Obits: Not Such a Nice Guy? September 9, 2017 8:07 PM   Subscribe

When we have an obit for someone who is ... controversial, as Jerry Pournelle, what should be the mefi etiquette for either leaving the obit at all or possibly crapping it up with the bad memories and misdeeds? Feelings with regard to some people can run strong, and the reasons aren't always obvious to everyone.
posted by Bringer Tom to Etiquette/Policy at 8:07 PM (212 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

My feeling is, it helps if people read the room a bit, and get a sense of whether we're discussing someone with a complicated or negative legacy, or if it's 99% of MetaFilter mourning Prince and you wanna be the one guy posting "... but his music really sucked! Good riddance," because in that second case you're probably going to get deleted.

I don't think in general it's a problem to talk about someone's complicated legacy, such as Pournelle. I would suggest, however, that those are not the best place to go gunning for snark points or to unload the most colorful parts of your insult array, since in the case of someone like Pournelle, there will be parts of his life and work that some mefites admire, and parts that other people disdain, and it's not so much that it's disrespectful to Pournelle (he's dead, what does he care?) as that it can be super-jerky to fellow mefites whose opinion may differ. A lot of the comments in the Pournelle thread were calm and interesting reflections on the negative parts of his legacy and those are fine; people posting "BASICALLY HITLER" is less helpful.

There is a phenomenon where some otherwise perfectly polite mefites see the obituary of someone they dislike (often for very good reason!) and start unloading their opinions in really offensive and vicious ways that we obviously don't generally allow on the site, and it'd be cool of people could avoid that. Early in my modding career I caught the Nancy Reagan obituary and apparently some people didn't realize that nasty misogynistic insults are STILL NOT OKAY when applied to a dead person that you really disliked. People should pause to think about whether in their haste to unload their venom using the ugliest language they know, they're actually creating a hostile environment for fellow posters who might be members of the same group they're using slurs about. Calling Nancy Reagan a "stupid fucking c-word" wasn't hurting her one bit -- she was dead! -- but it was sure as shit hurting fellow mefites.

Just in general my advice would be that if you have something negative to say about a dead person, pause for a moment to weigh your personal desire to vent your spleen against the feelings of other mefites, who might mourn someone you loathe, or who might be hurt by some of the words you choose, and consider your comments in that light. I get the desire to dance on people's grave (*coughscaliacough*), but remember your comments have no effect on the dead, but they will have an effect on your fellow mefites, and you can certainly phrase a comment that "Dead Person X was a pretty bad person" in a way that's respectful of other mefites -- as many people did in the Pournelle thread. We can all agree Nancy Reagan was a kind-of terrible person! without having to resort to gendered insults and blatant misogyny, which doesn't affect her at all, but definitely shows disrespect for the women of MetaFilter.

tl;dr, gravedance respectfully, not for the sake of the dead, but for the sake of your fellow community members
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 8:36 PM on September 9 [108 favorites]


Thanks, Eyebrows, that was exactly the guidance I was looking for.
posted by Bringer Tom at 8:42 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Metafiter: Gravedance respectfully
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:49 PM on September 9 [58 favorites]


Beyond the thing of insults targeting a group, there's also a kind of general floor, by way of just maintaining our base level of decency here. Over the years a lot of folks have objected to excessive or nastily pointed comments in obit threads, even in cases where commenters are univocal in thinking badly of the deceased. It's just expecting people to exercise some very basic restraint.

So like, literally the phrase "I piss on his grave" isn't great (even if it's honest to how one feels and isn't insulting other Mefites) -- it's one of these phrases that really touches a nerve for some folks. Similarly, graphic comments about torments in the afterlife, that kind of thing. We can have critical comments without going to that place. It's fine to say in detail why the person was bad, or say forcefully that they were bad and did bad things. It's just the kind of celebratory/nasty stuff that can shade into "eh, better to take the high road and leave that unsaid, here."

I think the Pournelle obit thread has been fine, people have been doing a great job in there of being clear about their criticisms of him without going over the line.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:10 PM on September 9 [6 favorites]


I think it's pretty fun how of course my comment is the one that got deleted, rather than the ones that started the derail.
posted by adrienneleigh at 9:12 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


adrienneleigh, this is the right place to talk about moderation. Don't do it in the thread.

Your comment and another were deleted. It's common when a derail starts that it needs to be stopped somewhere, and that ended up being with your comment this time. If you want to put the comment in this thread it would be totally fine. I'll Mefimail you a copy of it.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:16 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


"Your comment and another were deleted. It's common when a derail starts that it needs to be stopped somewhere, and that ended up being with your comment this time."

s/this time/every time
posted by adrienneleigh at 9:21 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure I had some comments deleted, FWIW. It happens.
posted by Artw at 9:44 PM on September 9


(Mainly I was speculating as to the clusterfuck that will occur once Clint Eastwood dies, which, well, I can see why maybe that wouldn't be wanted in thread)
posted by Artw at 9:46 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


That Eastwood obit thread will just be a bunch of people unleashing their ire at an empty chair.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:10 PM on September 9 [49 favorites]


For me, Jerry Pournelle was a name on a Larry Niven book I never got around to reading -- until that thread came along.

I got a lot out of reading that thread.
posted by jamjam at 10:32 PM on September 9 [5 favorites]


Personally I'm waiting for another obit thread as good as Thatcher's.
posted by edeezy at 10:33 PM on September 9 [8 favorites]


We all agree that Nancy Reagan was a kind of terrible person?
posted by AugustWest at 10:46 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


She was a very effective, low-key advocate on HIV/AIDS awareness. Super low key. Almost opposite of that key.
posted by Artw at 10:48 PM on September 9 [14 favorites]


We all agree

good luck with that
posted by philip-random at 12:24 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


Someone could do a Clint FPP before he dies. And get that out of our system. Again. Then send him off with a 21-. salute.
posted by chavenet at 2:23 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I was late to it, but pretty profoundly disappointed with how the blue treated the Jerry Lewis obit. His grave didn't deserve the timid wallflowery dance around the malice and brutality that defined his life that it got here, much less the tone deaf praise. His grave deserves to be soaked in the contents of a thousand catheter bags, and that his obit passed by with little more than some hemming and hawing about how 'complicated' this vicious bully was is a betrayal of the values the blue claims to have.

Of all the non-disability focused places on the internet I frequent I wouldn't have thought metafilter would have held the humanity of me and mine so cheap. That thread at least needed a lot more dancing.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:20 AM on September 10 [21 favorites]


of course my comment is the one that got deleted,

You'll also find that whenever someone immediately repeats your subtle joke in a longer, clumsier form, that's the one that gets the 90 favourites.
posted by Segundus at 4:08 AM on September 10 [25 favorites]


adrienneleigh: "s/this time/every time"

The correct form is "SILENCED ALL MY LIFE" *Shakes head* "noobs"
posted by Mitheral at 4:34 AM on September 10 [26 favorites]


We all agree that Nancy Reagan was a kind of terrible person?

The point was that even in cases where we all agree a woman is a terrible person, we should still avoid using the c-word when we express that dislike.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:09 AM on September 10 [17 favorites]


I was late to it, but pretty profoundly disappointed with how the blue treated the Jerry Lewis obit. His grave didn't deserve the timid wallflowery dance around the malice and brutality that defined his life that it got here, much less the tone deaf praise.


This raises a fairly interesting point - if any criticism of the deceased is to be couched as not to hurt those with some positive emotional connection, is it unreasonable to ask that any praise be tempered in its enthusiasm relative to the harms committed by the deceased, which might personally affect many mefites? I say no.
posted by Dysk at 5:38 AM on September 10 [11 favorites]


I literally was unaware that Nancy Reagan had died. Color me surprised. Weird how news like that can somehow just slip by you.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:50 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


of course my comment is the one that got deleted,

Don't feel bad at least it was up long enough to get flagged, my classic anti-snark snark was deleted prior to even being typed.
posted by sammyo at 6:12 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]

I think it's pretty fun how of course my comment is the one that got deleted, rather than the ones that started the derail.
.
posted by dfan at 6:53 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


His grave didn't deserve the timid wallflowery dance around the malice and brutality that defined his life that it got here, much less the tone deaf praise.

Not disagreeing that the man was seriously lousy in many ways, but isn't this basically you saying "People on MetaFilter don't agree with my view of the world and some of the people in it?" Because to me while MeFi may lean this way or that way generally on any number of issues, at the end of the day it's made up of people with widely varying life experiences which they talk about. I mean there's a decent argument to be made that the diversity on MeFi is only a small subslice of the diversity available in the larger world, but we do have a lot of people with a lot of opinions and that's one of this place's strengths.

So you seem to be saying "I wish there was a lot more of that sort of 'piss on his grave' commentary" in a thread that seems specifically set up for talking about how 'piss on his grave' commentary is often anti-community.

Analysis of why an obit thread shouldn't be a hagiography? Great. Useful intel. "You should only have one opinion about what this guy's life meant to you or to thew world"? Sort of a narrowband approach to the topic, to any topic, imo. Your fave is problematic. Everyone's is.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 7:17 AM on September 10 [25 favorites]


The social injunction against speaking ill of the recently dead is strong in all cultures that I know. There's a lot to be said for it as mourners should be given peace and quiet. That said, when reflecting on this particular issue I've often thought of an acquaintance of mine who was for years in childhood brutally bullied by an older kid. It left deep psychological scars. Then, when they were both in their late teens, after the bullying had ended, the bully died in a car accident. This led to an outpouring of public grief in the local community, with attendant valorising of the deceased teen. My acquaintance wasn't happy about the fatal accident, but had as a child lived in terror of the older kid. As my acquaintance had no outlet for his complicated feelings, what followed was a spiral of depression.

At this year's Worldcon there was a discussion about what to name a Best Young Adult Book Award. The name that was settled on is Lodestar, but there was a strong push to name it after Madeleine L'Engle. One member of the committee making the proposal went up and explained that they had discussed naming it after L'Engle until they were provided a summary of L'Engle's depiction of gay and bisexual characters in her works, including direct quotes, which the committee member then read aloud. That completely ended any push to name it after L'Engle. What was shocking to me and many others is that L'Engle's views on homosexuality aren't part of her public profile. I never read her but some in the room, who had read books by her, were stunned.

Staying silent about the views and actions which reflect badly on a dead person isn't always the kinder option. People should be remembered in full.
posted by Kattullus at 7:19 AM on September 10 [40 favorites]


When Rupert Murdoch dies I'll will have a hard time holding back, so I'll say it in advance: I am sorry if my language, related to Murdoch's passsing, alienates, hurts, or offends any billionaire mefites.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:03 AM on September 10 [10 favorites]


The problem in that thread was not so much the comments directly about Pournelle problematic issues but the meta commentary insinuating that posters that had positive input were unworthy or not really making acceptable posts. Re-read Eyebrows comment.
posted by sammyo at 8:05 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I had to stay out of the Jerry Lewis thread entirely because I knew I'd be tempted to say something about my long-standing negative views on the guy, which would have, I felt, run completely counter to the eulogizing that most folks seemed to need.

And I'm already on record pissing on Dick Cheney's grave, so I probably won't feel the need to participate in that thread when it comes, either.

There's a vast difference in my attitudes between the two men, but my resulting absence from both of their obit threads will be the same.
posted by darkstar at 8:11 AM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Sometimes you have to shit on a grave to help the flowers grow.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:21 AM on September 10 [24 favorites]


I should write fortune cookie inserts.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:21 AM on September 10 [39 favorites]

jessamyn: Not disagreeing that the man was seriously lousy in many ways, but isn't this basically you saying "People on MetaFilter don't agree with my view of the world and some of the people in it?"
No, not at all. I've got no bone to pick with people's appreciation of his comedy, even as inseparable as it may be from the frantically reflexive cruelty inherent to the man's character, if only for all the reasons you're referencing why there is no dispute in matters of taste. There are however plenty of opinions on plenty of subjects that are fundamentally unacceptable and incompatible with the values that metafilter as a community professes to have. A lot of that thread fits this description.

If someome said this:
dbiedny: "His positive contributions far outweigh any legitimately critical assessment of the man.

May he RIP."
Or
1f2frfbf: "At his worst: he was a human. Possibly every bit as awful as anyone could be. I can forgive him that, if I try."
about Bill Cosby or Leni Riefenstahl perhaps the problem would be more obvious. However, dismissing what he was as simply 'seriously lousy' isn't much less disingenuous than Dr. Yu's highly favorited but actively dishonest appraisal of the dude, he was a monster (2:41). I don't see this as being a question of taste at all, this is a question about who and what is welcome here. Have you read any of the materials linked in that thread? The question of whether or not people with disabilities are fully human, or whether we have a right to agency and dignity, are not about a 'view of the world' or even civility. Its something deeper than that, its about who we are and and the bigotry we'll tolerate.
jessamyn: "So you seem to be saying "I wish there was a lot more of that sort of 'piss on his grave' commentary" in a thread that seems specifically set up for talking about how 'piss on his grave' commentary is often anti-community."
I'm bringing it up as an intentional counter-point, and suggesting that in this instance fawning over the dead was profoundly 'anti-community.' I think we've chosen pretty well in the past when presented with the question of whether we'd be welcoming to dickwolf-enthusiasts or women as well as TERFs or our trans members. I'm suggesting that maybe people who are for whatever reason incapable of seeing Lewis for the bigot he is aren't the diversity we should be concerned with here.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:42 AM on September 10 [27 favorites]


For Mod's sake I hope Woody Allen lives forever.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:49 AM on September 10 [15 favorites]


I don't see this as being a question of taste at all, this is a question about who and what is welcome here.

So do I understand correctly that you're suggesting that posters on one end of the spectrum be banned or at least stifled?

