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Separating the Art from the Artist

Lauren Bell

Is it possible? This is a question that has bothered me for several years now, ever since JK Rowling began her endless tirade of transphobia on Twitter a few years back. To say that the Harry Potter series was my childhood is not an exaggeration, and those books are what sparked my love for reading. Yet as a person who identifies as trans, her words cut me deeply - and I was not alone in this feeling. When she first began voicing these transphobic beliefs, the fanbase was divided in more ways than one. Some stood by and supported her, while others rejected her transphobia. Within the latter group was further division: those who swore off Harry Potter for good, and those who spoke out about separating the art from the artist. And that’s where the controversy within the community began - the debate on whether or not we should do so. 

(Disclaimer: though this debate is applicable to any kind of media, this post will mostly focus on my experience with it in the Harry Potter fandom.)

Those who believe that it is impossible to separate the art from the artist argue that the artist created the piece, and therefore their harmful beliefs are infused throughout. In regards to the Harry Potter series, you don’t have to look hard to find antisemitism, racism, or transphobia within all seven books. And so by supporting the series, you are giving a platform for further hate to these marginalized communities. Artists, whether intentional or not, put pieces of themselves and their beliefs into their works (like a horcrux, but minus - yaknow - the murder). By consuming that piece, whether it be a film, book, or something else, you are consuming that creator’s opinions on the matter. If you don’t recognize the beliefs when they are harmful, then you may internalize and further spread the hate. Not to mention that in buying licensed merchandise (i.e. films, books, tshirts, collectibles, etc.) you are directly supporting the creator and their hateful ideology.

On the other hand, there’s the idea that the art can be separated from the artist. It stems from the belief that once the creator has put the piece of art out into the world, it no longer “belongs” to them and is the fans’ instead. Therefore, the opinions of the artist should not influence or impact how the art is consumed. In literary terms, it’s the “death of the author.” The content exists wonderfully separate from the harmful creator, accessible for all to enjoy because it belongs to everyone. 

Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle of these two notions. In regards to Harry Potter, I have found myself able to still enjoy it, yet now I consume the series with a more critical lens. Gone are the days where I hold the book on an unreachable pedestal; I recognize the antisemitism, racism, and transphobia throughout the pages, and then I call it out. I talk about it with my friends, my family, online, anywhere where there is space for discussion. In doing so, I not only help others recognize this harmful rhetoric, but I further educate myself on the problematic ideologies spread throughout the books. Rather than throwing away a series that impacted me so incredibly, I stand up against JK Rowling in my own way. I’ll stick to buying second hand or fan-made merchandise rather than officially licensed products, I’ll make my own magical cosplays from scratch, and most importantly I will continue to educate myself and recognize her harmful opinions throughout the series. But all of this is to say, I realize that not everyone can do that; for some, the series was tainted forever and their relationship with the wizarding world is irreconcilable. For others, they find it easier to reclaim Harry Potter for themselves, ignoring JK Rowling entirely. I respect whatever a person chooses because their choice was most likely a difficult and deeply personal one to make. So what do you think? Do you think it’s impossible to separate the art from the artist, or do you think we should reclaim the art for ourselves?

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