Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Oprah Cuts Down Little Tree

The Great and Mighty O eliminated The Education of Little Tree from her website, a book she once described as "a loving story about a boy growing up with his grandfather and learning about nature and speaking to the trees." When Winfrey discovered that the author was a racist and member of the KKK, she made her decision:
There's a part of me that said, `Well, OK, if a person has two sides of them and can write this wonderful story and also write the segregation forever speech, maybe that's OK.' But I couldn't — I couldn't live with that."
But let's apply her rationale to the marriage between all novels and authors -- can we ever enjoy a book written by a jerk? And admit that we liked it? How badly must a storyteller sin before we can no longer receive a story?

6 comments:

  1. I think that is a difficult issue but ultimately art has to stand on its own merit. History is chock-full of great yet nasty artists from one degree or another, such as children's author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the the Giant Peach, among others) who was anti-simitic. If you start judging art on the character of the artist you might find that you're very soon without any.

    Still, I'm not sure I would condemn Oprah's decision, which must be difficult given her influence and the message she sends to millions of people with her every word. She has, like it or not, something of a moral authority and here, erring on the side of a conservative choice was probably the right thing to do.

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  2. I appreciate your balanced response ... so what you're saying is that people with influence have to tread more carefully than the rest of us before endorsing an author. Hmmmmmm ...

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  3. While I would be lying if I said that I was never influenced by an artist's personal life in terms of appreciating their art, I believe that the poem, book, piece of music, or painting should be judged independently from the artist. There are so many beautiful creations that came from people who ranged from "less than perfect" to seriously flawed: works by people who were sexist, racist, and prejudiced in one form or another. And yet the Divine somehow worked through them to create the beautiful works of art, music, and literature that have inspired so many of us. If there are elements of the artists' flaws in the works, then we should definitely be critical and not dismiss them... but I would be loathe to give up my T.S. Eliott or Beethoven.

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  4. Mitali, I think Oprah has a uniquely wide and moralistic influence on an impressionable audience as well as the media, so I wouldn't generalize what I said about people of influence.

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  5. The Education of Little Tree was published as nonfiction, putting it in the same category as A Million Little Pieces by James Frey instead of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That is, books by lying jerks as opposed to books by jerks. And we know how little Oprah likes being fooled by lying jerks.

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  6. A the G, you're right. I want to stay open to divine truth coming to me through many human voices, and we're all broken vessels anyway. J.L., good point as always. Memoir is fraught with danger.

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