If 2015 was the death of our heroes, then 2016 was the death of the reputation of our heroes, as someone on Twitter once said.
In the wake of movements such as #MeToo, the continued and ever growing presence of social media in our lives, and the removal of our yellow tinged glasses of nostalgia, we’ve found ourselves faced with the realization that the people who helped to create much of the pop culture that we love to be rather awful people, and a growing fear of what we might find out about people who seem almost too good to be true.
In this context, I suppose in a way I’m referring to people such as myself and my generation, who lived through the 80s and 90s, although this feeling is not isolated to us and us alone.
This feeling of betrayal is also not isolated to recent times, as people have long been finding out that some of their favourite writers, movie and music stars, and other celebrities are, if not perfect human beings, conducted terrible things or held disgusting beliefs.
For example, Orson Scott Card is a cowardly homophobic bigot who is most well known for his Ender’s Game series, a much beloved sci-fi book.
Chuck Dixon, also a homophobe, was the first writer on the Birds of Prey DC Comic series, one of my favourites when I started reading more DC Comics.
R Kelly, a famous songwriter, has a history of coveting and cavorting with younger women who he coerced into having sex with him.
And these are just a few examples I can name off the top of my head, without taking into account all the more recent allegations that have come out against people such as Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Allison Mack, and Amy Schumer, who anyone can just google the news for.
This article isn’t to blame our social media or the #MeToo movement, or anything else for these facts coming to light, but to talk about why we feel guilty, and as I’ve been thinking about this a while, I have a few thoughts. They may not be yours, because we’re all different people who feel different things.
What I feel when I hear a new allegation come out about someone who was part of a beloved piece of my pop culture is guilt, primarily, especially if it’s been a movie or book that I’ve long held dear.
This guilt comes from the idea that because I’ve loved this book, or game or anime or whatever, I’ve given tacit approval to the people involved in it regardless of whatever ill they’ve done in the world.
I like to think of myself as a good person, and so when I find out that something I’ve loved has had garbage humans attached to it, it’s also like I’m associating myself with them, and that’s the last thing I want to do. This is also a big problem in fandom in general. Because of the actions of gatekeepers, hate groups and harassment movements, I find myself on the defensive, talking about the good experiences and good people in it and how a fandom is what you make of it and the people who you meet in it.
It can be, at times, a very privileged position to take on account of my being straight, white, cisgender, able-bodied and male. The temptation to say “Why not just like She-Hulk by John Bryne (another noted homophobe) or Birds of Prey by Chuck Dixon? It’s just one dude, their opinion does not matter.”
Oh, but it does, because those people have positions of power and influence, and others have used their platforms to hurt people simply for being different or calling for more accountability or wanting to change things for the better. Even if they haven’t actively, openly done so, people such as Harvey Weinstein have abused their positions of power for selfish reasons, making the work environment a toxic place to exist in.
Just ask Lupita N’Yong, Uma Therman, or look at how many people it took to finally bring Bill Cosby to Justice.
Speaking of justice, it’s also infuriating because some of the people have yet to face it. Johnny Depp and Michael Fassbender are still getting jobs in Hollywood, it’s only been recently that the Academy Awards have decided to expel Roman Polanski from their rewards and he has yet to spend a single day in jail for his crimes.
And those comic book writers I mentioned? Yes, they still have jobs writing for both Marvel and DC Comics, companies that have many a problem with expelling serial sexual harassers and a dudebro culture that is almost a much a gatekeeping problem as gatekeepers in fandom themselves.
In thinking about this, I thought about a video put out by Feminist Frequency a couple months ago, and in rewatching it, it definitely fits into much of what I talked about here.
There is no easy answer because of how transformative fiction can be, and how some works of art, be it comics, movies, and books, hold a special place in our hearts because of what they got us through.
It does bring to mind the age old question of if an artist can be separate from their work, and just like Anita, I have no easy answer for it. I can only agree with her ending here in that we must continue to call out for systemic change so that such people are no longer tolerated within the systems that bring us our entertainment, as well as other systems.