The 5 Stages Of Grief (For When Our Favorite Creators Suck)
As we all know by now, the latest movie in the Harry Potter spin-off series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, is finally here to the delight of … well, we’re not really sure. Is anyone actually enjoying these movies? Could we all just spend 2 hours and 23 minutes mainlining butterbeer instead?
Subtitled The Secrets of Dumbledore (his “secrets” seemingly consist of the fact that he’s gay, but somehow only in six-second intervals) the film is already floundering at the U.K. box office – which, if some reports are to be believed, could potentially forecast a premature death of the Fantastic Beasts saga.
A big reason why the studio behind the film, Warner Bros., may not see much of a future for these films is J.K. Rowling herself; specifically, her recent history of routinely propagating transphobic hogwash – making us all long for the days when she simply posted about the intricacies of wizard defecation.
We’ve mentioned before how these repeated acts of calculated transphobia will only further erode Harry Potter’s waning pop-culture status – and we’ve also questioned whether or not Rowling the author of Harry Potter, could ever be truly separated from Rowling, the author of a bunch of bigoted, highly-inaccurate blog posts. After all, some of us would like to still enjoy, say, a YouTube video of a small child butchering the Harry Potter theme on the recorder –
– without feeling as though we’re betraying our core principles. And this goes beyond Rowling; more and more it seems as though we’re discovering that some of our favorite pop-culture creators, for whatever reason, turn out to completely suck in real life. There’s obviously no one right answer for how to navigate this situation, but we’re going to see if using the famous “Five Stages of Grief” might work – after all, the psychological model has been applied to everything from food to football, so maybe it could help here …
It’s easy to try and brush aside the more grotesque attributes of an artist whose work you enjoy. Alfred Hitchcock is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, but no one talks about how he allegedly sexually assaulted actress Tippi Hedren, and drugged a handcuffed crew member with laxatives (resulting in a messier production than The Birds) just for his own twisted amusement. And we all continue to enjoy the antics, both on-screen and off, of the delightful Bill Murray – but most seem to keep the details of his ex-wife’s allegations of domestic abuse quietly tucked away in the dark corner of our brain that also houses the lyrics to the “Macarena.”
People have a way of denying basic logic if it impedes on their personal pleasure. Like how Woody Allen was accused of one of the most serious crimes imaginable in the early ‘90s, with ample supporting evidence, but after the case was dropped (despite the prosecutor having “probable cause” to try him in court) he remained a beloved pop-culture icon for decades. Why? Well, for one thing no one wanted to believe that the guy who made Annie Hall could do such a thing – even though many of his other movies were, in retrospect, creepy as hell.
Obviously, in the case of J.K. Rowling, she has never committed a crime, nor has she ever hurt anyone physically – she is, herself, a sexual assault survivor. That needs to be made clear; but, ultimately, there is a very wide spectrum of reasons why fans could potentially re-evaluate their relationship with a piece of pop-culture due to the actions of its creator.
Rowling’s situation is perhaps more analogous to that of Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card, a virulent homophobe who once claimed that gay marriage “marks the end of democracy in America.” Ender’s Game was still made into a movie in 2013, although Card’s gig writing Superman comics prompted a public “outcry” the same year. It seems as though one way we deny the truth is a knee-jerk tendency to reject a problematic creator’s new stuff, while still enjoying their classic older work, despite the fact that they were clearly made by the same person. Then there’s …
It’s only natural to be angry, not just because the hurtful actions of a respected artist upset you as a human being, but because, in a way, their actions feel like an invalidation of a piece of yourself. Especially if the person was responsible for crafting a fictional world you felt, to some extent, at home in. After all, if you’ve self-identified with the heroism of Buffy Summers for the better part of your life, it’s enraging to find out that the dude who invented her allegedly bullied and harassed female cast members.
Rowling, similarly, is engaging in actions that fundamentally contradict the central (however flawed) ethos of her work, which is what drew so many young readers to her stories in the first place; one of love and acceptance. Fans have expressed their feelings of fury and betrayal, because many saw the world of Hogwarts as a safe space for LGBTIA+ students, probably because Rowling literally told them exactly that. It’s no wonder that people are pissed. But what about …
The bargaining phase is basically when you hopelessly try to strike up a deal in vain, not unlike most dealings with AT&T. In the world of pop culture, perhaps this would translate as an attempt to rationalize the reprehensible behavior of a creator, even when it makes no sense to do so. For instance, legendary children’s author Roald Dahl was a vocal antisemite, who once claimed that the Holocaust was justified because of a “trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity.” But author Neil Gaiman, no doubt an admirer of Dahl’s, defended his character because he technically “didn’t support Hitler.”
Which … seems like a pretty low bar, Neil. How about …
Yeah, this whole issue is a huge bummer. But since trying to pinpoint new waves of depression in 2022 is a little like trying to find a grain of sand in a urine-filled IKEA ball pit, we’re going to move right along to …
Many will argue that we should be able to separate the art from the artist – and that some of the greatest creative feats in human history were achieved by giant pieces of crap. Like, Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations, but he also tried to imprison his wife in an asylum so he could hook up with a young actress. And Dr. Seuss was a racist who cruelly abandoned his cancer-ridden wife for another woman, shortly before she committed suicide – but we all still read Green Eggs and Ham to our kids so they won’t be so goddamn picky at mealtimes.
But we’re in a unique position these days; for one thing, we have far more information about famous people than ever before – after all, it’s not like Dickens was Tweeting out his plans to spruce up his sex life by committing the mother of his children. And it’s harder to separate the art from the artist when the art is, say, a TV show written, directed, and starring by the same guy, and by the way the theme song of said show is just the guy’s first name over and over again.
Ultimately, it’s this contradiction that makes our own personal responses so tricky. People can create works of great beauty while treating loved ones, and even entire swaths of the population, like human garbage. On paper, it seems like a complete and utter fallacy, but it happens time and time again.
J.K. Rowling built her empire on the premise that people, especially children, should be accepted for who they are. Yet, now she’s relentlessly demeaning a community whose life-or-death vulnerability has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, essentially championing the exact opposite sentiment of her books. It would be like if Michael Crichton spent the latter years of his life passionately advocating for the construction of dinosaur-based amusement parks.
Whether or not Rowling’s work can be enjoyed in light of her real world views is ultimately a subjective decision for each individual fan– but if you do choose to continue financially supporting the Potter-verse, consider matching your expenditure with a donation to a charity like The Trevor Project, which offers crisis service to LGBT youth 24/7, or the Transgender Law Center, which provides legal “resources necessary to advance the rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people.”
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Top Image: Warner Bros.