Monsters: A Fan's Dilemma

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Monsters: A Fan's Dilemma

Monsters: A Fan's Dilemma

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The impulse to farm out the decision to an external authority sounds hopelessly naive – but then, asks Dederer, isn’t there something equally ridiculous about thinking that whether we choose to enjoy a particular piece of art or not is going to change anything? That we might be able to ameliorate the harm of Polanski’s violation of a schoolgirl or Picasso burning the face of his “muse” Françoise Gilot with a cigarette? There were times when I wanted a deeper engagement with the content of the works under consideration. There is a passage, for example, where Dederer wishes she could watch the early Polanski classic Knife in the Water without the stain of Polanski’s crime. To separate out Polanski, “predator, rapist” from Polanski, “preternaturally talented Polish art student, wunderkind, Holocaust survivor.” Dederer’s point is that this is not possible. But reading the passage, all I could think was that Knife in the Water is one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen, a movie of barely contained violence, horror seething beneath the surface of every shot. What could it possibly mean for such a movie to be “unstained”? This is in no way a defence of Polanski, or even a point against Dederer. But there is an absence, here—a set of assumptions around authorship, and what art means and is for, that go unexplored. To be fair, the book isn’t about art—that’s right in the subtitle. The book is about fans, about audiences. The chapter on Nabokov is called “The Anti-Monster” because Vlad himself was in no way shape or form a monster but he wrote an appallingly accurate book about Humbert Humbert, the pedophile, leading CD to worry Hemingway I would consider to be one of the the greats of classic literature with his earlier works, not so much the later stuff. But no matter how much you love a piece of their work, of course it doesn’t excuse their behaviour. A lot to be discussed here. There are two names I could bring up right now who work in television currently where it’s an open secret amongst the public what they have done, with concrete proof by victims, and yet they have kept their careers firmly afloat. As I finish this book and review - the net is slowly closing in on one of them actually. Weirdly enough, he just lost his main job as of 20/05/2023! So hopefully this is the beginning of the end. Time’s up. Your actions have consequences, especially if it ruins people’s lives.

Conversational, clear and bold without being strident... Dederer showcases her critical acumen...In this age of moral policing, Ms. Dederer’s instincts to approach such material with an open mind—and heart—are laudable." An interesting, frustrating, often aggravating first attempt to answer the question can we still watch Manhattan or Chinatown, can we still listen to Kind of Blue or River Deep Mountain High, can we still enjoy Les Demoiselles D'Avignon or Where do we Come From? What are We? Dederer has seemingly spent years working on Monsters and yet it is so thin, so ill-researched and, frequently, so crude. Part of her problem is that she struggles to convey the beauty and greatness of much of the art she describes, which makes it all the easier for the reader who disapproves of its makers simply to refuse to engage with it. She’s OK on the movies, and her account of Nabokov’s Lolita is fine (though why Nabokov is here at all, I’m not sure: whatever his most infamous narrator does, the writer committed no crimes against children or anyone else). But once she gets to Picasso and Wagner, she’s in trouble. Picasso, she says, sounding like an overgrown teenager, makes her feel (a favourite word, this) “urpy”. He was such “a rat”. What she knows of Wagner, included in the book on the grounds of his strident antisemitism, seems to be based entirely on a documentary about the composer made by Stephen Fry and Simon Callow’s biography.The book explores the suggestion that being a monster is part of being a creative genius. In other words, if they were forced to behave properly they would no longer be creative. Pablo Picasso is discussed as a supposed example of such an artist. The author sarcastically notes (spoiler alert) this type of genius does not include women per prevailing social standards. And just like her I wandered through my thoughts and feelings, I agreed, disagreed, I pondered, wrote down so many quotes (SO MANY), shared them with my husband. I knew within the first chapter this would be a 5* and here we are. I find it difficult to sum up in brief what is so great here: you should just read it. But maybe it was simply so fantastic for me because this topic was on my mind so much. The internet can often make you feel alone and wrong when so many people loudly and self-assuredly throw out their voices about how we should cancel certain people. I felt small and maybe wrong when thinking that cancel culture is not the way, that people deserve redemption and I am not sitting on the high horse with a perfect moral compass to judge people. I truly believe we all are the sh*tty person at some point: we all have lied, looked away, have been ignorant, have had prejudices, have been wrong, etc. (and if you think you were not, you are lying, no discussion). Why should I call for judgement on other people? And why is it sometimes easier and sometimes harder to separate art and artist? Why do we sometimes love the art no matter what? This book dives into that, Dederer is just as lost and confused at times as me, she is trying to find a solution, an answer. Bringing erudition, emotion, and a down-to-earth style to this pressing problem, Dederer presents her finest work to date.” For me the answer is always firmly once I find out somebody has abused their position of power to harm others, their work is forever tainted in my mind. The name Woody Allen, for example, makes my skin crawl. I watched a documentary where Dylan and Mia Farrow spoke out about him and it actually broke my heart, whilst also admiring their courage and strength to speak out so candidly and publicly. No matter how “genius” some of his movies are considered to be, I personally won’t be jumping to put them on anytime soon.