I mean it's working, there are any number of Mifi's that have stated they do not even consider posting to certain types of threads.
posted by sammyo at 9:52 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


Maybe you should read the rest of Blasdelb's comment, in particular the sentences immediately following your pullquote.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:55 AM on September 10 [5 favorites]


It reminds of the Thatcher obit, where (mostly American) conservatives came to complain about the thread supposedly being unnecessarily cruel, including one member swiping at British Mefites who had suffered under her policies as ungrateful whelps that wanted "unicorn candy."
posted by zombieflanders at 10:01 AM on September 10 [19 favorites]


I think the guiding factor in Obit threads, as in others, is Try Not To Be An Asshole. There are some public figures who deserve pillorying, but if you can't thoroughly castigate someone without being crass, consider leaving it to the pros. I wish I had an example. For people whose work I simply don't enjoy, I usually stay out, as I don't happen to care for X is kind of pointless.
posted by theora55 at 11:06 AM on September 10 [3 favorites]


Maybe it would help to just cut down on the editorializing in general in obit threads. I can imagine say, a Dick Cheney obit thread where someone is just making a comment about the guy, such as "hey, a lot of people don't know he [fuck I don't know, something good, had a secret charity or something]." Then a lot of people getting super mad at the "Cheney-apology" going on in the thread. It's just an obituary. It doesn't need to be a hagiography or a hit-job. Acknowledging facts about the person's life doesn't imply judgment whether they made the world a better or worse place, how happy or sad their death makes you, or most grossly, whether they deserved to live or die. THAT's what becomes offensive to other mefites.
posted by ctmf at 11:11 AM on September 10 [2 favorites]


So I am the guy who started the derail with my parenthetical postscript to this comment. After mods deleted a few follow-on comments and suggested that this issue be discussed here in MetaTalk, I considered being the one to create that thread here, but decided not to. I am happy that Bringer Tom chose to do it, though, and I think the discussion here has been thoughtful and needed for the community. But honestly I am still not sure I had the right answer in my original comment-- maybe I shouldn't be reading obit posts on metafilter because the venom that regularly appears there makes me sad and causes me to lose respect for mefites that I normally admire. Again, I am not criticizing anyone-- I'm talking about my reactions, and my feeling that I don't want to see my metafilter heroes acting spitefully.
posted by seasparrow at 12:25 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


Why is everyone using Dick Cheney (age 76) as the canonical future example when Henry Kissinger is 94 years old?
posted by DanSachs at 12:36 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]


about Bill Cosby or Leni Riefenstahl perhaps the problem would be more obvious.

I fully expect people in the (terrible serial rapist predator) Bill Cosby obit thread to be talking also about the huge effect that he had on the world of comedy. This is clearly a perspective which you and I differ. I get what you're saying, that people in the thread who are like "It's not okay to dislike the man for his obvious flaws because of his huge contributions elsewhere" are tossing down a gauntlet and, themselves, being community-negative in precisely the way you are saying negates the sort of diversity this site is trying to at least maintain if not support.

The question becomes, then, how to manage that sort of thing, people with strong opinions that differ in this sort of way? Someone who really thinks Cosby's contributions to comedy are more important than the fact that he was a rapist? That should be a valid opinion to hold, even if you might think less of the person for holding it. If that person starts fighting with everyone about it? Not OK. Just saying so? Should be OK.

And no I didn't read any of the linked articles. I know how despicable Lewis was and I don't need to read more to understand the issue. But this is less about debating Lewis's opinions, in your example, and more about the opinions of the MeFites who are actively engaging in the thread and who have opinions that you have issues with This isn't just an obit thread example, is it?
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 12:50 PM on September 10 [9 favorites]


I searched and didn't find obit posts for Antonin Scalia or Roger Ailes, arguably (and arguably is SO the right word) among the most significant recent deaths... maybe that provides a guide where to draw the line.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:05 PM on September 10


Not sure if I'm misunderstanding you, but: Scalia, Ailes. Both pretty awful people, which drove the tone of the threads but didn't presuppose they wouldn't happen.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:08 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Okay, I just mis-searched. I was so surprised I didn't find them that I almost didn't make the comment. Nevermind.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:16 PM on September 10


remembering scalia is dead never fails to brighten my day
posted by poffin boffin at 1:17 PM on September 10 [41 favorites]


Until I then remember how Gorsuch replaced him.

(Sorry.)
posted by darkstar at 1:25 PM on September 10 [8 favorites]


When Rupert Murdoch dies I'll will have a hard time holding back

I'm already saving up the piss

someone call a doctor
posted by duffell at 1:36 PM on September 10 [8 favorites]


remembering scalia is dead never fails to brighten my day

And now that he's dead, he can no longer jeopardize his amazing record of being the only American Wit never to say anything actually clever -- not that it was ever really in jeopardy, of course.
posted by jamjam at 2:35 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


Why is everyone using Dick Cheney (age 76) as the canonical future example when Henry Kissinger is 94 years old?

Because Kissinger will never die. No afterlife wants him.
posted by pracowity at 2:44 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


At least with Len Wein we'll mostly be arguing about the good taste of Wolverine and Swamp Thing jokes. Maybe arguing the toss on some of his later feuds with Alan Moore.

Also RIP Len Wein, he will be missed.
posted by Artw at 2:55 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]


Unless I am engaging in one of the many -isms that thoughtful humans try to avoid, I don't think what I have to say about a dead person should be "managed" because it might make some other member of the site feel bad about how *they* feel about the dead person. We can disagree in our opinions about people. IMO the line should be whether you're using words in a negative way that is specifically about the deceased, or if you're using words in a negative way that is specifically about a race, religion, gender, sub-culture, what-have-you, to which the deceased belonged.

I wouldn't hold it against anyone who danced on a grave in a Metafilter obit thread if they give the reason they're doing it--and they always do. I mean, I have danced on graves, and I have been on the opposite side, where I can't imagine anyone dancing on that particular grave. But generally, if we don't know already, obit threads are where we find out about shielded (or elided) awfulness.

I mean, people danced on Ted Kennedy's grave for Mary Jo Kopechne, and as much as I admired--almost revered--Ted Kennedy's work as a politician for the people, I didn't begrudge them the dancing.

(Okay maybe I debated with a few people that we can't really know what anyone would have done in his place, but I didn't ever say "you're not allowed to dance on his grave." We all have our limits.)
posted by tzikeh at 3:21 PM on September 10 [14 favorites]


Why is everyone using Dick Cheney (age 76) as the canonical future example when Henry Kissinger is 94 years old?

Because Kissinger will never die. No afterlife wants him.


Or because many (most? at this point? maybe?) people on the site weren't alive when Kissinger was a major player, or ever learned much about the hanging offenses he committed things he did.
posted by tzikeh at 3:23 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I am sympathetic to the nil-nisi-bonum attitude towards regular people, but not politicians and other wielders of power. I said nasty things about Reagan in his obit thread and will do the same about Henry Kissinger. Fuck these people.
posted by languagehat at 3:39 PM on September 10 [26 favorites]


I'm basically with languagehat on this one, and it's a matter of pragmatism on my part: famous, powerful people leave behind legacies. Giving them a pass doesn't just give the person a pass, (which I can understand, even though I'm not really into), it gives one to the harmful movements or events they've set in motion. It's cover for people who want to perpetuate the bad things they've done.

When someone influential dies, I'd rather talk about everything, warts and all.
posted by mordax at 4:12 PM on September 10 [17 favorites]


I almost think we should have separate threads for Cosby: one for what an awful human being is and one for his contributions to comedy and groundbreaking career as an African-American actor.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:23 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


one for his contributions to comedy and groundbreaking career as an African-American actor.

As Norm McDonald recently said to Jerry Seinfeld, he's still the greatest comic ever. I can't undo all the laughing. (or words to that effect)
posted by philip-random at 4:34 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


That thread was a great example of how easy it is for people who are not affected by racism or sexism (or really, any other type of generalized prejudicial behavior) can overlook it. I honestly will never understand why a frank observation about some dead person's lousy actions should not be part of remembering their effect on the people exposed to them. Jerry Pournelle never evolved or grew out of his shitty prejudices; they're on his blog and in comments all over the internet. He stood by them, that's who he was. For women and people of color it is pretty clear that he only held white males in esteem. If we're not allowed to point that out when someone influential has died then when? I assume it will be the same length of time after a hurricane in which we're allowed to discuss climate change, or after a massacre in which we're allowed to discuss gun violence. You may argue that we're talking about a human and not a weather event; at least a weather event isn't trying to make a point about the savagery and stupidity of other human beings in order to elevate human beings like themselves.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:34 PM on September 10 [46 favorites]


'gravedance respectfully' is not 'silenced all my life'.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:15 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


I should add that I don't think separate threads would work for most other situations, You can't talk about Woody Allen films without talking about his personal life, and vice-versa. The enormity of Cosby's crimes, however, should be able to be examined without being interrupted by the also-valid cross-dicsussion of his professional achievements.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:36 PM on September 10


Is "venting your spleen" really a euphemism for "ranting loudly"? I've never heard of it before.

Venting ones spleen sounds like something done with a knife, and against one's will i might add.

i.e. "I'd like you to find Mr. X and, discreetly, vent his spleen in an alleyway."
posted by some loser at 6:15 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


I honestly will never understand why a frank observation about some dead person's lousy actions should not be part of remembering

Because I don't see much evidence of that? For the vast majority of commenters it wasn't "part of remembering", it was the entirety of remembering. It was the obtuse reduction of a person's life to one or two or a dozen actions. And look, I am not saying you are wrong-- the guy was a horrible classic "racist grandpa" figure and everyone can recognize that. But he was also a father, a man who served his country in wartime, an influential early computer writer, and introduced not one but two entirely different generations of science fiction readers to an appreciation for the works of Dante.

I will always remember this-- As a child I read Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, and at the end of one of them, the young protagonist is shocked and doesn't understand when they hold a funeral for the villain they had just defeated. His older mentor replies "It is easy to judge evil unmixed. But, alas, in most of us good and bad are closely woven as the threads on a loom; greater wisdom than mine is needed for the judging.” And I hope I am always brave enough to bring that perspective to a person's death, whether it is Jerry Pournelle or Jerry Seinfeld or Jerry Springer. There is good and bad in everyone, and it is a mistake to reduce a celebrity to a single attribute just because they are a celebrity.

I am not telling anyone what they can or can't write-- no one is trying shut down your graveyard dance. But I think it is OK to mention that I personally enjoyed the work of a science fiction writer as a child, and that is part of my story, even if we all later learned that writer was a monster, as it turns out many writers actually are in person.

TL;DR: I shit my pants during class last week. I hope that is not the only thing you remember me for after five decades of life.
posted by seasparrow at 6:18 PM on September 10 [10 favorites]


My problem isn't with mentioning bad memories connected with the dead person, or the misdeeds they committed in life, because that's part of who they were. Obit threads should be about the person and how they they effected others, both the good and the bad.

What makes me mad is when something says something like "I'm glad they're dead," and gets a bunch of favorites, and that sets off other replies saying variations of the same thing. "He was an X, it's good he's gone." It's like kicking the casket to get final revenge, and it can derail the thread.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:19 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


Is "venting your spleen" really a euphemism for "ranting loudly"?

Yes indeed. It's a phrase that's been in use since the Middle Ages, possibly.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:43 PM on September 10 [7 favorites]


Because I don't see much evidence of that? For the vast majority of commenters it wasn't "part of remembering", it was the entirety of remembering. It was the obtuse reduction of a person's life to one or two or a dozen actions.

OTOH, while that may be your own perspective on the thread, it's not everyone's. I actually think it's been a fairly "well-balanced" thread (so far) - lots of people noting the positive influence his writing on computers had for them, lots of people noting that they like(d) his books to some degree even if they disagreed with his politics, some people with stronger opinions weighing in on his politics, some people noting the pleasant personal interactions they had with him regardless of his politics and whether or not they agree with same.

You seem to be approaching this as if you think that each comment or commenter should say something positive-ish before unloading the anger or hate or negativity, or that a relative handful of really angry comments overwhelms the thread, and I just don't agree with that assessment of the thread.

TL;DR: If you shit your pants publicly and intentionally every single day for fifty years, it's a bit much to expect every single person noting your death to defuse the pants-shitting by prefacing it with, "Well, he liked puppies."
posted by soundguy99 at 6:49 PM on September 10 [16 favorites]


You seem to be approaching this as if you think that each comment or commenter should say something positive-ish before unloading the anger or hate or negativity, or that a relative handful of really angry comments overwhelms the thread, and I just don't agree with that assessment of the thread.

That is completely wrong. Every comment I have made in this thread and precipitating post has emphasized that every single person is allowed their own take on a situation. I can't say that nobody is telling you what you have to write, but I can say with 100% certainty that I am not telling you what to do. I am not even sure how you missed the main point of every comment I made.
posted by seasparrow at 7:02 PM on September 10


This is not a funeral. I said some nasty stuff in the Reagan obits - Ron AND Nancy, I hated them both! - and I don't regret it. Would I have said that at their funerals? Graveside (with poor Ron Jr. and his years of therapy unraveling?) No, probably not, because I would respect that even the evil leave mourners. But, this is Metafilter, not a cemetery. The family is not in attendance and if they are they probably should not be. An obit thread is a community discussion, not a eulogy. I have never understood this desire people have to venerate the dead. They are no more - or less - worthy of admiration at death than they were alive. People are complicated. Admitting that Pournelle was a shithead may or may not invalidate his writing to you; you'll have to figure that one out yourself. Podkayne of Mars changed my life! Gauguin is one of my favorite painters! But Heinlein and Gauguin were quite horrible. A Metafilter obit thread seems like a fine place to acknowledge all of that.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:15 PM on September 10 [32 favorites]


At least with Len Wein we'll mostly be arguing about the good taste of Wolverine and Swamp Thing jokes. Maybe arguing the toss on some of his later feuds with Alan Moore.

Funny you mentioned Wein, because someone has already brought up Wein's alleged remark about Batgirl--"cripple the bitch"--in the obit thread. That's as reported by Alan Moore, the one who actually decided to have the Joker paralyze Barbara Gordon. I have no reason to doubt Moore particularly; if Wein didn't say that exactly, it was probably something similar. But that's one comment out of a long and more-than-decent career. (The same commenter said that Wein fought "to keep comics as straight, white, and male as possible", which is just about as wrong as wrong can be.) You could probably find other things to complain about in his career, but you might have to work at it.

