Friday, 12 September 2008

From "bad" to worse...

Read the article "Maurice Sendak’s Concerns, Beyond Where the Wild Things Are" by Patricia Cohen from, on September 9, 2008.

I don't read the New York Times. I didn't even when I lived there. I actually found this out from a library related comic strip that I read via RSS called Shelf Check (#268 from September 12, 2008). What made me click on the link to read the article itself was not the man, though as a father (and eternal child-at-heart) I do appreciate his work, nor his revelation, though it's always good to read news related to honesty. Nope. It was his quote explaining why he "came out" now, instead of 50 or 60 years ago: "the idea of a gay man writing children books would have hurt his career when he was in his 20s and 30s". This made me think of the practice of judging literary works (or any work really) from the nature of the creator.

For all those years, he was a gay man producing children's books (among other things) and we were happily reading them and giving them to children. This might appall some people... bizarre people who somehow think that a detail as private and distant from the issue as one's sexual preference obviously and negatively affects the creations produced. But for all this time no one knew and, as far as I know, no one even suspected. You would think that something as diabolical (sarcasm here) as the "homosexual influence" on our young people would have been noticed and singled out in such a popular title. The same should apply to any possible characteristic of an author: if you can't detect it in the work, then it doesn't matter who the author is, the effect isn't there. Ideally, in my humble opinion, readers shouldn't know anything about the author to truly appreciate their works. If they couldn't detect in without that knowledge, then it's not really there. Finding out that the author of your favourite writer is actually a woman, or Chinese, or a libertarian, or a psychiatrist, shouldn't affect how you interpret their books, stories, poetry, etc. It does tend to affect it, and if that effect is positive, then by all means, learn as much as you want about the person behind the words, but since there's really no true connection, any negative reinterpretations should be discarded and avoided. Unjustified but beneficial ramifications are harmless fun, but unjustified and damaging ramifications are just that, damaging, and therefore pointless.

Perhaps this applies to other attributions of people's nature to their accomplishments. If you can't clearly point to how horrible a child's life has been with a non-straight parent, then no amount of theorizing can recreate that connection between sexuality and parenting. If you can't obviously see how badly someone has operated in a position of power (government or corporate) then there's no point in being concerned about their gender or race or whatever. Saying that people of type X are bad at accomplishing things of type Y is meaningless unless you have some pretty hard evidence, which invariably means examples.

In the end, what this means is that it seems unjustified and damaging to claim negative effects from specific human characteristics (i.e. racism, sexism, and other prejudices) which is therefore unethical. Please consider what harmful "causality" you want to point out when linking it to large portions of our society.

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