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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

curated: racist science fiction and Donald Trump

A primer.

posted in:

  • RogerBW

    I’ve read The Turner Diaries; like most books that exist mostly to make a Point, it’s pretty terrible as fiction. If you don’t already know the code words and trigger points, it makes very little sense (why should the Jews and the blacks be collaborating, unless you are a paranoid white man terrified of everything that’s not like you?).

    And anyone who’s inspired by it probably hasn’t read very much else.

  • Ignorance can be maintained only if you don’t read much, or very widely.

  • White Future 4 America

    As one of the subjects in this New York Times article, there is nothing that I have written that falls outside the context of probability, based on the trajectory of today’s socio-political environment. That more and more white people are rejecting the bleatings of today’s POC is a fact, one that will only grow more so with the burgeoning alt-right movement. Expect an acceleration of this trend in the coming years.


  • Tonio Kruger

    As long as you’re going to bring up the issues of racism and science fiction, it seems only fair to start here:


    True,the author of that essay doesn’t mention Donald Trump — for obvious reasons — but then the problems Mr. Delany writes about did not start with Mr. Trump nor are they strictly confined to fringe books like The Turner Diaries.

  • Bluejay

    True. That Delaney essay is mentioned in this article, which focuses on John W. Campbell and his influence on SF as a whole:


  • Tonio Kruger

    Well, thank God for H.G. Wells.


    Er, on second thought, please forget I ever said anything about H. G. Wells.

    * Facepalm *

    * Facepalm *

    * Facepalm *

  • Bluejay

    Thanks for that link. Ugh. I haven’t actually read a lot of H.G. Wells, and the couple of times I read The War of the Worlds when I was younger I completely missed the anti-Semitism. I hope I wouldn’t miss it now.

    The article makes the well-worn argument that nobody’s perfect, that artists who are bad people still make great art, that we should take the bad with the good, and that people ought to be taken in the context of their time and not judged by the standards of our own. I used to agree with all that, but now I think I have serious reservations. Even “in their own time,” there were people who adhered to better values; even when slavery was rampant and generally accepted, there were abolitionists who knew better. And “It’s okay because he’s an Artist” has given license to too many terrible men (and they are so very depressingly often men).

    I’ve also been playing out a thought experiment: Since people so often argue, “Well, if you’re going to judge art by the flaws of the artists, how would you feel about losing X Masterpiece by This Great Genius Who is Now Known to Be An Asshole?” I’ve decided to play the game and see how I feel. Can I live without The War of the Worlds? Yes. Can I live without Mahler’s symphonies? Yes. Can I live without Woody Allen’s and Roman Polanski’s oeuvre? Yes. Can I live without House of Cards? Yes.

    I love art. Art transports me. But it turns out that I can live without a lot of it. If I had to choose between a world where sublime art is made by terrible people who hurt others and a world where mediocre art is made by decent human beings (and where people in general treat each other humanely), I’d choose mediocrity and decency every time. (It’s a false choice anyway; you don’t need to be a terrible person to make great art. And maybe being a decent person actually helps you express better ideas through your art. Maybe we need to reevaluate what’s great art and what isn’t, and who are the artists saying the things we need to hear most.)

    This is an opinion-in-progress. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • Danielm80

    I’ve been asking similar questions, especially since the last presidential election. I’d been telling myself that art can save us from our worst traits, because it encourages empathy and humor and a recognition of people’s inner beauty. It turns out that Louis CK can produce empathetic, funny art and mistreat the people around him in terrible ways.

    But I still believe that art is essential and that it changes our lives. If we’re going to avoid art by terrible people, we can’t just skip Louie and House of Cards. We have to steer away from Picasso and Hitchcock and Wagner and Dickens and Shakespeare and even Roald Dahl. If we try to imagine the world without their influence, it’s a completely different place.

    Most of those artists had the good grace to die before I was born, which means that I can enjoy their works without being directly affected by the abusive or bigoted behavior of the people who created them. But the #MeToo movement has made us aware that living artists are causing serious harm to living people. If someone hires Kevin Spacey or Bill Cosby, that puts people in immediate danger.

    So when I ask myself how our society should deal with talented people like Louis CK, my solution is: posthumous publication. But I suspect that other solutions will present themselves. Maybe we can come up with better forms of on-set supervision and stricter codes of conduct, along with more effective ways of enforcing them. And maybe our society will change enough that some of the behavior we used to overlook will be considered shocking and unthinkable, even when the abuses are committed by “great artists.”

    I suspect that those sorts of changes are coming, but I suspect that a generation or so will have to go by before they fully take effect. In the meantime, we’re faced with the problem that life is messy and complicated, which isn’t really a new problem.

    We each have to come up with our own answers to questions like: “How long should we wait before we see Louie play a comedy club?” and “Should Steve Bannon be invited to the New Yorker Festival?” My answers tend to involve the words “when Hell freezes over,” but I’m not prepared to make a blanket policy of avoiding all great art by terrible people. If I believe in empathy and humor and inner beauty, then once in a while, I have to extend compassion and forgiveness to people I hate. Figuring out how to do it will be messy and complicated, and I don’t know quite what the ground rules will be.

    For many years, I’ve been avoiding the works of Roald Dahl (including the film and stage adaptations), even though I loved him as a child, because he was a racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and generally unpleasant person, and I found it painful to be reminded of that. But recently, grudgingly, I watched the two animated shorts called Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, and I had to admit, grudgingly, that they were pretty terrific.

    That’s a very small step, and my reaction to living artists is much more guarded. In the current political climate, extending compassion and forgiveness to intolerant and abusive people may lead to even more intolerance and abuse. But it may also, on rare occasions, lead to healing and to great art, and I’m willing to take that risk. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

  • “Well, if you’re going to judge art by the flaws of the artists, how would you feel about losing X Masterpiece by This Great Genius Who is Now Known to Be An Asshole?”

    And yet these same people never seem to wonder what great art we never got because the people that might have produced it were never given the opportunity to do so because they weren’t of the race or gender that is presumed to make great art.

  • Bluejay

    Hear hear, Danielm80.

    In the meantime, I’ll take my H.G. Wells with a heavy disco filter.


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