I don't know if there's some threshold there; I supposed that it's highly conditional and varies not only for each person, but even within each person depending on the circumstances and the person that they're considering. (As offensive as Wein's comment is, it's orders of magnitudes away from the crimes of a Polanski or a Cosby, and isn't even in the ballpark of some of the things that Jerry Pournelle has said publicly IMO.) I'm more on the side of such things being simply said in obit threads, with links when possible/appropriate, sans the I-shit-on-your-grave firestarting, and letting people decide for themselves.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:01 PM on September 10 [3 favorites]


Blasdelb: since you specifically called me out, may I explain.

I find Jerry Lewis to be utterly and completely a repugnant person. I find his treatment of those around him to be bordering on the psycopathic, and his narcissistic self-promotion over and above those he claims to to be helping deplorable. However, I do respect the man's eye as a director, and I took to heart the "don't be an asshole" dictate of MetaFilter. I took pains to point out that he was a character where there were multiple views of his work. I tried to mention what he did well, while alluding to his failings (which were many and well documented). I was, to put it gently, polite. If you felt I was defending the man, I have failed, utterly and miserably. I am not the sort who comments in obit threads unless I have a point to make or story to tell. I am not a man of the ".". With Mr Lewis, I made my comment specifically to say that there were two sides to the man.

All this is to say I agree with you totally and unequivocally, but I still took pains to be polite in a dead person's obit because Standards. Also I try to forgive people for simply being shitty people, possibly more than I should, because I hope doing so will enable others to forgive me my own transgressions, large or small. I'm kind of simple that way.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:07 PM on September 10 [11 favorites]



Yes indeed. It's a phrase that's been in use since the Middle Ages, possibly.


Perhaps it's time to retire it then, seeing as we now know the spleen is in fact not responsible for teh "humors", but in fact if you were to vent it, you would bleed to death rather quickly.
posted by some loser at 8:09 PM on September 10


Yes indeed. It's a phrase that's been in use since the Middle Ages, possibly.

Perhaps it's time to retire it then


Er. No? Perfectly cromulent phrase that I and many people I know use just as often as any other phrase-that-used-to-mean-a-thing-and-now-we-use-it-as-a-metaphor.

Why on earth should we retire it?
posted by tzikeh at 8:16 PM on September 10 [25 favorites]




The "person behind the performer" can be a quite complicated issue. I noted in the Jay Thomas obit thread that many radio people I knew considered his "difficult to work with" reputation was created by him when he was competing with Howard Stern to be "King of the Shock Jocks". Lack of first-hand experience leaves me totally uncertain whether it was true or not.

Kliph Nesteroff's tumblr includes some headlines from old tabloids about since-departed celebs that are a bit of a laugh today. I could say "You just never know", but sometimes you do.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:26 PM on September 10


Halloween Jack - doesn't *seem* to have sent thinks south in any particular way, in fact seems like a pretty organic part of the conversation.
posted by Artw at 8:53 PM on September 10


(Obvs that could change quickly as is the nature of the internets)
posted by Artw at 8:53 PM on September 10


I am not even sure how you missed the main point of every comment I made.

Probably because you appear to be saying "everyone should say whatever they want but no decent person would want to say that" and coming across as quite critical, and very disingenuously so.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:33 AM on September 11 [5 favorites]


Considering there's been a notable injection of sanctimony from people arguing that other commenters are being too nice in the obit threads (and that really emphasises for me how the site has changed over the years, considering it's been a long while since there were obit MeTas on the regular but the sanctimony then was inevitably about not speaking ill of the dead, 'imagine if their family read this', etc.) I think seasparrow is being grossly misread.

We all have different perspectives. seasparrow has repeatedly stated that they are speaking only from their perspective. And it's not them but other users who are being 'how dare you speak well of the dead', mischaracterising comments they think of as too positive about someone they hate, and suggesting - well, let me just quote blasdelb:

There are however plenty of opinions on plenty of subjects that are fundamentally unacceptable and incompatible with the values that metafilter as a community professes to have.

To attribute that sentiment to seasparrow is simply incorrect, and a misattribution besides.
posted by gadge emeritus at 3:30 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


The obit threads are hard to read for me anymore, mostly because of the people who insist of dredging up even the smallest missteps the deceased has made. If you factor in the people who are So!Fucking!Excited! for people to die so that they can unload -- yeesh. It's gross and it's one of the few things I do not like about this community.

If you truly hate a public figure that much, why wait for them to die? GYOB, start a Tumblr, make a "y'all sit back I have something say" Twitter thread. It's gotta be for the favorites, right?
posted by kimberussell at 4:10 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


It's gotta be for the favorites, right?

Or for some of the reasons people are actually giving in this thread, about the meaning of legacy and the importance of the perspective from which memories and this history, are written. But sure, that's probably all bullshit, those of us who disagree with you, we're just in it for the sweet, sweet favourites.
posted by Dysk at 4:17 AM on September 11 [21 favorites]


I'm personally fine with criticism, but I really hate the over the top, super gross "defiling the grave" type stuff. To me, it's just like the worst of the worst comments anywhere online (or in the current WH – "Pershing's pigs' blood bullets," for example). This is exactly why I avoid Youtube, much of Twitter, Facebook and any unmoderated comments section where you see revolting slurs and hateful, violent language — because, these people, too, really, really dislike the party they are attacking (dead or alive).

Aside from that, I think it's fine to discuss the problematic aspects of the subject of an obit, and it's information that not everyone is necessarily aware of in many cases. I think it's also fine to mention their positive contributions.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:04 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]


I wish I could say I was surprised by some of the reactions here in this thread, but I'm not. The valid anger of people who were harmed by policies handwaved away as sanctimonious harping, the minimization of what are very often truly horrible actions on a wide scale as the smallest missteps, the implication that members' hurt and anger and loss from the actions of the deceased is basically for the lulz or some sort of popularity contest. And then on top of that the absolute fucking gall to portray the very real pain of their targets as what's really gross here...

Many of the examples of existing or potential obits in this thread are of people who engaged in decades' worth of bigotry, or attempted to destroy communities of millions of people, or engaged in violence (physical and otherwise) under the cover or protection of their popularity. Nobody should be telling the survivors and victims of these people that they're just supposed to bottle most or all of their emotions up because of the notion that not speaking ill of the dead is supposed to be the norm rather than the personal choice of every commenter.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:22 AM on September 11 [19 favorites]


If you truly hate a public figure that much feel any kind of way about anything ever, why wait for them to die it to come up organically? GYOB, start a Tumblr, make a "y'all sit back I have something say" Twitter thread. It's gotta be for the favorites, right?

Why comment about anything ever on Metafilter, ever ever ever? It's gotta be for the favorites, right?
posted by duffell at 5:45 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]

jessamyn: "I fully expect people in the (terrible serial rapist predator) Bill Cosby obit thread to be talking also about the huge effect that he had on the world of comedy. This is clearly a perspective which you and I differ."
I'm not sure that it actually is, as I mentioned, I've got no bone to pick with people's appreciation of Lewis' comedy, or Cosby's for that matter. I would also hope that Cosby's obit contains discussion of the many positive, if generally complexly so, things that he has done in his life. What I'm suggesting is that there are an awful lot of public figures including these two men for whom uncritical or unexamined praise does something much worse to our community than the impoliteness of suggesting that a core aspect of something people like is really awful. Someone tone deaf enough to go into the Cosby obit, for which we'll hopefully have to wait at least a few jail filled years, to only make jokes about how hilarious it is that JEELLOOOOOOAOO PUDDING is a thing will be doing something pretty 'anticommunity.' If we had an academic biographer of Cosby come in to minimize his rapes and manage to present his predatory nature as if it were somehow charmingly stubborn or eccentric, that would also be pretty profoundly 'anticommunity.'
jessamyn: "The question becomes, then, how to manage that sort of thing, people with strong opinions that differ in this sort of way?"
To be clear I'm not calling for mod action of any kind, and management of online communities is your expertise not mine. What I'm doing is pointing out that the negative peace that is the absence of tension is not the same thing as the positive peace that is the presence of justice, and that people avoiding tension in the Lewis thread had a pretty fucking awful effect.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:15 AM on September 11 [7 favorites]

I find his treatment of those around him to be bordering on the psycopathic, and his narcissistic self-promotion over and above those he claims to to be helping deplorable.
I don't think that really gets at the heart of the criticism of Jerry Lewis, for what it's worth. It's not that he was an asshole. It's that his telethon was a massive public platform that was not available to any person with a disability, and he used it to further really damaging ideas about people with disabilities while totally erasing the perspectives of the people he was talking about. Because the telethon was so damaging and awful, and because he completely refused to listen to any criticism from the people he was ostensibly trying to help, he became a symbol and a rallying cry for the disability rights movement. That's part of his legacy. And because our society hasn't yet achieved justice for people with disabilities, it's a part of his legacy that probably is going to be underplayed in mainstream discussions of his life, which I think it what is so frustrating to a lot of people with disabilities. When people downplay that aspect of his legacy, they sort of participate in the same erasure that he himself perpetuated. You don't have to use ugly language to marginalize people. You can just ignore them or treat their concerns as trivial or not worthy of attention.

I guess that I would like to think that Mefites can hold two or more ideas in their heads at the same time. Bill Cosby is clearly immensely talented and influential, and any discussion of his legacy has to acknowledge that, both because it's true and because it's hard to understand the depth of his betrayal of his audience otherwise. If he were just some crap performer, it wouldn't matter as much. People aren't just one thing. People have complicated legacies. We should be able to acknowledge that.

I do think that less pithy drive-by one-liners about complicated, contentious figures would probably be helpful, but then you can tell that I tend to be verbose.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:18 AM on September 11 [19 favorites]


I mostly skip obituary threads. Sometimes that is because I think poorly of the person but the tone of the conversation is positive and I don't want to be the person dropping a turd in the punchbowl. But I'm not a fan of the strongly negative tone either, where even if I agree that the person is terrible (the Cosby example, say), I'm not much interested in reading "piss on the grave" sorts of things.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:24 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


I dunno. I love obituary threads, but I think the best ones are of people who aren't terribly controversial. "Here is how this person influenced my life" or "here is why this person was important and interesting" are much more interesting than "this person: evil or awesome? Discuss."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:27 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


I love obituary threads, but I think the best ones are of people who aren't terribly controversial. "Here is how this person influenced my life" or "here is why this person was important and interesting" are much more interesting than "this person: evil or awesome? Discuss."

The one yesterday about Michael Friedman is like that -- a person I had never heard of, but the links and comments made clear why he was important and interesting. The ones I often skip are the more high profile ones; I should have better clarified.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:31 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Personally I often find it really difficult to find the right tone to discuss celebrities that have either died and/or done something awful that manages to both capture some element of the person or situation that may not have been brought up but is of some potential interest of importance and avoid being characterized as defending whatever terrible things they did.

The lack of space in-between anger and support continually throws me off and makes it difficult to comment in many of these kinds of threads. I'm not objecting to disagreement, even of a strenuous sort, it just sometimes feels like all or nothing situations where any comment not adequately aligned with the most forceful voices is held as utterly opposed to those beliefs, which feels like a limit on discussion rather than a way to expand to wider perspective. It keeps me from posting in some threads, which is fine, but it still pains me to see that sort of dynamic happen to others when it seems clear the discussion didn't need to go that way since the differences of perspective are more in nuance than values.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:16 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


MetaTalk: "Well, he liked puppies."
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:22 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I'm in the camp of "discuss the person, good and bad." Drive-by vituperation is probably not the most helpful kind of comment, but I'd like to know if someone whose work I admire has a dark side that I may not be aware of. And I think it's perfectly possible to respect and enjoy a person's work and/or influence while still understanding that they were a flawed and/or horrible human being. But then, I read Lovecraft.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:27 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


I should add that I don't think separate threads would work for most other situations, You can't talk about Woody Allen films without talking about his personal life, and vice-versa. The enormity of Cosby's crimes, however, should be able to be examined without being interrupted by the also-valid cross-dicsussion of his professional achievements.

You can't talk about Cosby's career or achievements without the context of his crimes. He found victims in every place he worked - up to and including 'Picture Pages'. His comedy was deeply personal. He over and over again put himself up at the arbiter of respectability politics, both in his work and in his advocacy. I'm sorry if people want to remember the good laughs they got from him without all the complexity of who he is getting in way, but it would be inappropriate to try to section off those conversations, as if they aren't intimately intertwined.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 9:28 AM on September 11 [14 favorites]


I would definitely vote for warts and all obit threads... For example I knew Pournelle was right-wing but had no idea just how extreme his views were. I may be would have found out elsewhere - but from what I can see that's not been addressed in a lot of the obits in other places. So thanks for mefi for that.

But don't go raving and swearing and calling people the worst name's imaginable either no matter the temptation.

Talking of which, the Thatcher thread was epic because she was a genuinely divisive figure... I don't think there are many like her and that was a bit of a one off. Also the issue was politics... in other areas it's easier to acknowledge that a person has achieved things in their professional but has been not great in their personal life (Cosby, Allen - though personally I don't rate his films). There may be issues with Murdoch in that it's going to touch on politics again.

For me, if there is a problem, it's where mefi as a whole regard someone as basically a saint and others (including myself) may have issues... I've def stayed out of at least one obit thread because of that, because I knew I'd just get piled on and probably deleted.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:50 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


Of course there would be crossover. Like I said,i think it would be more respectful to let people have the conversation you're talking about while having a separate thread for people who won't. Not because I don't think some things shouldn't be mentioned, but because I think it would be a really unproductive thread. I'm also totally willing to be wrong about that.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:52 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


You can't talk about Cosby's career or achievements without the context of his crimes. He found victims in every place he worked - up to and including 'Picture Pages'. His comedy was deeply personal. He over and over again put himself up at the arbiter of respectability politics, both in his work and in his advocacy. I'm sorry if people want to remember the good laughs they got from him without all the complexity of who he is getting in way, but it would be inappropriate to try to section off those conversations, as if they aren't intimately intertwined.

I agree. And to build off this a little, Cosby's career gave him access to his victims. Without his success and public image, he would never have been able to promise his mentorship, money and/or networking contacts to lure women to hotel rooms, drug and rape them.

