What I mean by this question is, does someone’s personal beliefs, background, appearance, etc. affect the enjoyment of what they write?
As I’ve mentioned previously, I lurk a few writer’s forums, and the other day I realized that one of the regular posters on one of those forums is the husband of someone I went to college with. I never knew him personally, but, once I realized that, I suddenly knew a lot more about him than the posts I was reading on that forum. And I found that knowledge impacting my view of what he said in his posts. Not too much, but enough to make me pause and wonder how much what we “know” about someone influences our interpretation of their words and actions.
The other day, another friend of mine asked if he should boycott the upcoming Orson Scott Card movie due to the potential that he would be financially supporting someone whose beliefs were repulsive to him and who supported what he considered evil. This isn’t the first time I’ve run across very strong reactions to OSC’s personal beliefs. Nor is it the first time I’ve seen someone state that they would boycott his works because of those beliefs. (My response was that if I tried to stay away from everyone who didn’t share my beliefs or who did something I objected to, I’d be living on an uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific somewhere.)
I’ve also seen people make statements about Stephenie Meyer’s religious beliefs and how they can see those influences in her books.
I find it interesting. It’s like one of those “hidden image” optical illusions where, once you see the other face in the image (like the old woman and young girl), you can’t help but see both sides of the image.
I read Meyer and Card before I knew anything about their personal beliefs. And I enjoyed reading their books and didn’t feel “preached” to or detect a strong bias in their works. If I were to go back to them now could I find those connections? Possibly. But, hindsight is amazing for letting you see what was supposedly there all along.
Sometimes it’s obvious when an author has an agenda. I forget the book now, but one year for Christmas my brother bought me a random book (because I like to read and all books are the same, of course), and I couldn’t get past the first hundred pages, because the author’s anti-meat agenda was so brutally obvious that there was really no story. It was a flimsy excuse for a story followed by pages and pages of diatribe about the evils of meat processing plants. Now, I read The Jungle at some point, too, but it actually told a story. Did I learn about turn of the century labor and health standards, too? Sure.
So, where do we draw the line? If someone is vocal about their personal beliefs, but doesn’t express them openly in their stories, should we still judge those stories based upon what we know about the person? What about the person who isn’t vocal about their beliefs, but someone else says they believe a certain way and it isn’t clear from their stories that they do? To what degree does someone have to try to “force” their beliefs on others before it matters? Is one interview comment enough? Or do they need to be an advocate for that view?
I know that my life experience, which is based upon my appearance, socio-economic factors, career choice, school choice, cultural influences, world events, etc. impacts every single word I write. But I don’t write to make others believe what I do. (Hell, sometimes I’m not sure what I believe. Or, I’m pretty sure what I’d do if this world were a dictatorship run by me, but it’s not. Or, I know what works for me, but I know it doesn’t work for 98% of the rest of the world. And that’s ok.)
I write to create one more perspective in a sea of possible views. And, because the world is what it is, each person who reads anything I write will take something different away with them and I have no control over what that will be. I hope that anyone who reads my writing will read it for what they see there and what it tells them about themselves and not because of who or what they think I am. And I’ll try to do the same for them.