“All Art is Quite Useless,” or, How I Managed to Enjoy Problematic Work and Problematic Creators in Three Easy Steps

Step Two: Continue to Enjoy the Work

When I first learned that H.P. Lovecraft was a racist was, the first question I had to contend with was: knowing this, does continuing to like his work (or playing the board game Arkham Horror) make me a jerk?

As I said in Step One, everyone has their own opinion, but, for me, I believe it does not make me a jerk to continue to like his work. As long as I’m not willfully blind, as long as I do not try to be apologist for the work or the creator, as long as I acknowledge the problematic nature of the piece or the artist, then I feel free to continue to laugh when Bill Cosby comes up on the Pandora comedy channel—but I will also laugh, maybe in a morbid sort of way now, when re-watching the scene where Tracy Jordan calls Bill Cosby out in “The Bubble” episode of 30 Rock.

So, there’s a line and everyone has to decide for themselves where it is. For me, that line is texts that too closely resemble the alleged things the artists have been accused of, like Woody Allen. Because Woody Allen’s movies focus so centrally around a young woman and an older man’s obsession with her (when he’s been accused of child molestation, when he’s had a history of dating underage women), it’s difficult for me to not feel gross after watching one of his movies.

For me, the line is when the fiction feels too biographical to properly distance myself from the creator.

H.P. Lovecraft is somewhat an exception to this rule, in that his work is heavily racist and he, himself, was a raging racist. The alien and cosmic horror are thinly veiled metaphors of his extreme terror and rage regarding people of color—so, in a sense, his fiction is also eerily biographical and political. However, the point of departure that allows me to manage to enjoy the “universe” he has created has been other fan/artists remixing Lovecraft for progressive political purposes, such as Feminist Yog-Shoggoth:

Yog-Shoggoth

And Feminist Chthulu:

Feminist Cthulhu

Finding ways to recuperate problematic texts is one of the ways I manage to still enjoy the original source material—but this could never be possible without first becoming a cultural critic. (See! It’s like a plan here!)

Next time, Step Three: Profit. Deciding how and when to funnel your hard earned monies at terrible people.


 

jillydreadfulJilly Dreadful is an author who holds a Ph.D. from University of Southern California in Literature and Creative Writing. Jilly has a deep love of board games, bored games, bored Danes, Claire Danes, and licorice ice cream.