Woody Allen adopted a daughter and then molested her. His career was entirely secondary to that. He didn't need to become a filmmaker or win awards or establish a positive public image in order to molest 7 year old Dylan Farrow. His access to her wasn't based on his professional life.
posted by zarq at 10:05 AM on September 11 [5 favorites]


zombieflanders: "Nobody should be telling the survivors and victims of these people that they're just supposed to bottle most or all of their emotions up because of the notion that not speaking ill of the dead is supposed to be the norm rather than the personal choice of every commenter."

From my perspective nobody is telling anyone that. Look, I'm the guy who brought up the notion of speaking ill of the dead specifically as an outmoded concept that I have struggled to get past. I have repeatedly said everyone's reaction is valid and no one -- or at least not me-- is trying to control anybody.
posted by seasparrow at 10:21 AM on September 11


From my perspective nobody is telling anyone that.

From one of the comments I was responding to:
GYOB, start a Tumblr, make a "y'all sit back I have something say" Twitter thread.
That's very clearly telling commenters to either shut up or fuck off to somewhere else.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:30 AM on September 11 [10 favorites]


Sure, I can see how someone could interpret that comment that way. You are right. I should not have written "nobody", although I feel that most people in this thread have been polite and accepting of others' opinions. In retrospect I should have written (again) "I am not telling you that-- I am telling you the opposite of that." I really feel like we are all saying the same thing here-- people are allowed to have their own opinions, and no one on either end should be able to shut that down.
posted by seasparrow at 10:45 AM on September 11


You can't talk about Cosby's career or achievements without the context of his crimes.

It's absolutely undeniable that Cosby's career and crimes are interlinked and that both make up the man, but the question I think the site needs to be more concerned with is in how discussing all those elements play out. My worry is that someone focusing on the career will get questioned or worse for not first focusing on the crimes and/or that a feeling of focus on the crimes to the exclusion of the more positive elements will make others feel there is a different kind of slight or agenda being pushed.

Either way it seems to lead to proxy battles where the feelings over the importance of the elements discussed are taken out on the other posters in a thread. How the site can better negotiate those sorts of feelings and maintain a healthy discussion where all the elements of Cosby's career, or whoever's can be talked about without personal rancor is something worth thinking about.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:22 AM on September 11 [4 favorites]


You can't talk about Cosby's career or achievements without the context of his crimes.

The thing is, some people probably can. And, as gusottertrout says above, if what (some) people are saying is that you shouldn't do that here, that's a different sort of discussion than just "don't piss on people's graves."
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 11:33 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


I was speaking specifically about the (to me ludicrous -and I assume would never happen) idea that we hold two different Cosby threads, one for people who want to discuss his art and the other for his person. I am saying, even for people who think you can divorce the art and the artist most of the time, for Cosby specifically, those are so intertwined that a whole conversation couldn't be held that separates them. I wasn't saying individual comments had to wrestle with both.

As to the reaction to people wanting to talk about how funny the Noah skit is or wanting to discuss how great The Cosby show was - sure, and people will respond pointing out the rape-y parts of his stand up and the drugging episode of the Cosby Show. I don't think either conversation should be stifled.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 11:42 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Kattullus: What was shocking to me and many others is that L'Engle's views on homosexuality aren't part of her public profile.

I'll freely admit that I didn't know all those terrible things about Pournelle...nor about L'Engle, either. I know them both as writers whose books I enjoyed to greater or lesser degrees. Discovering things about them in an obit thread is, to me, just fine.

Most of the value/enjoyment/enlightenment that I get out from a MeFi obit thread is from two things: the career overview, and then specific highlights of their life. So leaving out the negative facts & stories would distort that overview, and diminish the value of the conversation.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:53 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


I know them both as writers whose books I enjoyed to greater or lesser degrees.

Metafilter ruined Piers Anthony for me.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:19 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Piers Anthony ruined Piers Anthony for you. All MetaFilter did was make you aware of the already-existing problems in his work which you had apparently missed on earlier reading.
posted by Lexica at 12:21 PM on September 11 [31 favorites]


Is Orson Scott Card still alive?
posted by Artw at 12:27 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


So like, literally the phrase "I piss on his grave" isn't great

So you seem to be saying "I wish there was a lot more of that sort of 'piss on his grave' commentary" in a thread that seems specifically set up for talking about how 'piss on his grave' commentary is often anti-community.

Am I missing a comment that got deleted in the original thread, or is the only mention of "piss(ing) on their newly dug graves" from the complaint about other posters not saying nice things?
posted by oneirodynia at 1:16 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


All MetaFilter did was make you aware of the already-existing problems in his work which you had apparently missed on earlier reading.

Yeah, I outgrew him, so didn't have the critical understanding of why some of his scenes were problematic. I have a fairy good memory for books, and have mentioned scenes to authors they they've forgotten they've written, so I was actually shocked when I reread some of the passages cited. I think the last time I read one of his books was 30+ years ago, but I voraciously read his work back then, and as a wannabe writer he was the first that shined a spotlight on the craft (for me). I loved his essays at the end of the books explaining what was going on in his life at the time and how these events informed his writing. I can't imagine I'd be able to go back and reread him and be able to maintain a sense of delight.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:16 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Is Orson Scott Card still alive?

yes... (if you google him the 5th entry is '10 Homophobic Quotes by Orson Scott Card, Author of “Ender's Game”')
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:29 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]

oneirodynia: "Am I missing a comment that got deleted in the original thread, or is the only mention of "piss(ing) on their newly dug graves" from the complaint about other posters not saying nice things?"
That is where I think it was first brought up, but I was the one who said here of Jerry Lewis that "His grave deserves to be soaked in the contents of a thousand catheter bags" immediately following jessamyn's pullquote.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:34 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Ugh, both of my sons enjoyed "Ender's Game," and one of them just asked me if there is another Card book I can recommend because his English teacher wants them to read two books by the same author. I had to say, "Not really, he's...a skeevy guy. Maybe I can give you two Heinlein juveniles?" and then I winced because yeah.

But at least I know this now, and can save them the trouble of reading all the Alvin Maker books.

(I gave him "A Wizard of Earthsea" instead.)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:36 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


If one eliminates good books written by shitty authors that's a lot of good books falling by the wayside. I realize there are a lot of great books by decent people, but if you limit yourself to these books... I guess I can't imagine how my life would be the same without Hemingway, Nin, Caroll, and a bunch of the guys (mostly males anyway) already mentioned.

I love "Ender's Game." I thought "Speaker for the Dead" was worth a read, and I didn't hate the final one in that trilogy. I think my life would be poorer for not having read them.

Same with Heinlein.

Almost all my heroes are fucking broken.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:51 PM on September 11 [7 favorites]


Oh, good, here comes the completely unnecessary commentary (bordering on concern trolling) about all the good literature we're missing out on.

There's more than enough excellent art by decent people to last many, many lifetimes, in which time many more decent people will create even more excellent work. The insinuation that anybody will somehow be deprived of some kind of necessary part of their being by missing out on the work of horrible people needs to die already.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:06 PM on September 11 [14 favorites]


> Is Orson Scott Card still alive?

Yes. So are Larry Niven, Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt, Piers Anthony, and "John Norman"
posted by ardgedee at 2:41 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


oneirodynia, I brought up the grave-pissing phrase because it's one that always seems to come up in this context. Nobody used that phrase in the Pournelle obit thread, or they hadn't as of when I last checked. It's just one of the perennials, in Metatalks about where the line is, in obit threads of bad people.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:16 PM on September 11


I will vote for obit threads where there is discussion, because I agree with the insight that obit threads are Metafilter Discussions, not funerals/family gatherings/memorial services/etc.

I personally see art (as opposed to entertainment) as expressing realities of the human condition, and I think the question of whether the artist overshadows the art or vice versa is one of those discussions that has probably taken place since That Guy Who Steals Too Much Wooly Mammoth Fur painted the best cave paintings so do we let him have space in the cave or not.

I don't think those need to be separated into "I only want to talk about the art" or "I only want to talk about the artist" threads, personally. I am okay saying that as a teenager, Anne McCaffrey had a huge influence on me and I still have a fondness for her world and even her a person, even though I have actually opted to remove her books from my home now and not give them to my sons to read for their rape-friendly, anti-gay, stupid stupid stupid stupid STUPID stupidity, plus the infamous tent peg thing.

I think following community standards about not just popping in for a drive-by, but rather contributing to discussion is still a good thing.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:38 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


In my first comment in this thread I got one crucial detail wrong in the following sentence:

"One member of the committee making the proposal went up and explained that they had discussed naming it after L'Engle until they were provided a summary of L'Engle's depiction of gay and bisexual characters in her works, including direct quotes, which the committee member then read aloud."

I was just asked for more detail on this so I went and found the relevant bit of the Worldcon Business Meeting (for those not familiar, this is a townhall style meeting where the rules governing Worldcons and the Hugo Awards are discussed and voted on). The committee member didn't read direct quotes from L'Engle, but quoted from reviews of her works. Here are the reviews in question, by Mari Ness and Nancy St. Clair.

posted by Kattullus at 4:15 PM on September 11 [4 favorites]


His career was entirely secondary to that.

A judge weighing relevant evidence called out Woody Allen's self-absorption as a serious issue in his domestic life. My impression is that his self-absorption has also been a notable and non-ironic centerpiece of many of his films. YMMV, particularly in how connected these things seem, but that'd be a reasonable topic to reflect on in an obit thread. In his case, I think very visceral reactions would be reasonable as well.

Anyway, I guess everything that happened in the Pournelle thread (reactions and moderation) felt about right to me, though I did think that seasparrow's understandable comment went more Meta than folks were able to respond to there and would have made more sense as the initiating comment here. As oneirodynia points out, that comment did use the phrase "would gladly piss on their newly dug graves," which seems a bit fighty and ungenerous toward other MeFites, particularly in the context of an exhortation to be thoughtful.

Like soundguy99, I just don't agree with that assessment of the thread. I read tons of Pournelle growing up--mostly with Niven, like The Mote in God's Eye, Oath of Fealty, Footfall, etc., but also A Step Farther Out--so I followed the obit thread with interest as it unfolded, but I can't recall whatever might have been especially problematic. Reviewing it now, "Not all deaths diminish us" seems like the snarkiest standalone comment still up, and that feels pretty mild to me.

Generally speaking, people were giving reasons for their views of Pournelle--maybe not compassionate, respectful, interestingly mixed comments like George R. R. Martin's, but pretty good reasons. I think it would have been totally fine to ask about that here, though, or to push back in the thread by linking to gracious comments by John Scalzi, Norman Spinrad, et al. I just think the outcome would have been well that's a high bar to set in a forum with a wide audience with a lot of different feelings about the guy and typically only a couple of days to express them (like, I doubt we'll see another thread about him anytime soon--if ever).
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:43 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Whoa, back to Nancy Reagan:

She was a very effective, low-key advocate on HIV/AIDS awareness.

Factually incorrect. Many who died of AIDS would take issue with this statement.
posted by latkes at 5:32 PM on September 11


Uh, did you not read the rest of that comment?
posted by zombieflanders at 5:34 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I did. I almost quoted the whole thing but I guess I didn't get the joke. Sorry for being slow.
posted by latkes at 5:36 PM on September 11


Text is, as always, a horrible medium for sarcasm. Artw was saying that her advocacy was so low-key that it was (as he says) "[a]lmost opposite of that key," i.e. she was the opposite of effective or an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:39 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Seems like there are different categories:

Prince:
Do not post how you hate Prince in this thread. Even posting that you think Purple Rain is overrated is going to really make people mad and seriously hurt feelings. Possible future entry in this category would be Ursula Le Guin. These are people who have enormous and positive impact especially on marginalized communities. A contrarian view is somewhere on the spectrum of hurtful and harmful.

Ronald Reagan
Post your deep loathing of him. Spitting on graves comments will upset people, but will be allowed, given his direct responsibility for so much death and suffering, especially among marginalized communities. I mean, when folks pushed back about how much people like me were celebrating Reagan's death, I actually found that push-back offensive.

Most other obit posts are going to be mostly positive. But then there is a sub group, like Jerry Pournelle, where there's a lot of positive, and then there is a sort of re-assessment that acknowledges their problematic dimensions. And in those cases, I think we should probably have a culture that allows people to mourn their loss of this person, but also respects that they did harm - and allows for a certain level of anger about it.

And then there are really confusing figures like, I don't know Michael Jackson.

I don't think we can have a policy about this really. This is more about what kind of culture the site is. I want a place where I can say I'm happy Reagan is dead and a place where we can acknowledge that someone like Pournelle had an active role in keeping women and people of color out of comics. I do feel that for most deaths, Eyebrows' guideline of noticing that our fellow site users have feelings is important.
posted by latkes at 5:52 PM on September 11 [6 favorites]


Sorry, I was mocking some dumb stuff from the time, probably not helpful.
posted by Artw at 5:57 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Hemingway, Nin, Caroll, and a bunch of the guys

Alice in Wonderland Carroll? Nope, don't tell me, not going to Google it.

Tent peg thing? ... I hate you fucking guys.
posted by ctmf at 6:08 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


latkes, I don't think either of your examples are particularly contentious issues: Mefites mostly dislike Ronald and Nancy Reagan, they mostly like Prince, and there are few complicating issues with either of them that would lead most people on Metafilter to call for for a more nuanced consideration. (I can understand how Baby Boomers and their elders can harbor more complicated feelings about the Reagans, at least, but they don't represent the vocal majority here.) Similarly, when Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdoch go, there will probably not be enough elephants on the savannah to supply the streams watering their graves, nor will Mefites mind it.

The issue here is with famous people who have more difficult histories, and in particular the many entertainers continue to have careers after personal disgraces, crimes and failings. Roman Polanski and Woody Allen have extensive bodies of work that will remain influential to future filmmakers; there will be people arguing for their legacy and how their work influenced themselves, and people arguing that all the good they have done has been undone forever by the human cost of their personal conduct, and if previous Metafilter obit threads and their respective MeTas are any indication neither side will ever yield. And at that time when you feel yourself getting dragged into an argument it's probably best just to poot out a dot and walk away from the thread.
posted by ardgedee at 6:13 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


There's more than enough excellent art by decent people people currently viewed as decent to last many, many lifetimes, in which time many more decent people people whose values agree with our day will create even more excellent work.

FIFY.

