Yes, Virginia, good men CAN write about bad men

It’s not exactly as monumental as the reassurance that the New York Sun famously gave in their 1897 editorial, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” but Cienna Madrid offers a highly literate and darned-near definitive sounding response to a Seattle Review of Books reader who was upset by “all the harassing men in the media lately” and had written, “At some point, we have to realize that a writer who writes about treating women horribly is probably pretty likely to treat women horribly, right? I mean, I’m not saying that they should be locked up or anything, but women would be smart to avoid authors who write approvingly about being monstrous harassers, wouldn’t they?”

Madrid responded, “I’d like to agree with you. It would make life simple if we could pass sweeping moral assumptions about artists based solely on their work. But that’s not—or shouldn’t be—the role of art.

“To me, good art pushes its audience to think about aspects of humanity in ways they have never previously considered, or points out beautiful or horrible trends in our culture that deserve scrutiny or celebration.

“Have you read Rabbit, Run? That’s a pretty great example of a total shitbag character who peaked in high school and has no respect for women. However, through Rabbit, John Updike explores themes of alienation and the idea that American men aren’t socialized with the vocabulary to express their emotions and basic desires (among other things).

“It would be a shame if artists shied away from exploring and commenting on the world because they feared retribution,” Madrid writes.

Read the full article:  “The Help Desk: Do only terrible men write books about terrible men?”

  1. Patrick McEvoy-Halston’s avatar

    Anyone who’s spent their life studying Updike is pretty invested in finding that Madrid speaks to higher truth, if they, like she, readily agrees that Rabbit is a “total shitbag” character. Otherwise they themselves seem pretty damn compromised, possibly venting their own misogyny through all of Updike’s total shitbag male abusive terrible men awful people must-be-destroyed horrible men characters, and then essentially forgetting about that particular motive for the higher acclimes of, “were you aware of all of Updike’s sophisticated explorations of alienation? No? Perhaps become a better reader, dear.” Let’s face it: a lot of people who’ve loved Updike over the years probably HAVE enjoyed the misogyny, and aren’t prepared to admit this to themselves without a fight. Thus ART. Gear two. Maybe they won’t reach us here. (Note: they will.)

    Another possible reply would have been to not accede to the “fact” of Rabbit being a shitbag, but a product of abuse himself. His “misogyny” might have been his own way of fighting back. Do we explore this? Or just have our opponents relax, or, rather, draw back in surprise, as we accede so ferociously to Rabbit being male evil, and then make a soothing case as to why nevertheless we would all be worsened by the radical change of dumping an artist linked to God, Art, Higher Truths, whatever? We’re sounding like the worse end of those in “Spotlight.”

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