I’ve been thinking about this question a lot, over the course of my Joss Whedon and Feminism series and in conversations with people about the fat hatred which seems to be so common to many Bryan Fuller shows. I think that the things people make most definitely reflect the natures of their creators, because art is such a personal expression, and I can’t really see how you can make art without integrating a part of yourself into it.
With television it’s particularly challenging, though, because while a single person’s name may be attached to a production, he or she is not the sole creator. Making television is a group effort which involves the input of numerous people, including writers, producers, studios, and even actors. Yet, we expect people to bear responsibility for the things that are produced and sold under their names; troubling antifeminism in the works of Joss Whedon, for example, is attributed to Whedon himself even if he doesn’t actually bear responsibility for it, because he is assumed to be the dominating creative influence, and more importantly, people assume that he has veto power over content, when in fact the situation is more complex.
Can we read things about people from the things they make? Whedon argues that we shouldn’t, and has expressed irritation with people who judge him or make inferences about him on the basis of his shows. But I think this expectation is a little bit unrealistic. We look at “The Sunflowers” or “The Scream” and we cannot help but make judgments about the artist and the subject, because the piece demands our attention and intrigues us. Because the piece is so compelling, we want to learn more about the person behind it, and we use the piece to facilitate that learning.
Is Bryan Fuller antifeminist and antifat? You might think so from the content of some of his series. But maybe he’s not. Is Joss Whedon antifeminist? Again, you might think so from his work, even though he identifies as a feminist. Maybe the troubling content in television shows is the result of network influences, or other writers, or even short sightedness, and a failure to understand that some of this content could be read in a negative way. Is ignorance an excuse? I want to say no, but the fact is that sometimes I am shockingly ignorant, and when I am corrected, I am genuinely contrite, and it’s a valuable lesson.
The question of whether or not people are what they make is closely yoked with the question of whether or not bad people can make good things, which is something I touched upon briefly a few weeks ago. I’m not sure I know the answer to that question, because I’m not sure that creators can be divorced from their work, or that creative work should be viewed in a vacuum. The intent and beliefs of the creator are entwined with it, intentionally or not.