One problem with being unable to separate the author from the work is that it results in proxy battles, in which either the author's work must somehow be objectively bad (and the readers should be ashamed for liking it) or the author's crimes or behaviors must not be as bad as the other side is portraying them.

This is problematic for all sorts of reasons, not the least that it necessitates people excuse bigotry and crimes committed by Great Writers. I've lost track of the number of times people have twisted themselves in circles telling me how Heinlein isn't even remotely sexist. Heinlein, of course, is a marginal case: while he's revered in some science fiction circles, he's not well respected enough for the scent of bigotry to follow behind him. The 'greatest' of all writers (all of them male, naturally) are seen as beyond criticism. Hemingway's misogyny somehow doesn't prevent him from giving insights into the "human condition" (which, of course, ignores women), while Wikipedia's discussion of Taming of the Shrew is darkly hilarious just for the sheer number of scholarly hours that have been wasted attempting to redeem a piece of misogynistic trash that ought to inform our perception of every other Shakespearian play.

It's possible for a shitty human being to write works that people enjoy and love. It's possible for a work to be both deeply problematic and enjoyable. It's possible to both respect the positive facets of a human being while criticizing their other behaviors. It's almost necessary to do so, because turning a fight over an author's behaviors into a proxy battle over their values and actions is a battle no one will win.

At the moment, I'm eagerly anticipating books in at least two series that are both, in their own ways, deeply problematic. I'm still anticipating them. But I'm sure as hell not going to read any discussion on MeFi, because I know that the only thing those discussions would focus on are the problematic aspects of the series.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:22 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


I can't say I've ever been happy when anyone has died. Partly because every death brings mine closer - more and more as I get older. And in some ways it's sadder when terrible people, or at least people who had difficult issues, die. A relative of mine caused a lot of harm to those around him and was diagnosed with a mental illness later in life that explained quite a lot. When he died there was a sense of sadness that no, he really wasn't ever going to be a good dad, or the kind of grandfather you could always count on for a hug, or just someone you could be grateful to have in your life. It was a true loss in that so much opportunity was wasted and so many harms could never be healed, at least in part because of poverty and lack of access to mental health resources, and stigma against seeking out assistance for mental health issues. I was grateful that the person who gave the eulogy did not tiptoe around this but openly acknowledged that the deceased had hurt a lot of people.

When a "good", accomplished person dies you grieve them but are also happy that they got so much out of their lives and were well-loved. When a more controversial person dies it's like a canvas that didn't work out and has to be painted over. It's a sad, frustrating waste. It's not just that they got it wrong, it's that the universe got it wrong. It could get me wrong too.

I guess what I'm saying is that I think it's important to acknowledge complicated legacies. I just don't find a lot of value in reading - or writing - "Good riddance" or "she was a c***."
posted by bunderful at 6:36 PM on September 11 [9 favorites]


Woah, that tent peg thing. I decided a long time ago that McCaffrey's books were too icky to re-read, despite the absolutely immense impact they had on me as a kid, but woah. I had no idea.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:44 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


The moment when Ben Schwartz discovers that the author of his favorite book is an anti-semite, while in character as that author live on stage (Audio/Tumblr)

It's very funny (NSFW) but they also do discuss the conflicts we're talking about here.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:22 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I can't say I've ever been happy when anyone has died.

We're actually mostly on the same page: I think it's important to acknowledge both the good and bad that people did because life is messy, and there are lessons to learn in the worst places sometimes.

However, I'm legitimately glad when some people die because it means that at least that specific person will stop hurting people. I felt that way when Scalia died, (even though his stupid shitty ratfucking friends made sure it was a brief window).

I think this is where the desire to dance on graves comes from, for the most part: that's a sentiment people have about figures who were unassailable monsters in life. This is why it never bothers me when someone feels that way: this is the result of a lot of power disparities and unfairness that occur when shitty people are still breathing, and it simply has nowhere else to go.
posted by mordax at 7:34 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


One problem with being unable to separate the author from the work is that it results in proxy battles, in which either the author's work must somehow be objectively bad (and the readers should be ashamed for liking it) or the author's crimes or behaviors must not be as bad as the other side is portraying them.

Nice strawman. zombieflanders didn't say that the work was objectively bad, he said that there's enough other good work that one can, if one chooses, spend all one's time and attention on it instead.
posted by Lexica at 8:46 PM on September 11 [10 favorites]


(Posted this in the Pournelle thread by mistake. Have flagged over there. Sorry mods!)

When a movie ends, you review it. Either in your head or out loud or on paper. What did we learn from this movie? How did it comport itself? What was the story it told, and how well did it tell it?

Human lives are no different from a movie and a human death is no different than the black screen after the end credits, to those of us on the outside. Those who saw the movie - or in this case, who interacted with Pournelle or were somehow exposed to or influenced by him or his works - now have the opportunity to share their perspective on it. I think this is valuable, because lessons can be learned.

There's nothing special about being dead - it is in fact the most obvious, unimaginative, unimpressive and consistent thing a person will ever do in their entire life. I enjoyed a few of his books, many years back, because extermination-of-humanity stuff is very appealing to me for my own daffy reasons. I never paid any attention to him as a person, and now I recognise that he was a piece of shit (like so many of them turn out to be).

You can't separate the art from the artist any more than you can separate a delicious chocolate cake from the wretched burbling colon that it has passed through before being deposited onto your plate. If you see it extruded in front of you, you don't eat it. If you find out about where the cake came from later, you throw up.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:24 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


If Hillary dies in the near future, the internet will melt.
posted by fleacircus at 9:47 PM on September 11


You can't separate the art from the artist

See, I think you can, at least more than is suggested by some other users. I don't think you can necessarily judge who someone is by the work they do, especially if they are part of a more collaborative medium like film (and aren't particularly auteur-ish) and I don't think that an artist's personal flaws automatically negates the quality of their artistic output. It can, but it's not a given.

And though it can of course affect your perception of what they do, there's no moral incentive to let the line between an artist and their work blur, nor an imperative to treat their work purely through the lens of their personal life. Just because you can't separate the two doesn't mean everyone else has to as well.

People seem to want to discuss this in the black and white realm of definite scumbags, rather than the also-under-consideration aspect of dead celebrities who have just been rumoured to maybe have been a bit of a shit at least once in their lives, and people all in between. Also, there's the whole political figures vs. artists aspect, but that's another set of circumstances. But it should be possible, here on MetaFilter, which is what the conversation is about, to not only focus on the aspects of someone who has recently died that other, angrier users insist is the only important part of their legacy. People are complicated. There can be both bad and good, and it's not an act of cruelty to look at the good in an obituary, no matter how often or heatedly you claim otherwise.
posted by gadge emeritus at 11:25 PM on September 11 [2 favorites]


I think there's a part of this that's hard to understand unless you personally feel it. And it took awhile, but suddenly occurred to me that I have not one but two poets, Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens, some of their poetry that I really liked and affected me as a sophomore. It turns out they were racists, and it's hard to describe the unique mixture of hurt/pain i.e. come from the irony of, I admire their writing so much, but if I'd met them in history, likely they would have thought less of me as a person, because they were racists.

So one difference is, with that knowledge, I take their work less seriously. I have less time to spend on their stuff and I move on to other interests. But part of that irony is the arbitrariness of this sort of choice; i.e., what next author's or person's work matters to you, versus the other less good things about them, that might come to light just around the corner for you to experience.

And I recognize that it's more an emotional state or perspective that I hold, rather than anything objective about the author or their published works. Looking at an excerpt of Pound's right this moment, I can at once be gripped by the beauty and technical brilliance of the lines and the stanza, but then also I think to myself, and laugh, what bullshit that it was written, in a way. And in a way, that's what racist erasure does.

My main thought here is that this is a lot easier and understandable through recalling a personal example in which the author is or would have been your oppressor. It makes the intellectual Enlightenment ideal of "ad hominems are fallacies" not so straightforward in practice. And if u don't have such an experience, count yourself lucky.
posted by polymodus at 1:08 AM on September 12 [8 favorites]


I feel the question of "separating" the work from the artist frames the issue in the wrong manner. It isn't really a question of separation, but of trying to see things whole as best one can. Artists are held under a different kind of scrutiny than other workers/producers in our society because they are often held as heroes of a sort or are at least named in ways that aren't always clear in other areas of the culture. We don't often say you can't separate the manufacturer from their product, the scientist from their discoveries, the inventor from their inventions, or a craftsman from their craft because they don't carry a narrative connection to our perception of self and society. Yet we very well might shun any of the above if they too exhibited beliefs or actions we found offensive or criminal.

With the artist, the connection to their work isn't always one of support for their actions or beliefs. Take Roman Polanski for example. One of the major themes of Polanski's films is of the horrors of rape and sexual abuse. It comes up in his movies over and over again. Tess, Chinatown, Repulsion, Knife in the Water, Death and the Maiden, Rosemary's Baby and in some other movies less directly. The movies don't justify rape, they show it as terrible and deeply harmful to those it is perpetrated against. The films don't justify Polanski's behavior anymore than his history with the Nazis and Manson family does, they can only reveal some additional elements of their creator and at some point take on a life of their own beyond him.

It isn't that there aren't ways to potentially read back into the films some notion of Polanski that may or may not be suitable, one might look at the depth of destruction the attacks bring to those they are committed against and wonder about how that speaks to the idea of agency of those who have been attacked, as they often lose everything, or to the need to make even more powerful the attacker by the same measure, as someone who can take everything from another. But at the same time, that isn't a clear measure of the films either, where all the elements of the works seem to resist that kind of oversimplification.

Hitchcock's films are suffused with his obsessions, voyeurism, fear of authority, and other sexual interests and how they interact with the social order, but they also carry awareness and critique of those same obsessions, which is one of the things that gives such power to his films in their strangeness and ambivalence. One can certainly avoid or shun the artist and their work, and the work obviously does not justify unacceptable belief or behavior, but the idea that the work supports the actions or beliefs of the artist may not be entirely accurate.

For some, of course, the work will support their beliefs, either purposefully or out of blindness to their own faults, and for others there may not be any clear intersection between harmful belief and work at all. Making the distinctions between those things, should not be considered support for the artist's overall beliefs unless specifically claimed as such. It should be more a way of trying to further understand the complexity of the person.

There recently has been an interest in revisiting Degas' work to seek out whether the claims of one of his models over anti-antisemitism and misogyny can be found in his paintings. Some say they can due to the poses he showed women in and had models recreate, but is that entirely reasonable? From there isn't ballet itself open to those same questions, being an art form based on forms of contortion? From there questions of the women drawn to Degas' work and the ballet then are opened and so on. It isn't to deny misogyny, but to wonder where one will ever be able to separate it out from a society so deeply rooted in it as to leave little standing should all those roots be pulled.

Focusing on disgust for individual artists is yet another way that enables celebrity as a value, in the negative of course, but nonetheless placing some individuals outside the larger context of society. It's the social ills that need foremost addressing, which requires placing the artist in best context with the culture by removing the aura of special meaning to their lives.

A criminal or offensive artist is no different than a criminal from any other part of life. Just as we don't damn the science, invention, or craft for coming from a vile maker, we needn't damn the art for coming from a vile artist. Art like craft, invention, or science, can reveal beauties, utilities, and truths that have a life of their own in the work beyond the artist. Art can also be worse than the people who created it by the same token. That's why some find it necessary to discuss the work and influence of the person in a different sense than they might feel for the person discussed themselves.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:45 AM on September 12


Zombieflanders didn't say that the work was objectively bad, he said that there's enough other good work that one can, if one chooses, spend all one's time and attention on it instead.

Thanks for ignoring the context.

That's what Miss Manners might recommend, but it doesn't work. People have favorite works. Portraying them as Bad People for reading the stuff they do encourages them to dismiss the reasons you've given for why the author was a bad person.

Again, Taming of the Shrew is a misogynistic piece of shit. The reason -- the only reason -- so much ink has been spilled trying to argue otherwise is because, when you subscribe to zombieflanders' statements, the only way you can justify reading Shakespeare is to either admit you are a less than perfect person or to dismiss the innate misogyny of the work.

Again, battles over the author turn into proxy battles over their work, because if a Bad Person shouldn't be read, the only way to defend your favorite work is to convince others they're not Bad People.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 4:01 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


That's what Miss Manners might recommend, but it doesn't work. People have favorite works. Portraying them as Bad People for reading the stuff they do encourages them to dismiss the reasons you've given for why the author was a bad person.

No, Lexica had it right. At no point did I specify that the reader be portrayed as "Bad People," but rather that the by-now tired refrain that choosing to not consume art by people based on personality (which oftentimes strongly motivates the art itself) is somehow depriving oneself of some necessity is a meaningless response to discussions like these.

Again, Taming of the Shrew is a misogynistic piece of shit. The reason -- the only reason -- so much ink has been spilled trying to argue otherwise is because, when you subscribe to zombieflanders' statements, the only way you can justify reading Shakespeare is to either admit you are a less than perfect person or to dismiss the innate misogyny of the work.

Wait, so you've read all four centuries' worth of literary criticism of Shakespeare? Because I can't see how you can make such definitive statements about the reasoning behind it otherwise. And no, my statements in no way saiod that you have to justify anything to anyone. In fact, it was the other way around, that pre-emptively justifying your enjoyment of those works is telling everyone else that they have to justify why they don't, and positioning them as essential is ridiculous and illogical.

Also I don't even know why you somehow believe admitting that one is a less than perfect person is somehow considered a negative quality. The very act of claiming one is a perfect person is itself pretty much universally seen as a (or even the) glaring imperfection across religions, moral and ethical structures, and cultural mores. In fact, knowing that you are imperfect is more or less considered an essential part of being human by almost all of humanity.

Again, battles over the author turn into proxy battles over their work, because if a Bad Person shouldn't be read, the only way to defend your favorite work is to convince others they're not Bad People.

That sounds more like a personal issue, because there are definitely other ways to approach the issue.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:08 AM on September 12 [7 favorites]


That's why some find it necessary to discuss the work and influence of the person in a different sense than they might feel for the person discussed themselves.

