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Are genre readers more likely to separate the author from the work?

Unjustly Condemned

Discussion around separating 'art' from 'artist' is something that springs quite a bit - especially in the SF/F community. I have a lot of theories on why that's so:

  • we've got an academic fan tradition, and like to overanalyse context;
  • we're a tight-knit community and live in one another's pockets;
  • social media makes it so dirty laundry is everyone; 
  • our particular blend of escapism often stems from creative people outside of traditional social norms;
  • we sure have an awful lot of assholes writing in our genres

Take your pick. But whatever the underlying context, the ultimate question is still the same for each reader: if you don't like the author - personally or politically - do you still read them? Can you separate the author from the work? Should you? Discuss, ad infinitum.

I'm interested in how people answer this question quantitatively. Are readers more likely to separate art and artist than everyone else? And what about genre readers? Are we more or less likely to read books by people we disagree with?

Happily, our pals at YouGov read my mind, and added the following to their survey:

If someone does amazing work (a great artist, writer, musician, scientist, politician, etc) but is a horrible person in their personal life, should we still appreciate, enjoy or celebrate their work?

First, let's get a baseline. The general population is generally split on this very general question: 38% Should; 36% Shouldn't. Unless you're the Leave campaign, that's not much of a mandate.

Readers, however, tell a different story. For the segment of the population that self-identify as 'avid readers', those numbers shift to 42% Should; 33% Shouldn't. Those are both statistically significant shifts, by the way. Readers, in general, are more - for lack of a better word - 'accepting' of horrible behaviour from those creating amazing work.

So what about genre? I ran a few of our favourite genres through the mill, and got the following: 

  Nat'l Pop. Avid Readers Fantasy Horror  Comics & GN  SF Romance
Should 38% 42% 47% 44%  41% 40%  37%
Shouldn't 36% 33% 22% 20%  21% 25%  21%

For all of the genre categories, the respondents are also all avid readers, and had specified they enjoyed that genre of fiction. The change between Nat Pop and Avid Readers is statistically significant, as is the difference between Avid Readers and any of the genre categories. 

Time for some snap conclusions!

First, readers in general are more likely to choose 'art' not 'artist', and celebrate a great book, even if they think the author was a horrible person. Is this because reading creates empathy? Or because we're taught to separate art and artist? Or simply because we love our books so much? 

Second, genre readers are a mixed bag. As a whole, they're less likely to 'nix' a book purely because they find its creator a horrible person. When people complain that, say, SF readers are judging a book harshly because they don't like its author - keep in mind that they're being much less judgemental than everyone else. However, whether or not genre readers will celebrate that book depends more on the genre. 

Third, Romance is a weird one, innit? They're the only category where the 'Should' is actually lower than the national population. But the 'Shouldn't' is waaaay lower. I'm not sure what this means - they're less likely to dismiss a book by a horrible person, but less likely to celebrate it as well. And (obviously) they have the highest number of uncommitted decisions. Maybe means Romance readers, of all genres, are most 'about the story' and least attentive to creator? Thoughts from the Romance scene are much appreciated.

Fourth, Horror fans are substantially more likely to celebrate a great work by a terrible person. And they are substantially less likely to ignore it. I'd call this the 'Lovecraft Bubble', but, honestly, Fantasy's also at this level of extreme. For both Fantasy and Horror readers, there's an overwhelming acceptance of great work by horrible people. 

Fifth, what's interesting - to me - is how SF - is shifting (relatively, for genre) back towards the mean. SF readers are slightly more judgy than other genre readers. They're about the same as general readers on 'should' celebrate, and not as far off when it comes to how likely they are to dismiss great books by horrible people. Is this a result of recent discussions and controversies? I, honestly, doubt it. (As much as we like a good scandal, they don't actually have much impact with the bulk of readers. Especially for the UK audience.) 

My gut feeling is more the reverse. SF has always been an overtly political genre, and SF readers are more likely to gravitate towards - and discard - authors with different worldviews. Setting aside recent history, SF has a number of iconic author figures that are also incredibly polarising: Orson Scott Card, Ayn Rand, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, L. Ron Hubbard, Heinlein, etc. The SF shelves are full of 'amazing' works by potentially 'horrible' people. (The survey's words, not mine.)

What's it mean?

TLDR; genre readers are less likely than non-genre readers to dismiss books because the authors are assholes. And they're a lot less likely than the rest of the population. If you're going to be an asshole, write fantasy or horror.