In my humble opinion I feel an author possesses exactly zero authorial responsibility and burden apropos meeting some kind of standardized set of social expectations and norms. I just finished listening to Hank’s Green interview with B&N and also saw that J.K. Rowling has stirred up controversy again, this time for casting Claudia Kim, a South Korean actress, as Nagini from the Harry Potter books. Apparently this is a huge faux pas because it propagates a sort of “unhealthy ‘Asian Dragon Lady’ stereotype.”
For all the culture warriors out there expressing outrage: Take a breath, calm yourselves, and please sit down.
Rowling owes all of you people nothing. The same way Lucas owes all of you people nothing as well. If you dislike their creative decisions and the choices they’ve made, the door’s right there. Please show yourself out.
I’ve heard that there are broadly two camps of thinking when it comes to this topic: Camp A thinks that an artist creates for themselves. Camp B thinks that the artists creates for their audience. I plant my flag firmly in Camp A.
Of course, you’ll need to bear the commercial implications and consequences of whatever it is you create. If your creation is too idiosyncratic to be widely appreciated, then it is likely you’ll find only a limited audience for your work. And you will suffer monetarily and commercially. This is life. This is how reality and world works.
This day and age, it’s practically become a sport to take umbrage for just about anything and everything on the internet. This reminds me of episode #137 of Waking Up with Sam Harris that I recently listened to where Harris talks with Jonathan Haidt about “Safe Spaces” and how a new generation of students on college campuses nowadays finds ways of being triggered or traumatized by just about anything under the sun.
Moving on to Hank Green’s interview he did with B&N: During that podcast, Green discusses the challenges of writing a character in his debut novel who is female, black, and lesbian. Green, himself, is a straight white guy who lives in Missoula, Montana. Green anticipated (correctly) that he’d receive tons of flak for “culturally appropriating” another identity group to which he doesn’t belong to. I felt Green had a great response to this charge: “So being a straight white guy, as a writer, all I’m allowed to write about is straight white guys?”
Green is right. If we condemn artists to create only from the perspective of whatever racial, sexual, gender, political, or religious identity that they may happen to be, is that a creative world we wish to live in? What kind of hellscape would that be?
Of course, artists who write their own personal stories that they have experienced firsthand will be able to possibly write in a more authentic, compelling, and accurate manner. Generally speaking, when writing about your own, firsthand, lived experience –especially if whatever content you’re writing about directly pertains to specific challenges that have been historically associated with your gender/sexual/racial/religious identity– then, yes absolutely, your voice has certain advantages other voices outside your identity group do not possess.
But these advantages can be overcome.
If Hank Green goes out and does months of thorough research –asking many of his female, black, or lesbian friends for advice and sensitivity readings; reading journal after journal of sociology and gender studies literature; conducting exhaustive interviews with female black lesbians, etc– and then returns a year later to write this novel (according to the B&N interview, this is exactly what Green did, by the way), I don’t see any reason why his novel is any less “valid” than a novel actually written by a female black lesbian. If anything, we should applaud Green for putting in such effort and keep in mind that identity groups are not monolithic. Reducing any person down to solely morphological traits is dehumanizing and absurd.
If nothing else, I think we ought praise Green for doing the work to include a main character from a minority identity group that audiences often don’t have an opportunity of interacting with. We should also be mindful that stories in all mediums generally comprise of many characters. SJWs cannot have it both ways: If you wish to see richer diversity of representation in, say, Game of Thrones, then you better start getting comfortable with D.B. Weiss and David Beinoff (and their writing room) writing characters who are not white straight males. Otherwise, you’re simply asking for the impossible.