I agree with that, a lot, and I think it's exactly why obit threads can go so badly -- the entire framing of the thread is on the person rather than their work (the person died, the work in most cases still exists).
posted by lazuli at 6:29 AM on September 12


> Oh, good, here comes the completely unnecessary commentary (bordering on concern trolling) about all the good literature we're missing out on.

There's more than enough excellent art by decent people to last many, many lifetimes, in which time many more decent people will create even more excellent work. The insinuation that anybody will somehow be deprived of some kind of necessary part of their being by missing out on the work of horrible people needs to die already.


This is literally unobjectionable (technically, nobody is going to "be deprived of some kind of necessary part of their being" by missing out on anything but food, water, and air) but rhetorically offensive to anyone who doesn't have a Calvinist attitude toward life and art (there's the pure and good, and everything else is vile and must be shunned). You think talking about the good literature we're missing out on is completely unnecessary? I think talking about "excellent art by decent people" is completely unnecessary (and absurd). Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were horrible people (in specific ways horrible enough to damn them in Calvinist eyes); if you think you wouldn't be missing out by not reading them, well, you're wrong. And that goes for almost all famous authors. Yes, decent people have made good art, but to restrict oneself to their work would be like restricting oneself to a diet of a few things that you could survive on. And what happens when you discover (as you will) that some of those people you thought were pure of heart and mind and soul turn out to be problematic? No, the whole approach is wrong, and if I wanted to use your over-the-top rhetoric I'd say it needs to die already. But it will keep cropping up in these contexts, and I will keep pushing back against it, because it's wrong and harmful.
posted by languagehat at 7:03 AM on September 12 [17 favorites]


Dude, you're the one who assumes "decent"="pure of heart and mind and soul." I never said anything like that, nor implied that am I a Calvinist (I'm not even Christian), nor that one must restrict themselves to those works. But yeah, the hectoring of people that insist that these works must have some sort of significant value is tiresome and ridiculous, and I stand by that. As for what happens for when I discover problematic aspects of the works of people I thought were decent (again, not 99.94% pure)? I take in a variety of factors, some of which have more weight than other, with thresholds that are going to be different than other people's. I never insisted otherwise, as your unsupported accusations about complete purity seem to say.

The point of this thread is that, if you want to enjoy work by a rapist or a bigot or a tyrant, go ahead, but don't expect that you can tell other people that they can't talk about that in an obituary thread without pushback. And hey, if you want to push back against some "purity" strawman, be my guest. I'll be pushing back against the insistence that one has to consume certain artists and/or art lest they be somehow an incomplete person, because it's wrong and harmful as well.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:39 AM on September 12 [7 favorites]


Yes, decent people have made good art, but to restrict oneself to their work would be like restricting oneself to a diet of a few things that you could survive on. And what happens when you discover (as you will) that some of those people you thought were pure of heart and mind and soul turn out to be problematic? No, the whole approach is wrong, and if I wanted to use your over-the-top rhetoric I'd say it needs to die already. But it will keep cropping up in these contexts, and I will keep pushing back against it, because it's wrong and harmful.

I'm kind of dumbfounded that you and other people in this thread have taken it upon yourselves to create "SILENCED ALL MY LIFE" strawmen in response to zombieflanders' comment.

I can't speak for anyone else here, but I do find it very difficult to listen to Cosby comedy routines or television appearances any more. I won't watch a Woody Allen film ever again. I once enjoyed their work -- and in the case of Cosby I used to be a huge fan. But knowing what they have done has destroyed any enjoyment I might have taken from them. I don't have a problem saying that because they're a rapist and child molester respectively their legacy has been irrevocably stained in my eyes.

Their works are not vital to the fabric of our culture. No one is going to suffer existential angst because they haven't listened to Cosby's "Noah" routine, for heaven's sake. And yes, there are lots of once seminal works that we don't need to read, watch or ingest in order to live full lives. There are many, many works that come from people who weren't rapists and child molesters which are worth consuming.

If someone turns out to be a terrible human being down the road then shockingly enough, we're all intelligent human beings who can damn well assess for ourselves how we feel about them, their work and what they have done on a case by case basis without being told that everyone has their faults. As if a child rapist and say, a shoplifter are morally equivalent. Being an adult means we can converse about these things without reducing every argument to ridiculously silly levels.

The approach isn't wrong. We get to choose what we want to consume. And frankly, those of you who are lecturing the rest of us that we should somehow feel obligated to watch or read content created by someone who has done things we find repulsive or that are undeniably abusive of other human beings is astonishing.

No, thank you.
posted by zarq at 8:10 AM on September 12 [13 favorites]


> We get to choose what we want to consume.

Absolutely, I couldn't agree more.

> And frankly, those of you who are lecturing the rest of us that we should somehow feel obligated to watch or read content created by someone who has done things we find repulsive or that are undeniably abusive of other human beings is astonishing.

But this is wrong and disingenuous (as is zombieflanders's immediately preceding comment). Nobody is saying anyone "should somehow feel obligated to watch or read content created by someone who has done things we find repulsive." Literally nobody is telling you to read or watch anything. It is not the live-and-let-live, don't-mix-art-and-life people who are "lecturing," it is those of you claiming those who don't agree with you are implicitly on the side of artists who have "done things we find repulsive or that are undeniably abusive of other human beings." If you don't aim your rhetoric at us, we won't aim ours at you. It's fine to be as indignant as you want about whatever you want, but don't start pushing at others to feel the same way.
posted by languagehat at 9:05 AM on September 12 [3 favorites]


it is those of you claiming those who don't agree with you are implicitly on the side of artists who have "done things we find repulsive or that are undeniably abusive of other human beings."

To use your words, literally no one is telling you this.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:08 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


Then why the anger and pushback against those of us who separate life and art?
posted by languagehat at 9:14 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


And to also use your words:
Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were horrible people (in specific ways horrible enough to damn them in Calvinist eyes); if you think you wouldn't be missing out by not reading them, well, you're wrong.
It's hard not to read that as telling someone that they have an obligation to read something lest they be considered to be missing something. What that "something" is, is of course left unsaid.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:15 AM on September 12 [5 favorites]


Then why the anger and pushback against those of us who separate life and art?

Because of the insistence that (1) those should be inseparable or inextricable as the "default setting" even in really egregious cases, (2) we must make that separation in reviews of the artists' life and art (especially after they die), and (3) getting over-emotional over their actions even if they may have had a direct impact on you is a net negative for the conversation. I mean, upthread there's serious considerations in having two separate threads about a serial rapist with dozens of victims across several decades, explicitly so that people can just discuss his entertainment. That his work not only referenced horrendous things he himself was doing, but also served as a cover for him to groom targets, seems to be a distraction or an afterthought from his body of work for some people is very clear. Do you not see how that comes off?
posted by zombieflanders at 9:25 AM on September 12 [8 favorites]


if you think you wouldn't be missing out by not reading them, well, you're wrong.

It's hard not to read that as telling someone that they have an obligation to read something lest they be considered to be missing something.


I read it as more a, "your loss" sort of statement. As in, a person I know who won't consciously listen to anything by John Lennon because of some of the horrible shit he's said and alleged to have done. "Your loss," I say ... which is a long a way from "You MUST listen to his stuff."

What struck me strongest in languagehat's initial comment was ...

And what happens when you discover (as you will) that some of those people you thought were pure of heart and mind and soul turn out to be problematic?

because I've been there, I've done that. I've been pure of heart in my aesthetic admirations, then had my heroes turn around and be revealed as much less than pure. Do I then remove their work from my list of acceptable culture? Sometimes, if what they've done is truly troubling*, but what I mostly do is just shrug and say, "oh well, people are f***ing people" and/or "glad I don't actually know them."

* oddly enough, the one artist I've found it hardest to forgive is Beck (for his refusal to renounce Scientology), probably because I thought of him as genuinely cool, and nothing feels less cool than Scientology. He is loser.
posted by philip-random at 9:43 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


As someone who grew up in a religion that is hostile to the outside world, I have sympathy for people born in to Scientology. He's an adult, of course, but the considerations one must make to leave something like that behind and to deal with the brainwashing of it - it's not like quitting a gym.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 9:54 AM on September 12


I read it as more a, "your loss" sort of statement.

The entire rest of his comment reads otherwise to me.

Do I then remove their work from my list of acceptable culture? Sometimes, if what they've done is truly troubling

Which is what I just said I do as well, with the added statement that my idea of what is acceptable will differ from others. And what I said in the comment he was responding to is that there was plenty of other decent artists and good art to partake in, and that was twisted into demanding that people only consume 100% "pure" art from 100% "pure" artists. That's what's disingenuous here, the multiple accusations that I insisted on complete purity vs "vile and shunned."
posted by zombieflanders at 9:59 AM on September 12 [6 favorites]


There can also be two types (or many types) of separation between life and art.

First there's the idea that once a work is produced and "out there" it can be interpreted in isolation from the intent of the artist. The separation is the latitude that any consumer of the art has in bringing their own life experience into interpreting the work.

Second, there's the impact of ignoring an artist's evil deeds, regardless of whether those deeds were related to the creation of the art. I find it educational to learn when an artist is an evil doer and it definitely changes my opinion of whether to seek out their art or laud their career.

Can we, should we, talk about the history of film without Polanski or Woody Allen? Comedy without Jerry Lewis, Bill Cosby? Sci-fi without OSC or Pournelle? Literature without the host of racists, misogynists, rapists?

I don't have an answer. i know what I choose to do (I feel that there is enough good art out there that I don't have to seek out work by evil doers, but I will watch/read/view in the context of learning in order to discuss). I won't do more than try to illuminate my reasons if asked.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:00 AM on September 12 [2 favorites]


It is not the live-and-let-live, don't-mix-art-and-life people

these aren't necessarily the same people! There are plenty of artists who I would be very glad to see dead, if they aren't already, which has nothing to do with how frequently I reread their books. Faulkner said the Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies, and I say that the opportunity to go back in time and smack Faulkner hard enough to break something is worth any number of lost Faulkner novels, and all that proves is I have a functioning moral compass.

you cannot always simply separate life and art, you do at one point or another have to directly compare them and choose which you value more, meaning that there are inevitably situations where if you hold a person responsible for his vile crimes, the consequences of sending him to prison means you don't get a certain quantity of art that he could have produced had he stayed free. so, in another universe, we had justice and we treated women and girls like human beings, but never had a Leonard Part 6 or Roman Polanski's Pirates! and we were all culturally richer for it. except for ease of argument I should pretend we would be culturally poorer, so let's pretend. but that's the point, is decency does not allow any hesitation over whether it's worth it to value victims' lives over artistic freedom. (it always is.)

so I am as far as live-and-let-live as you can get and so should be everyone.

but a critical biography is still not an adequate substitute for a book review and never will be. and the more people continue to act as though it is, the more depressing the world becomes.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:22 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


> I read it as more a, "your loss" sort of statement.

Yes, exactly. I'm sorry if anyone felt differently.

Look, here's how a reasonable conversation would go (and I've had many such):
A: Man, Pound was great. "See, they return; ah, see the tentative/ Movements, and the slow feet..." Nobody else wrote like that!

B: Yeah, he was a good poet; unfortunately, he was also a fascist and anti-Semite who treated women shittily, and I won't read him.

A: I totally understand. He was a real asshole.
I have zero problem with anyone refusing to experience the art of artists whose life they object to. We all make our own decisions about that; nobody's right and nobody's wrong. What I do have a problem with, and will always push back against, is the childish assertion that because someone was a bad person, they therefore could not have created good art. That is an entirely different plate of beans.
posted by languagehat at 10:39 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


What I do have a problem with, and will always push back against, is the childish assertion that because someone was a bad person, they therefore could not have created good art.

FWIW, what I've been trying to say is that my position is pretty much in line with "B" in your example, not this.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:42 AM on September 12 [3 favorites]


So I feel like what we tend to end up with in conversations like this is less a disagreement about one another's personal art-consumption prerogatives (everybody basically agrees that everybody can consume or avoid whatever they want on their own time) and more a pile of friction coming from the rhetoric people use to characterize one choice or another there about a given artist or the general Problematic Ur-Artist.

Like:

1. I don't think anyone who is pushing the idea that art and artist can't be cleanly separated is doing so in service of a belief that it should be fundamentally socially unacceptable to consume problematic art.

2. Likewise, I don't think anyone pushing the idea that problematic art can still have aesthetic/social/cultural value and be worth continuing to consume is doing so in service of a belief that good art should protect an artist or their work from criticism or cancel out their problematic history.

So where's the friction? Mostly in I think the crossfire that comes out of how arguments on either front there are framed. Because if Alice and Bob both agree on the above two points, they're...pretty much on the same page about core principles, yeah? But if Alice is currently mostly focusing on the way that problematic artists continue to get work because of systemic injustice and bad power relationships, and Bob is currently mostly focusing on the value he sees in some nonetheless problematic artist's work, it's really easy for them to end up at loggerheads when they hear each other's arguments.

Easy for Bob to hear Alice as basically requiring him to prepend an aesthetic discussion with disclaimers or condemnation of the artist under question; easy for Alice to hear Bob as basically dismissing what she sees as a fundamental issue of the art's problematic context. Easy for both of those to happen even when, if removed to an academic context (which of course isn't trivially doable!), Alice and Bob would pretty much agree about everything on paper.

I think it's pretty understandable that that friction happens, because these discussions tend to be about relatively wildly influential art (so it's easy to find people who are invested in the value of discussing it aesthetically or who have strong personal histories of that art resonating in their life) and about deeply crappy personal behavior (so it's easy to find people who are invested in pointedly identifying and rebuking fucked up behavior that renders an artist toxic for them), and so there's all kinds of strong feelings that come into it. And people see themselves as having somewhat different conversations, and so react strongly to other people's arguments because those arguments aren't centered on the conversational core they're interested in. A strongly felt personal opinion can end up coming across as a proscription, etc.

The friction still sucks, though, and with all things like this where its easy for shit to get tangled up and heated up probably the best advice is to try and step back a bit and figure out if you're actually having a disagreement on a common point or just not agreeing about what you're arguing about in the first place. I see a lot of folks in here making pretty reasonable arguments but about not the same thing, and getting a little hot about that out-of-sync communication. It happens, it's understandable, but it's also usually pretty fixable.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:45 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


> FWIW, what I've been trying to say is that my position is pretty much in line with "B" in your example, not this.

