Separating art from the artist

By Henry Shorr

Like most millennials, Harry Potter was inescapable while growing up. I have read all seven books more times than I can count, have seen all the movies and know way too much about the wizarding world. That said, I don’t think I will be buying Hogwarts Legacy.

For those unaware of the conversation surrounding J.K. Rowling, it may be too long to summarize. It comes down to the fact that she has been a vocal mouthpiece of the anti-trans movement. Some have even labeled her a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or TERF.

Rowling has retweeted self-proclaimed TERFs in agreement with their message, she has written thought pieces on how transgender women’s existence is a threat to the feminist movement and legislators have even quoted her in attempts to block trans people’s rights.

What does it mean to separate art from the artist? Is it possible to engage with great works of art created by people who did objectively bad things? You can throw a stone and find authors who did terrible things. George Orwell informed on communists in the ‘50s. David Foster Wallace stalked and harassed a married woman in the ‘90s. 

Going back in time, you’ll find more artists who acted in ways that would be questionable in our current culture. Engaging with their work means having important conversations about how these people did bad things and how they would not fly in our current world. 

Engaging with media we wish to separate from artists who are currently alive is, to me, a different story. These people still make money from their intellectual property, and sometimes they use that money to accomplish things that affirm their potentially skewed values.

Orson Scott Card, the author of the “Enders Game” series and devout Mormon, continues to use his platform to write about how much he opposes LGBTQ rights and his money to donate to anti-gay charities. J.K. Rowling’s most recent books, penned under the pen name Robert Galbraith, disparage trans women as perverts and criminals.

She also funded a “women-only” crisis shelter in Edinburgh that excluded trans women after First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, called for the passing of a bill that would make it easier for Scottish citizens to change their gender on legal forms.  

Warner Brothers and Avalanche, the studio that made Hogwarts Legacy, have repeatedly stated in their recent attempts to make more money from the wizarding world intellectual property that Rowling has little to no input in content creation anymore. 

Rowling was not included in HBO’s Harry Potter reunion and Avalanche has put effort into the game into making it more trans-inclusive: There is a trans non-player character in the game and players can decide whether they would like to be referred to as a witch or wizard regardless of their gender.

That said, Rowling will still get paid.

I’m not going to say people who play the game because of their love for Harry Potter are all transphobes. Rowling created a world in which millions of people have found power and comfort

We should, however, think about how our buying power affects how decisions are made at the top. We as consumers don’t have much recourse to tell the powers that be how we feel other than using or withholding our dollars.

So, I’ll wait to play the game until I can either play it for free or buy it used. 

I hear it’s still pretty buggy too.