Chasing Inspiration

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Wonder Woman: Separating the Artist From the Art

Gratitudes:
  1. Thunderstorms, which would be infinitely more enjoyable if Velcro Dog wasn't freaked out by them.
  2. Writing "The End" at, well, the end.
  3. Friends who believe in you enough to carry that belief for you when you don't believe in yourself.
Edited on 6/15/2017:
A reader passed on two more articles that may counterbalance the Salon article linked to at the bottom of my blog post. 
I also encourage you to read her reply to this blog post as it offers some excellent points regarding why there is a rise of banning films containing Jewish content, the impacts of censorship, and the rise of antisemitism . While my post isn't about Wonder Woman, censorship, or Zionism, they were my jumping off point, perhaps the wrong jumping off point. Yes, we need to make space for people to experience something differently than we do, but we do not make space for hate. And we, I, need to educate ourselves on the issues we use as jumping off points or main thesis in our opinion pieces. This was absent from my original post, for which I apologize. 

This weekend I saw Wonder Woman. The movie was wonderful. The action was spot on. The sacrifices made sense. The women were bad ass. And Diana Prince is front and center. As she should be since this movie is her origin story. 

I know there has been at least one other superhero movie which featured a female superhero (Elektra for those who are wondering), but Wonder Woman is a female superhero icon and watching this movie made much younger me so very happy. I grew up watching Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman fighting crime on a weekly basis. I wanted to be Diana Prince. Even made myself bracelets and a diadem out of tin foil. This movie was important. It was long past due. 

I know people who did not love the movie. Some because of the pacing. Others because it changed Diana's origin story. Still others for a myriad of other stylistic reasons. There are those people who, however, disliked the movie because of the lead actress. Gal Gadot is an Israeli actress. This is why the movie to be boycotted and banned in Lebanon and other countries. Gal Gadot is also seen as a Zionist, in part because she openly supported the Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2010. Some people look at Ms. Gadot and see these things and can't see past them to Diana Prince and Wonder Woman.

This post is not to debate Gal Gadot, Israel, or Zionism. It's not to debate intersectional feminism. It's not even to debate the movie itself. No, this post is my attempt to answer this question: Can we separate the artist from the art? 

The answer is both yes and no. Yes, art can stand alone and speak to us as itself.  No, because sometimes the artist has imbued so much of themself into their art that a person may not be able to view the art without overlaying the artists upon it. In other words, it's personal. 

Why do we forgive certain celebrities for the pain and suffering they cause, but hold others in contempt forever? Maybe it's because some actions don't hit us where we live, while others eviscerate us, even if we weren't the target. Beliefs matter. Actions matter. And when we feel we are being ignored, attacked, gutted by the actions of someone we don't know, maybe that's because those actions trigger something deep within us. 

Example time. These are from my real life, and while none of these examples are the political and ethical tripwires that are being discussed thanks to the lead actress in Wonder Woman, they both have left long term scars upon me. 

I once knew a romance author who wrote some amazing stories. She was a bit of a pioneer with sex positivity back in the 90s. I got to know her online and we had some wonderful discussions. She started a web board, as was what authors often did in those days before Facebook and Twitter, and asked me to help moderate it. I was happy to. I loved her books. My interactions with her had been positive and informative. I wanted her social media presence to succeed. Until the day she threw a friend of mine under the bus in a very public and humiliating manner. 

I cut ties with said author and her board. I couldn't support this brand of bullying (which is what it was). I haven't read a single book of hers since. Not because she's a horrible storyteller. Her books were beautifully written. But when I tried to read her beautiful stories, my stomach would clench and I would be thrown back to that day when she humiliated my friend. I couldn't separate the writer from her books. I still can't. 

On the flip side, I am a fan of another author who also writes beautifully and I love her books. I had the chance to meet her at a conference. I happened to be in one of the public bathrooms when I overheard her complain about some of her fellow authors. It wasn't her best moment, and I left the bathroom feeling less sanguine about her as a person. I still enjoy her books, though I don't care if I ever meet her in person again and I'm less likely to recommend her books to others. 

