by Kiersten Hallie Krum
Author Amy Jo Cousins wrote a post this week on the fantastic Wonk-o-mance blog called When Heroes Fall about her great disappointment in learning the dark behaviors and/or beliefs of writing idols, admired authors whose works had greatly impacted her life along with her writing. It’s an excellent if open-ended exploration of whether it’s possible to separate the work from the creator and if the impact of those works on our personal lives is depleted by the realization of the author’s flawed and possibly criminal behavior and philosophies.
As I nodded along while reading, I thought about the nature of “idols” especially in a culture suffused with the veneration of celebrities to the exclusion of others more worthy of admiration. For every grassroots meme from Think Progress or even Buzz Feed about regular being amazing, there’s a gazillion posts about Kardashians and “housewives”. Idolizing people is part human nature, part cultural indoctrination. We’re a media-crazed culture where five-minutes of fame is enough to last a lifetime and a good PR team can reboot anyone’s smeared career. But there’s a big difference between Robert Downey, Jr. admirably getting his life together after jail and rehab and the long-term child abuse allegations leveled against the recently deceased Marion Zimmer Bradley, of which Cousins writes so eloquently. (I use “alleged” for legality reasons, not to cast doubt on the victim’s statements.) And let’s be honest, were RDJ to relapse, how many would publicly rally to his side?
Social media comports the issue too as platforms like Twitter (come on, you knew that, with me, it had to come back to Twitter at some point) create a false intimacy that make those we “worship” appear to be our very best friend evah. Yet those platforms also humanize and reduce the size of the pedestal on which we raise them to an arguably dangerous degree.
I’m not a huge fan of Bradley’s novels, but The Mists of Avalon was a game-changing book of its time and continues to have resonance and impact today. Would we have The Red Tent without Bradley’s first retelling of the Arthurian mythology from the women’s perspective? Perhaps not. Do her alleged crimes negate the lasting impact of that novel? I’d be hard pressed to believe anyone could read it now without being influenced but the work likely still stands. I remember my disappointment when I learned about the fraudulent crimes of romance writer Meagan McKinney. McKinney was one of the writers whose work inspired me to pursue a romance writing career. That influence isn’t negated by the revelations of her illegal actions. I’ve loved McKinney’s books for a long time—I still have the original copies of many of them that I bought in the 90s. The pleasure I take in those stories is about the emotional resonance of the characters and plot, not the dubious activities of their creator. Sure, when I re-read them, I’ll no doubt linger over the memory of her crimes, but that won’t change how much I like Lions and Lace, When Dawn Tames the Night, The Ground She Walks Upon...
Great things have been accomplished by people who were inspired by their idols who themselves achieved great things. But with all the gloss and glamour, it’s easy to forget they’re flawed, complex people whose public image may hide terrible things. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that all idols have feet of clay just waiting for the wrong moment to crack.
Follow Lady Smut. We may have feet of clay, but at least they’re covered with fabulous shoes.