Then we're good, and I'm sorry I pushed back so hard. I guess I have a hair trigger about this!
posted by languagehat at 10:46 AM on September 12


...or what cortex just said.
posted by languagehat at 10:46 AM on September 12


why do i bother typing out long structural analyses of this shit if you guys are just gonna go and clarify shit on your own like that
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:47 AM on September 12 [13 favorites]


If you posit that the pay structure is to be by word count, it works out.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:52 AM on September 12 [1 favorite]


Or just consider it practice for your autobiography "How I Went From Flowing Locks To Patches of Hair Not Yet Ripped Out: A Moderator's Story."
posted by zombieflanders at 10:53 AM on September 12 [11 favorites]


I'm just seeing this thread now, as I don't often look at MeTa.

Blasdelb, I think your attitude toward my comments is ... weirdly restrictive.

My comment is not "actively dishonest." It's my own personal take on my complex feelings about Jerry Lewis. It was utterly honest. In it, I expressed admiration for Lewis's art, and acknowledged his difficult nature. I didn't touch on his obviously problematic behavior toward "his kids" because that topic is not central to my view on him. But that doesn't mean I'm wrong not to bring it up, or that I deny its existence.

I would never DEFEND Jerry Lewis in his politics or behaviors, and did not do so in my comment. I even acknowledged that he was probably a sonofabitch, though I will say (and did say) that, in my three minutes or so of personal contact with him, he was polite and professional. I am not a Lewis apologist. I am an admirer of his artistic abilities, plain and simple. I can hold that opinion independently of any opinion I may have of his personal behavior. And to say someone is "fascinating" or "complex," e.g., is not to excuse anything. It's a pretty neutral remark, and, in Lewis's case, maybe even undeniable.

I realize that many people find Jerry Lewis to be a hateful man. I fully acknowledge and probably even agree with that sentiment. It's just that my own take on Lewis does not intersect much with that perspective on him. I don't share your hatred for the man, but that doesn't mean I'm WRONG, or that my comment was "actively dishonest." That's a really dangerous, dangerous attitude, honestly - no matter your opinion on Jerry Lewis.

Our opinions differ, and I'm inclined to think that that's perfectly acceptable. Desirable, even.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:32 PM on September 12 [7 favorites]


It's hard not to read that as telling someone that they have an obligation to read something lest they be considered to be missing something. What that "something" is, is of course left unsaid.

It's art.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:07 PM on September 12


But that is not the art. The elephant in the room is the question of artistic integrity--look at what some of us are saying in our shoes then what we're repeatedly "missing out" on is that measure of privilege that enabled those more distant from the oppression (for me personally, another example would be sci Fi fans reading Orson Scott Card, in emphasis of personal examples matter) to derive benefit from the work. The ally that doesn't put themselves in the marginalized shoes in this discussion contributes to recentering, i.e. making the discussion about the oppressor. The passive mindset that art is a consumable needs to be questioned too; maybe as a gay person I'll get around to reading Ender's Game, but my doing that would be have to be more a process of reappropriation and healing, and less suddenly one day coming to senses that I have had some merely personal hangup that prevented me from recognizing the objective artistic value of some book. Compartmentalization is one of the attitudes that a neoliberal, pseudocapitalist culture would like to instill in its subjects, and I dare say an artist with integrity knows that any social crime they commit is already an artistic crime too, even if they couldn't help themselves.
posted by polymodus at 4:24 PM on September 12 [10 favorites]

Dr. Wu: "My comment is not "actively dishonest." It's my own personal take on my complex feelings about Jerry Lewis. It was utterly honest. In it, I expressed admiration for Lewis's art, and acknowledged his difficult nature. I didn't touch on his obviously problematic behavior toward "his kids" because that topic is not central to my view on him. But that doesn't mean I'm wrong not to bring it up, or that I deny its existence."
In sanitizing that anecdote of its hate, and presenting it as something it unambiguously wasn't, you minimized the immense harm he caused in a way that is eerily reminiscent of the old bigot. For those following along, this is what I referred to as being actively dishonest from that thread:
Dr. Wu: "Jerry said in more than one interview that he was intending to outlive everyone who ever criticized him, just to show them who got the last word. When I heard of his death this morning, my first response, honestly, was one of surprise: "Huh. He didn't wind up spite-outliving everyone, after all." I could barely believe it. He was such a stubborn, strange, complex, immensely-and-out-of-this-world talented guy that I genuinely thought he'd live to 120 just to piss everyone off. If anyone could've done it."
This is kind of the thing though. Through your whole long comment you do constantly touch on his 'problematic' behavior, it is indeed pretty impossible to say anything meaningful about him without doing so, just euphemistically and without any of the only relevant context. His sincere wish to outlive his critics that he often described when presented with them only makes sense in the context of the raw malice and privilege he was intending to communicate with that wish. He wasn't being eccentrically obstinate or expressing some immensely-and-out-of-this-world talent or even being stubborn, he was mocking people with life-limiting conditions for the early deaths that they could expect, and lording his unfortunately good health over them. Like most aspects of particularly his later career, this simply cannot be meaningfully understood without centering his bigotry.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:28 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: in the near future, the internet will melt.
posted by Minus215Cee at 5:39 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


polymodus, you are making an extremely good point. It's easy to set aside the oppression and enjoy the art when one is not personally among the oppressed. Not so for the many who are directly affected by the veneration of bigots and abusers. Important to bear in mind.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:20 PM on September 12 [6 favorites]


But that is not the art. The elephant in the room is the question of artistic integrity--look at what some of us are saying in our shoes then what we're repeatedly "missing out" on is that measure of privilege that enabled those more distant from the oppression (for me personally, another example would be sci Fi fans reading Orson Scott Card, in emphasis of personal examples matter) to derive benefit from the work. The ally that doesn't put themselves in the marginalized shoes in this discussion contributes to recentering, i.e. making the discussion about the oppressor. The passive mindset that art is a consumable needs to be questioned too; maybe as a gay person I'll get around to reading Ender's Game, but my doing that would be have to be more a process of reappropriation and healing, and less suddenly one day coming to senses that I have had some merely personal hangup that prevented me from recognizing the objective artistic value of some book. Compartmentalization is one of the attitudes that a neoliberal, pseudocapitalist culture would like to instill in its subjects, and I dare say an artist with integrity knows that any social crime they commit is already an artistic crime too, even if they couldn't help themselves.

Noone said art was easy.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:53 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


It's easy to set aside the oppression and enjoy the art when one is not personally among the oppressed.

So what does that mean for, say, a gay person who reads or sees Ender's Game? Because in assuming the only people able to enjoy art from problematic artists is those who are distanced from whatever form of oppression is under consideration, you're doing a pretty good job of erasing the existence of any member of a minority group who can separate the art from the artist more than you can.

But it's a MetaFilter rule of thumb: members of a minority group should not be regarded as representative of the entire group or presumed to be speaking for all of them. Unless they're offended, in which case that's exactly what they're doing.
posted by gadge emeritus at 5:51 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Um, I said it was easy to set aside the oppression if you're not among the oppressed, not that it's impossible to get anything worthwhile out of the art if you are. In fact, polymodus already has one well-articulated take on what a worthwhile reading of Ender's Game might be like for them as a gay person.

I was just trying to say, "Before you venerate that artist who you know is racist/homophobic/an abuser/etc. consider how you might feel if you were PoC/gay/a survivor of abuse etc." Not trying to say that no gay person can ever enjoy a book by Orson Scott Card. That would be an absurd assertion.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:00 AM on September 13 [8 favorites]


People aren't talking about venerating the dead. They're talking about focussing on the not-bad parts, or the artistic output, of someone when they have died. That's it's constantly referred to as equivalent to whitewashing the deceased when time and time again the sort of comments in question make certain to reference that they were problematic, but then focus on the positive/the work as separate from the artist, is also absurd.

And it's why I think, along the lines of cortex's comment, there's been pushback, even though I'm pretty certain we mostly agree with each other. Because over and over again it feels like commenters are being called to task not because they didn't mention the negative at all, because again, those comments do, in fact, mention the negative. It's that they didn't focus on the negative enough, because it's now seen as some slap in the face to find anything positive to say about someone you hated. And not just to the person making the objection, but to all PoC/gay/survivors of abuse.

So you should be able to understand why, if you are a member of the group in question, the idea of not focussing on the deceased's terribleness getting you called out for ignoring a group you yourself are a part of, seems erasing and dismissive.

I just wish that, remembering that it's been stated time and again by the mods that negative comments have more impact in threads, users would allow that there might be some non-vituperative comments about people they don't like and that it might be OK to let someone only mention the negative in an obituary, rather than wallow in it. It's a very 'but her emails!' approach that's being defended.
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:38 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


I don't buy the idea that asking straight/cis/male/white folks to take a moment and be considerate of the feelings of queer/trans/female/PoC folks counts as "dismissing" them, but if that's how you want to frame this then, well, guilty as charged I guess? If the choice is either to dismiss privileged people's desire for guilt-free enjoyment of the works of horrible people or to be mindful of how marginalized people feel about hearing privileged folks love on someone who perpetuated their oppression, I guess I know where I stand. I think you're setting up a false dichotomy here, but if you really see this as a black-and-white, two-sides-pick-one kind of issue then that's the side I'm on.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:02 AM on September 13 [13 favorites]


(A bit of my comment just above came out slightly mangled in a way that I don't want to abuse the edit window to fix, but hopefully my overall point is still clear enough.)
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:08 AM on September 13


People aren't talking about venerating the dead. They're talking about focussing on the not-bad parts, or the artistic output, of someone when they have died.

That... kind of is veneration? Like, showing great respect and deferentially looking at the good parts over the bad in order to suggest that they're worthy of admiration or particular respect? That's what veneration is.
posted by Dysk at 7:13 AM on September 13 [11 favorites]


privileged people's desire for guilt-free enjoyment of the works of horrible people

It's not as simple as this though. There are people with disabilities who might want to talk about e.g. Jerry Lewis's position in the history of comedy. There are women who might want to talk about just The Cosby Show. Talking about one aspect doesn't mean Lewis or Cosby was an angel in all other respects, it doesn't imply the speaker thinks we should ignore or forgive their bad acts. It just means at this moment, the commenter wants to talk about one aspect. This is the point -- people (oppressed or privileged people!) can legitimately hold both: (1) the artist/etc was bad, had terrible views, did terrible things, and (2) some other aspects of their work can be talked about without it being a whitewash of the bad stuff.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:35 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


AOANLL,T specifically said that it's a false dichotomy, but if pushed into taking a black-and-white position, that would be their choice.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:41 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I'm catching up here and on re-reading, my comment seems to be addressing the same point you guys have already been going over, so basically my feeling is what cortex said, yeah. And AoaNLA's point is totally right, that relatively privileged folks would do well in general to pause and consider whether this is an "easy for me to say" situation, and I think probably everyone in the discussion can accept that we should have some humility and be reflective about whether our life-positions are making us overly forgiving of sins that don't affect us.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:42 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


AOANLL,T

Aha, Anticipation of a New Lover's Leaving, The? Must be Anticipation of a New Lover's Arrival, The's evil twin!
posted by Dysk at 7:52 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


I am generally of the opinion that no one comment needs to contain the entire gestalt of the conversation. If a mostly-negative-but-acknowledging-some-positive thread is going to exist, it makes sense to me that it could either consist of mixed comments or some comments about the positives and some comments about the negatives. It's actually not super helpful to the conversation to expect everyone to explicitly acknowledge every previous point made in every comment in order to make a new point - that acknowledgement is baked into the site structure, where we do everything possible to encourage people to read and participate in the conversation, not just post a bunch of disparate essays on a single topic. (This is one of the ways that the politics threads go sideways, actually.)

This does not mean that people shouldn't actually read, internalize, and consider the thread when making their comments, and adjust their tone to match their intended effect. Yeah, praising someone to the stars who has caused people a lot of harm is likely to go over poorly. But "I disagree with his personal politics/actions/etc but he made a significant impact on the field and, as someone interested in the field, that's worth talking about" seems not so much like an acceptable position as an *inescapable* position. Orson Scott Card is an appalling homophobe who I don't bother to read any more, yeah. He's also someone who has not only written books of merit (if not as many as books he's written) but who has taught the craft of writing to a lot of people, founded a magazine that is still quite well-regarded, and is a human being who has friends and family who love him despite his flaws. Criticizing him is fair game. Ignoring the latter several items in favor of the former comes close to unpersoning him, and I don't think that's helpful even to queer activists, let alone to us as humans.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:27 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


My dad took French lit in the early sixties and all the old novels were around

I looked up the bios of a number of classic French/francophone authors from the 18-19-20th centuries. It's fortunate that French readers are able to "faire la part des choses" (an idiom that can be roughly translated as "to make allowances for troubling/problematic stuff") otherwise there'd be some giant holes in this particular cultural landscape. So here's a wall of text:

Voltaire: racist and antisemite. Rousseau: sent his 5 kids to a foster home for reasons that kept changing, then wrote books about education. Sade: well... Flaubert: paedophile* and sex tourist**. Maupassant: caught the syphilis at 27, spent the rest of his short life passing it to lovers and prostitutes. Théophile Gautier: thought that "prostitution was the natural state of women". Victor Hugo: supported the colonization of Algeria, said nothing when his friend the Général Bugeaud killed entire tribes by locking them up in caves and "smoking" them; didn't mind slavery; fucked every woman in sight (including Gautier's daughter when he was 81) and had abusive relations with many (kept his mistress Juliette Drouet cloistered for decades). Montherlant: paedophile and sex tourist. De Monfreid: boasted of keeping female African sex slaves (in 1925!), trafficked drugs and guns (perhaps slaves), fought in Mussolini's Ethiopian war. Jules Verne: antisemite, sent his "rebellious" son to a penal colony. Emile Zola: fell in love with his 21-year old maid, had two kids with her, kept the affair secret for years. Baudelaire: hated, hated, hated Belgians. Paul Verlaine: abusive to his wife and kids, shot (but fortunately did not kill) his lover Arthur Rimbaud, out of jealousy. Marcel Proust: watched rats being tortured for his sexual gratification. Céline: raging antisemite, nazi collaborator. Aragon: Stalin supporter, wrote a poem titled "Long live the GPU" (the soviet secret police was horribly misunderstood apparently). Drieu La Rochelle and Brasillach: nazi collaborators. André Gide: paedophile and sex tourist, nicknamed the "five o'clock threat" by Moroccan kids (according to his friend Truman Capote). Jouhandeau: antisemite, professional misogynist. Cocteau: friend of Leni Riefenstahl and Arno Breker. Roger Peyrefitte: paedophile and sex tourist (on a movie set, Peyrefitte fell in love with a 12-year old playing a choir boy and eloped with him; he later wrote a couple of books about the affair). Roland Barthes: sex tourist. Jean-Paul Sartre: visited USSR in 1964, came back praising freedom in soviet land. Michel Foucault: supporter of paedophilia, along with many French intellectuals in the late 70s ("it could be that the child, with his own sexuality, may have desired that adult"); was against punishing rape as as specific crime ("there is no difference between sticking one's fist into someone's face or one's penis into their genitalia"); was awed by the Iranian revolution. Louis Althusser: strangled his wife who wanted to leave him (officially: "went crazy"). Jean Raspail: white supremacist, inspiration of Steve Bannon.