Claire Dederer discusses in Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma if we can separate art from artist/their biography? But it's true. It's love, emotional confidence, that urges us to find joy, pleasure, and a stance in the way we say, "𝘌𝘷𝘦𝘯 𝘢𝘧𝘵𝘦𝘳 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨.." Dederer provides a fascinating new way of looking at how the work and lives of problematic artists are bound together. She poses so many topical questions, plays with so many pertinent ideas, that I'm still thinking about this book long after I finished.” Speaking of erasure, she has an entire chapter reflecting on the erasure of Dolores Hayes in the text of Lolita and how society often silences victims of abuse, but does not include the thoughts and opinions of the victims on the questions she purports to be interested in asking. Many victims of abusive celebrities are still alive and probably have feelings and opinions on the existence of the art. She seems to only bring up these opinions when they benefit her argument, such as with the woman who was raped by Roman Polanksi as a teen. Rowan Farrow, a victim of Woody Allen's parental abuse, did in fact call for a boycott of Allen's work when he exposed his father's misdeeds. Dederer could frame this in the context of victim centered justice, where the feelings and desires of the victims are considered above what our traditional pathways of justice are, but then that would require that Dederer be interested in the current evolving discourse around the topic that she is writing about. The things highlighted most in Dederer's text continue to be from those who are not involved in the despicable acts that she is trying to judge.

Listening to this book, mostly the end but also at certain points throughout, was a less uncomfortable version of watching that scene in Tár where Cate Blanchett continuously bullies a non-binary Julliard student of color for deciding to opt out of performing and promoting the music of people who would've had no respect for them as brown person and for their non-patriarchal gender identity. They want their respect for the artist to be met with an artist's respect for their inherent humanity. Tár is threatened by this both because she gained and maintains her power in the industry through her complicity in upholding these oppressive power structures despite her oppression under these same structures and therefore does not meet this requirement and because she has deep emotional "art love" (Dederer's phrase) for these "important" "genius" composers. Like Tár, it does not feel like Dederer is interested in exploring what happens if we decide to open our heart to "art love" for people who are (to our knowledge) not exploiting the power they have been given in society. If we, like the Julliard student, want to opt out of this system how do we find the people to replace the monsters? How do we help them exist in a fundamentally exploitative system? Can funding art and creators through platforms like Patreon disrupt these exploitative systems or does it reproduce them differently? Are so many celebrities monstrous because monstrous people are drawn to power and acclaim or because the system that they are in encourages or even creates monstrous behavior? Dederer might not be interested in these questions but many people are interested in these questions and are evaluating them. This is where the discourse is going, not "is it ok to like David Bowie?" This is where the sense of cynicism comes from. The system is corrupt and this thing that we think can do something actually won't do anything and instead of spending time evaluating alternative systems or looking at work people are doing to dismantle it or listening to the people who are actively being harmed, she says we should just stop worrying about it and just watch/read/listen to the things by bad people. Which makes sense if you think, like she states, that people are fundamentally interested in this for some sort of virtue signaling. What she fundamentally fails to grasp is that these strategies and conflicts exist because people want to do better, people want to fix injustice. It's not just about convincing yourself and others that you are not a monster but understanding the practical effects of what is happening to people and trying to create a better world. "Voting with your dollar" is the only avenue that some people have been exposed to to make a difference and if you truly feel like we should throw that strategy in the trash, the most practical thing you can do is expose readers to things they can do instead. I have no greater clarity on whether I think works of art should be cancelled or not if their creators are problematic, but my takeaway is … the uncertainty is kind of the point? It’s all about the journey?

Somewhere in the middle of the book, Dederer goes on to target monstrous women, shaming those that abandon their children. This comes off as round-about and personal as we finally understand why Dederer took this path. An] insightful exploration . . . Dederer’s case studies include Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, and Miles Davis, whose work she considers brilliant and important. What’s a fan to do? Dederer offers nuanced answers, challenging the assumption that boycotting is always the best response.” An invigorating, engrossing, and deeply intelligent book. By guiding us through her critical dilemmas, Dederer performs an act of generosity: she allows the reader the space and encouragement to interrogate their own beliefs. Monsters made me laugh, argue, tear up, and most importantly, think.”To get things going, Dederer offers up her own monstrousness. She is a mother who is also a writer, which means that she has been guilty of negligence on those occasions when she has accepted invitations for residential fellowships which have taken her away from home for weeks at a time. Worse still, she has hugged herself with relieved glee while doing it. On top of this, she spent 10 years as a functioning alcoholic, which is not something that usually combines well with engaged and committed family life.

Part of her problem is that she struggles to convey the beauty and greatness of much of the art she describes Dederer explores this. Comes to the idea of a stain. Does a single stain ruin a silk dress? So much so that the stain becomes the dress? Perhaps for some, but for others, it's just a stain. It'll wash out. It can be taken to the cleaners. It can be fixed. But the stain should not totally ruin the dress. The tainting of the work is less a question of philosophical decision-making than it is a question of pragmatism, or plain reality. That's why the stain makes such a powerful metaphor: its suddenness, its permanence, and above all its inexorable realness. The stain is simply something that happens. The stain is not a choice. The stain is not a decision we make.This is a heated debate, especially when we find out less than favourable things about somebody whose work we grew up admiring or who shaped us as people. Because art has the power to do this.

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