on the issues that touch us personally while reserving a lower level of outrage for issues that, while every bit as grievous, only affect others? Isn’t that just selfishness? At the very least it is inconsistent. When does inconsistency become hypocrisy? There is a line to be drawn there somewhere. I’m just not sure I can articulate where it is. As situations arise I never have difficulty in making a decision. In the end, maybe it’s the same as Justice Stewart’s approach to pornography; “…I know it when I see it”.