I've thought about why I feel so differently about these two authors. They both said hurtful things in a public forum (public bathrooms are public after all). They both write wonderful books. Why am I still able to appreciate the books of one and not the other? My opinion, it's because the Author A did something that hurt me personally. You mess with my friend, you mess with me. You don't apologize for hurting my friend, that hurts me as well. Author B was cutting in her words, but while she presented herself poorly, she didn't hurt me or mine.

Can we separate the artist from the art enough to enjoy the art as something that stands on it's own? Yes and no. It all depends on what triggers you deeply and personally. If the artist, actor, author, celebrity does something that affects you so deeply you can't help but think of that every time you come across said artist/actor/author/celebrity, then it's not very likely that you'll be able to set aside your distaste long enough to enjoy the art that individual produced. 

And because it is so very personal, I think we need to create room for people to both love and hate the art while they love or hate the artist. And we need to listen when someone shares a view that is not our own. If someone feels strongly that Wonder Woman is not the feminist win for all women, we should listen to understand why. If someone boycotts the movie because of their perception of said actress' political leanings, then we need to create space for that. Even if we don't agree with the boycott or the reasons behind it. 

I leave you with this final article regarding Wonder Woman, a thoughtful opinion piece about the potential implications of the movie: The confused, confusing nationalism behind “Wonder Woman”


3 comments:

  1. After having read the Salon article, the first question I have is: Do deep politics come to mind for the average person going to see Wonder Woman? I was asked four times yesterday if I saw the film and not one person who asked me knew that Gal Gadot was a Sabra. Keeping that in mind, how many people who have seen the Iron Man franchise know that RDJ is a politically conservative Republican? Would die-hard liberals still want to see the films if they knew? My point is that banning the film in Lebanon has more to do with Gadot's Israeli origins than with one FB post, and I say this because Lebanon has a history of banning films such as Schindler's List and The Pianist. The country's General Security said that these films garner sympathy for the Jews--openly. A film like Spielberg's Munich in which Jews were both victims and avengers? Banned. There are two issues at hand when it comes to censorship like this in relationship to Israel--one can cite nationalism and then point out Gadot's FB post. But, there is also a rise in anti-Semitism worldwide, and certain countries have always banned films with Jewish content going so far as to claim that the Holocaust never happened. Censorship here has led to propaganda and perceptual manipulation, and that is the point of censorship. Cherry-picking one FB post by Gadot, superimposing Wonder Woman aiming an arrow at the onlooker over the Star of David, while claiming that the film communicates Jewish nationalism seems almost absurd to me when, in fact, I have yet to meet many non-Jews who even know that Gadot is Israeli. From the Jewish perspective, I just enjoyed seeing a Jewish woman NOT marching into a death camp on film for a change. Most films depict Jewish suffering specifically during WW2, and it's hard to see the same content repeatedly. But, we always find what we look for. If we are looking for a Jewish agenda of Zionistic oppression, then I guess one could find it in Wonder Woman. I can find the fingerprints of Zionist oppression at my synagogue, too, I suppose. I'm not making light of the realities of the Palestinian-Israeli situation. I just think that this article was...trying too hard and conflated the issues. But, I could be wrong as well.

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    1. Personally, I think WW is under scrutiny in the Western arena, not because Gal Gadot is Jewish or because of Zionism, but because it's a movie about a strong female superhero. Most people aren't going to care one way or another about the politics of the actors or director. I wouldn't have thought anything of it myself if I hadn't kept seeing a debate occurring over social media. Which made me ask myself the question about art and the artist and what role both play when it comes to enjoying art.

      You do raise good points, and I value your opinion. What most of us here in North America who don't have ties to Palestine or Israel see of the Palestinian-Israeli situation is sorely lacking in context. And my lack of that context is what had me linking to the articles I did. With more context, which I lay at my feet to find, I likely would have linked to an article to counterpoint the Salon article. It had been recommended to me to read by several people on Twitter, people who are both Jewish and a part of the writing community. Thank you for finding and posting links to the articles I didn't take the time to find on my own. I'm going to add them to the bottom of the article.

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  2. Here is a post about another Israeli (Israeli-American that is) actress' film about Zionism that was well-reviewed. You might find it interesting: http://www.thedailybeast.com/natalie-portmans-zionist-manifesto

    Also, censorship in Lebanon: https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-03-01/here-s-one-country-where-you-can-t-go-see-spotlight

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