Saturday, February 20, 2010

Should I stop loving something just because I disagree with the creator's ideologies?

Just read a blog comment about someone who wasn't sure she could still love and read Jane Eyre because of Charlotte Brontë's more or less blatant racism, which has put me into rant mode.

The thing is, we have to see these books from the perspective of the time they were written in. The Brontës expressed opinions which were common of the mid-1800s and not exclusive to them, but widespread in society. Antisemitism isn't a new concept - they had massacres of Jews in medieval England. Gypsies have always been seen with suspicion - they mended pots and pans and told people their fortune... and stole not just various goods but also children - or at least, those are the prejudices held against them.

Opinions change as society changes, and back in the day of the Brontës, racism was quite acceptable. Nowadays, it's not. Should we stop reading the old classics just because our society no longer supports the same values those classic authors held along with their society? I think that's wrong, and it's foolish. If we stop reading them, we miss out on learning about our past, and that's a big mistake. If we don't learn from the past, how can we prevent history from repeating itself?

We don't have to agree with the views being portrayed, but it's not as if we're making a political statement by refusing to read these books. If it were books written by a contemporary author who writes racist propaganda - yes, then make a conscious decision to not buy those books or read them, because buying them would be supporting their cause.

Refusing to read your favourite book, a book you've loved all your life, written like 160 years ago because all of a sudden you discover the author might have been a tad bit racist... What sort of a knee-jerk response is that? "But I don't want people to think I'm a racist!" Who'd accuse you of being a racist for enjoying Charlotte Brontë? If it was a question of Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler - yes, by all means, go ahead and worry about how you will be perceived by others.

I'm sure I've seen similar worries on the IMDb boards, where Christian Buffy fans were wondering if they had to stop enjoying the show just because Joss Whedon is an Atheist. Or, "Can I read Harry Potter even though I'm a Christian?" COME ON! Just because you have your set of beliefs and your favourite show's creator or your favourite book's author happens to have beliefs different to yours, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy it! If it gets preachy and tries shoving a foreign ideology down your throat, fine, object. But the whole "I mustn't enjoy this thing which I've highly enjoyed for as long as I can remember just because I think its creator is wrong" is ridiculous.

I quite enjoy (some of) the Narnia books. They're classics, I've got the whole set and have read the series many times and seen the old TV-series and the new films. Do I have to stop enjoying them because CS Lewis was a devout Christian? No. I can find bits of the books preachy and dull because he's too heavy-handed with his enthusiasm for Christianity, but all in all, they're good fantasy stories for children. Do I have to love Richard Dawkins because he's a devout Atheist? I bloody hope not - he gets a bit too preachy too, not to mention he can be very condescending. In my book, go ahead and believe whatever you want, so long as you don't hurt or annoy others by doing so. By annoy, I mean try to convert, or in other ways trying to impose your belief system on someone else's.

There was something I saw recently, an article that was a few years old, where Dawkins objected to the Harry Potter books (which he hadn't read) because it would make children believe in things like witches and magic, which to him would be just as bad as if they went around believing in Jesus and the resurrection. Bit of a crowbar separation here, please? There is no Church of Holy Potter, it's a fictional character in a fictional story, and people know this. It's not a religion, it's a set of wonderfully imaginative books. Jesus and the resurrection, while we can debate whether or not that too counts as fiction or not, is a religion. Children are generally not born with belief in the ten commandments and such, it's imposed on them by their parents, and taught to be true, even though there is no empirical evidence of there being a god, and so on. Still, to say that both are damaging to children is a bit much.

Okay, that went off the topic completely.

To bring it back a bit, those who can't stomach Philip Pullman's amazing His Dark Materials trilogy because it's about "killing god" haven't got what the story is about, and have issues telling fiction from reality.

Erm, yeah. An illustration:

OMG, I'm going to have to stop enjoying artwork because Hitler was a painter!!! And I can never go to Austria, what if people think I'm a racist?! I really enjoy buying cheap and nice chocolate from Lidl, but that's a German company and I don't want people to think I'm a Nazi, so I can't shop there any more. I'll have to bin my two Cambria orchids that were got from there recently, because even though I used to think they're really beautiful, I can't like them now that I know Lidl is German. This year, I'll boycott the Christmas market around Market Square, because that's German too and if I don't put my foot down now, they'll burn the Reichstag and annex their neighbouring countries and next thing we know, there will be organised mass-murder!!

See what I mean? That's taking things way out of context, just like it is to stop enjoying Jane Eyre because you find out Charlotte Brontë was a bit negative about gypsies and had a character going off to India to be a missionary.

Rant over.

3 comments:

  1. well as perhaps it is my post that has something to do with this-maybe I am wrong if so sorry-I will respond-the point of my post is to see the pervasiveness of racism-to see how it can get below our own radars-I see Jane Eyre as, among other things, exposing this-Gypsies are a great example to me as they are still a largely powerless stateless minority-you can on American and UK TV mock Gypsies but of course not other groups-even if one were to find out that Charlotte Bronte was an overt racist and anti-Jewish that in no way invalidates her work-most of us have some ugly predjudices hidden away somewhere in our psyche-of course the attitudes toward such topics change with the time-maybe in 200 years our attitudes on many topics will see horribly narrow or maybe we will return to an era of great discrimination again-any way I am kind of on a reading theme now of colonialism in classic literature-the ending of Jane Eyre, if it is not meant ironically with the character of Mr Rivers as a travesty and Jane to be seen as blind to this, is straight out of Rudyard Kipling The White Man's Burden thinking-sorry to be so long on this and really enjoyed your post

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  2. Hi Mel! :) Not your post as such, but one of the comments someone made on it. I think your post is brilliant and very perceptive and interesting to read and makes a welcome change from the usual reviews! (I freely admit I'm a part of the "usual reviewer" group.) Part of this post started out as a comment to your blog, but as it started getting longer and a bit ranting, I thought I'd spare you and your readers. :) I was thinking of posting my rant on The Squeee but decided that it was the wrong place for it, but this being my "general" blog where I tend to post rants (hence the name! :D) I took it here instead, and extended it, as it's a topic which has been bugging me for a while.

    I was wondering about something when I watched JE'06 recently which is related to this, actually. They've changed India to Africa - Mr. Rivers is going to "the Cape" in Sandy Welch's adaptation, and Jane isn't learning Hindostanee but something else (not sure if it was mentioned exactly what). The only reason I can think of to change such a trivial detail is to not upset the large Asian community in the UK. There seems to be no other real reason for it, at least not that I can think of. Why they might change or omit other things in order to fit the TV format is understandable, but simply substituting one country for another in dialogue? Peculiar.

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  3. You are probably right about why the country Mr Rivers was going to was changed from India to South Africa-it does seem to be a change that lacks integrity somehow!-I know the comment you are referring to-Maybe the commentator was just in shock as she had never noticed the now unacceptable attitudes held by Jane and others-I find the political views of W B Yeats very repugnant over all but this does not effect my love of his work-

    In the case of Jane Eyre-the work clearly has a life beyond its standing as world class novel and that is why I looked at the issues I did-besides I do live in a country that was a colony up until 1948 and I am still under the spell of Jean Rhys!-please feel free to put as long a comment on my blog as u ever feel like doing as I value your opinion and your visits.

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