Not included: serial adulterers, garden-variety jerks / misogynists / racists / whateverists, moderate supporters of communist/fascist dictatures. Saint-Exupéry, Balzac, Camus and even Dumas seem to have been OK, as were women writers. Colette wrote a best-seller about a 50-year old woman having a much younger lover, then actually slept with her husband's 16-year old son and then wrote a second best-seller about that affair, but that was in retaliation against her cheating husband so it's cool.

* By modern standards: age of consent in France was 11 until 1832, 13 until 1863 and was raised to 15 in 1945.
** All these men sure did a lot of "studies" in French North Africa, Greece and Italy.

posted by elgilito at 9:20 AM on September 13 [6 favorites]


Authors who have been dead 200 years aren't still around making money if I buy their output. That's why I don't see Woody Allen movies but I will consume old art that contains offensive material or by long dead people who had terrible behaviors. I can also like art and be real about the harm the artist has done.
posted by latkes at 10:27 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


It's incredibly likely that Woody Allen molested at least one child this year, maybe this week. If Foucault has managed this, that would be quite the trick indeed.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 10:43 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]


Dumas ... OK

I'm not sure how to characterize it, but my read of Dumas's My Pets is that he may have had a servant with limited alternatives in his household. I don't know how folks who study slavery would classify the relationship. See pages 91-115 and cross-reference with abolition laws in France at the time (slavery was legal in the colonies until 1848, IIRC, which seems to be when Dumas's servant abducted from the colonies by someone else comes in to tell Dumas there are no more servants now and asks to leave). He's paid while he's there, Dumas reports taking a real interest in his life, and it's unclear to me what other options Dumas could have offered. It's interesting that when he does leave, he's treated as a de facto slave elsewhere--an indication freedom wasn't really protected there yet. I suspect folks who study slavery encounter cases like this often, but to me it's a surprising ethical issue that illustrates the value of looking into an author's bio--for sure, not to nix them from your personal canon but to, you know, think about the contexts of literature in general. Incidentally, Dumas shares an anecdote about how he himself is perceived around page 78--lots of fascinating stuff in his travel books and whatnot too.
posted by Wobbuffet at 10:46 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Authors who have been dead 200 years aren't still around making money if I buy their output.

Well, it's a thread about obits, how to behave in obit threads, and how to consider the works of dead but still problematic people. Pournelle and Lewis are no longer around making money either. restless_nomad's position above about "inescapability" seems the most appropriate here.

Dumas ... OK
Oh yes, the guy had such a large and complicated life that anything was possible. His grandfather sold his own sons as slaves in 1774, including Dumas's father, and bought the latter back later.
posted by elgilito at 10:57 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Authors who have been dead 200 years aren't still around making money if I buy their output.

To be fair, we're talking about obituaries; no one dead would be making money. People can decide or debate how much time, if any, needs to pass from time of death before they financially support people who do bad things, but that's a different context than discussing a post about a new Woodly Allen movie.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:00 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Dammit.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:00 AM on September 13


Dead for one day is still different than dead for 200 years.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 11:03 AM on September 13 [7 favorites]


Well, it's a thread about obits, how to behave in obit threads, and how to consider the works of dead but still problematic people. Pournelle and Lewis are no longer around making money either. restless_nomad's position above about "inescapability" seems the most appropriate here.

For whatever it's worth, flapjax at midnite and I have written the most posts tagged with either "obituary" or "obit" on metafilter and I'm the person who created the page on the wiki dedicated to them. So I'm pretty confident I'm accurate in saying that the vast majority of obituary posts on Metafilter are about recently deceased people. Not figures from history who died centuries ago. As a result, MeFi obits focus on people whom, while they were alive, probably had an impact in some way upon us.

Since we are discussing user behavior in obituary posts, it makes sense to focus on the kind of people for whom they're are actually being made.
posted by zarq at 11:11 AM on September 13 [5 favorites]


Dead for one day is still different than dead for 200 years

I was responding to this comment:

Authors who have been dead 200 years aren't still around making money if I buy their output.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:12 AM on September 13


Authors who have been dead 200 years

speaks to the notion put to me once by a historian, that once everybody who was affected by your transgressions has died*, your bio is now fodder for entertainment, for better or for worse.
posted by philip-random at 11:26 AM on September 13 [2 favorites]


has died*

Dont keep me in suspense! What is the asterisk for?
posted by Room 641-A at 12:42 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


a sidetrack in which got away from the topic of "obit threads", so on preview, I deleted it ... but I forgot to delete the *
posted by philip-random at 1:00 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


Don't keep me in suspense! What's the rest of the sentence?

I keed I keed
posted by zombieflanders at 1:17 PM on September 13


What happens if someone has had themselves cryogenically frozen? Can we make an obit about them or would that be in poor taste?

I call dibs on the 'cryobits' tag.
posted by zarq at 1:41 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


> Baudelaire: hated, hated, hated Belgians.

This gave me a good laugh which I very much needed, so thanks!
posted by languagehat at 1:53 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


If only Hitler had been a better painter.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:46 PM on September 13 [3 favorites]


AOANLA,T: If the choice is either to dismiss privileged people's desire for guilt-free enjoyment of the works of horrible people or to be mindful of how marginalized people feel

Well, good thing that's nothing like what's being said, though it's delightfully disingenuous to set up a false dichotomy and then claim I'm both the one setting it up and making you pick a side. How noble of you to choose the way you did.
LobsterMitten and restless_nomad both, I think, covered this well.


Dysk: That... kind of is veneration? Like, showing great respect and deferentially looking at the good parts over the bad in order to suggest that they're worthy of admiration or particular respect? That's what veneration is.

If they don't at all reference the negative parts, you might have been right. However, as myself as well as several other users have pointed out, these comments invariably do explicitly condemn the bad behaviour of the now-deceased, they just don't focus on it to exclusion of anything else. So in fact nothing like what you seem to think it means.
posted by gadge emeritus at 2:51 PM on September 13 [1 favorite]


I love how elgilito apparently thinks that "not being anti-communism" is a crime on par with being a rapist, murderer, or sex tourist. This site, i fucking swear.
posted by adrienneleigh at 2:54 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


I'm tired of this argument, gadge. I'm pretty sure we have very similar views anyway, but I doubt it would be productive to backtrack until we can find the point whete this hair first started to split. You do you, think what you like, I love you regardless.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:17 PM on September 13 [2 favorites]


If only Hitler had been a better painter.

maybe he was
posted by philip-random at 4:08 PM on September 13


I'm gay and I've read most of OSC's work, have reread the Alvin Maker series several times and Enders game is on regular repeats.

Doesn't mean I'm going to buy him a coffee if I ever met the guy, he clearly is a troubled man.

But I'm not going to shit in his obit thread when he dies, because what's the point? He'd be dead and I wouldn't be. Good enough for me.
posted by disclaimer at 8:25 PM on September 13 [5 favorites]


I love how elgilito apparently thinks that "not being anti-communism" is a crime on par with being a rapist, murderer, or sex tourist. This site, i fucking swear.

Not being anti-communist is OK, but the persons cited went way beyond that. In the case of Aragon, the guy spent time in Stalin's USSR in the late 1920s and came back writing poems that eulogized the ongoing repression, praised the "gaiety" of the firing squads, the execution of the "engineers and doctors" and the state police (as noted). He then called for a new Terror in France and for the execution of French politicians. In the late 1930s, he approved of the Moscow trials and praised the gulag system. It's only in the late 1960s that he took a public stance against the repression.

Let's be fair: Sartre was a little bit better in that respect, at least he didn't call for murdering people. But still, he toured USSR in 1954 (not in 1964 my bad) and gave a series of interviews praising the Stalinian regime and whatever Potemkin villages he was shown (it was so idiotic that Simone de Beauvoir claimed that his ramblings were due to exhaustion). He quit doing that after Stalin's death, though he did keep on saying and doing stupid stuff (including signing a couple of pro-paedophile petitions or supporting the Ayatollah Khomeyni). Of course, he also said and did admirable things, such as supporting gays in Cuba or welcoming the Vietnamese refugees after 1975.

Let's put that in context. Both men were among the most influential intellectuals of their time. They were very famous. They were great thinkers and artists. And still, while they fucking knew about the crimes being committed (Vitaly Primakov, Aragon's wife's stepbrother was tortured and executed in the Moscow purges), they kept singing the praise of Stalin, and ignored or occasionally pissed on Stalin's victims, at a time when lots of people, including many fellow communists, were disillusioned. Now, indeed, this may be not "on par" with being a rapist etc., but it's still a giant black hole of a moral failure from people whose works are part of the literary canon, are still influent today, and who have streets and schools named after them, which is relevant to the current discussion. And now I have to pick up my kids next to the Louis Aragon Métro station ;)
posted by elgilito at 7:46 AM on September 14 [6 favorites]

"Baudelaire: hated, hated, hated Belgians"
Notably, I'm pretty sure Baudelaire's famously and utterly virulent tirade is still proudly displayed in the Brussels museum, and he is remembered in Belgium with a weirdly distinctly Belgian fondness. Its almost as if his bizarre bigotry, which extends equally and without ...additional... prejudice to each linguistic community, both brings the country together and is reflective of the national self-effacing attitude.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:03 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]

adrienneleigh: "I love how elgilito apparently thinks that "not being anti-communism" is a crime on par with being a rapist, murderer, or sex tourist. This site, i fucking swear."
Funny how you elided the Nazi collaboration elgilito mentioned from this list. Yes, support for Stalinism, its state terror, its genocide, and its mass murder of millions is a deep fucking character flaw that should guide our interpretation of alleged genius - particularly when it came from free international intellectuals who should fucking know better and whose support fueled war and repression.

This fucking site indeed.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:03 AM on September 14 [4 favorites]


And yet no one seems to think jacking off about the British Empire, for instance, is a crime worthy of being added to a List of Horrible Authors? And the British Empire committed genocide on a scale the likes of which the USSR never dreamed of, and just about as recently.
posted by adrienneleigh at 3:44 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]


I don't think detailing all the things that we could get angry about, and maybe haven't in the past or should be prepared to in the future, is a productive direction to take this thread.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:50 PM on September 14 [14 favorites]


:"Well, he liked puppies."

You know who else liked puppies ?



That's right, Nancy Reagan!
posted by y2karl at 1:14 PM on September 16


As for Piers Anthony ruined Piers Anthony for you, I suppose that if he stopped with Macroscope, there'd be a lot of people with the opinion If only he had written more books! And they would be so wrong.
posted by y2karl at 1:35 PM on September 16 [2 favorites]


s/this time/every time Don't worry adreinneleigh, the Mods are fair and balanced, it's a long game.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:44 PM on September 18


Hmm, so reading this thread now there is apparently also something wrong with Piers Anthony?

I had no idea how much pop culture revisionism I missed during my decade of military service after 9/11. I guess I'll just check good old Metafilter and see what this flap is all about and AAHHHHHH IT BURNS!! I CAN NEVER UNLEARN THIS!!!! THE WHOLE SEWERIFIC CESSPOOL WAS THERE IN HIS BOOKS ALL ALONG AND 11-YEAR-OLD ME NEVER SAW IT!!!

Really, this is 1000 times worse than that day 28 years ago when I finally figured out that Shaggy (from Scooby Doo) and Casey Kasem had the same voice. Sometimes you just don't question things as a child. And you can't complain about other people ruining your childhood authors because obviously the guy ruined himself. Ick. I feel like the inside of my brain is greasy and dirty after reading all that. But I'm glad those articles are out there now for parents or anyone to discover.
posted by seasparrow at 10:34 PM on September 18 [5 favorites]


Hmm, so reading this thread now there is apparently also something wrong with Piers Anthony?

If your memories of Piers Anthony are fond, by all means go on in that pleasant state. Just don't reread anything. Just... just don't.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 8:22 AM on September 19 [5 favorites]


if it's 99% of MetaFilter mourning Prince and you wanna be the one guy posting "... but his music really sucked! Good riddance," … you're probably going to get deleted.

That sounds very reasonable. The policy might seem less reasonable if you revealed that Mefi also deleted my "Good riddance" comment on the obit post for Fidel Castro, a murderous totalitarian dictator who enslaved gay people just for being gay.
posted by John Cohen at 10:30 AM on September 21


Nope, still seems reasonable to me.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 11:29 AM on September 21 [3 favorites]


Yeah, bucko, you had a dumb First Post! comment deleted. There was plenty of critical discussion of Fidel Castro on the site. That you can't or won't make the distinction between the two is pretty eye-rollingly predictable and 100% not a MetaFilter problem.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:38 AM on September 21 [4 favorites]


If we "reveal" it? In that thread yours was the first comment, it was just "good riddance!", and it was deleted because as a first comment it's a great way to instantly kick off this exact repetitive fight about whether that's an okay thing to say in an obit post.

And then half an hour later you posted the same thing, with just a bit more substance and it stayed. Nobody's saying you can't criticize Castro.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:44 AM on September 21 [7 favorites]


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