Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Not such a wonderful wizard

I'm reading Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water for my English class. Today I went through it and looked up a bunch of the names and events that it references.

By way of the Wikipedia articles on Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee I was led to this:

"The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism."

"The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past."

Who wrote the above?

L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz books.

Are you wondering what I'm wondering?

Can a good thing be "tainted"? A "bad person" (what does the term really mean though - is anyone ever wholly "bad"?) can create "good" art. But if the artist is racist and cruel can those aspects of their character "infect" their art? Without our realizing it? And even if the art is free of the unsavory aspects of the creator's character, is it wrong for us to enjoy it? Should we dismiss it completely as an unacceptable product of a "bad person"?

If Hitler had written great children's' books would we be reading them to our children today?

How much consideration should we give to the moral character of the author of a piece of art?

This could obviously be taken to extremes (and already is).

Should we start banning The Wizard of Oz? Should it join Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret on the list of books that have already been banned for their supposed moral offensiveness?

Or should we perhaps preface our reading of The Wizard of Oz to children with a comment about the author's hatred for Native American people so that they're provided with a greater awareness of the complexities of life?

Its a quandary.

In any case, I've never really liked The Wizard of Oz much...


Elliot said...

You should see the controversy that has raged around Richard Wagner's music, since he was a frothing anti-Semite. Even dear old T.S. Eliot was, most critics say, an anti-Semite. It is a quandary. Lots of artists have had despicable opinions or done terrible things.

But then again I think we all of us have to hope that people in the future don't judge us only by our sins and mistakes, ie, giving us some credit for our good side too. Just imagine people in 2132 saying "What a horrible monster that meat-eating, carbon-producing, non-pacifist, political nutcase Amalia was! Shudder! We simply can't teach her legendary poetry in our schools!"

Clemens said...

I'm not sure, myself. I think each work has to be taken on its own terms, and even then, only in terms of what it does for you.

BTW, on your profile you say one of your books is 'The Night Watch.' Is tht the Russian novel about vampires and ghouls and things that go bump? The ones who get the night after a great war between the forces of light and the forces of dark?

Just wondering. Carmen and I saw the movie and a friend has loaned us the book.