Newsflash: Don’t Idolize People

I feel like this is a post that almost shouldn’t need to be written, and yet I see this come up time and time again in the news. Someone who a ton of people look up to and respect is discovered to be human, just like everybody else, and that person’s fans get really upset. Today it’s Joss Whedon, whose ex-wife wrote a post about how he had cheated on her repeatedly when they were married, and how she wanted people to know because it seemed like so many people thought he was a shining example of feminism.

I read the piece, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I definitely agree that people shouldn’t be hypocrites. On the other, I have this thing about idolizing people. Having anyone be “my hero.” Because in my experience, the one thing you can count on from anyone is that they will have faults. They will not be perfect. And I do believe you can strive for an ideal, even if you fall short of that ideal. I believe you shouldn’t have to go around constantly spouting disclaimers about yourself, as well.

When I do something stupid in my personal life, I occasionally blog about it. (Running my lawn tractor into my car would be the latest example.) But for the vast majority of the stupid things I do in my life (especially the recent ones), I don’t go public. Not because I want everyone out there to think I’m a perfect person who makes no mistakes, but because . . . I don’t particularly like highlighting the idiotic things I do and say.

So when people read my commentary and think, “Wow. Bryce said another cool thing I agree with,” that’s great. (Or maybe they roll their eyes and say, “There goes Bryce, spouting off again.” Who knows?) But just because I’ve taken a position publicly doesn’t mean I apply it perfectly. I don’t think anyone does. This is often one of the main arguments used against religion. “They don’t practice what they preach.” And I guess I can get it when someone is flagrantly hypocritical. When they’re condemning people for affairs, all while hiding their own. Or if they’re castigating people for tax fraud while they hide millions in off shore accounts.

So my first reaction was to disagree with the “Joss Whedon is a scumbag” sentiment that’s pervading many corners of the geekosphere at the moment. It’s not like he was out there yelling at other people who were having affairs, right? But as I thought more about it, I realized there’s a far cry between “slipped up” and “had a string of affairs for 15+ years.” That’s chronic. That’s habitual. And to do all of that while saying how much you respect women is much more than I initially gave it credence for. Some of his fan sites just shut down over this. Many are very disappointed that this man who they thought was a huge feminist . . . has some serious character flaws. And I can definitely see their point. But does it have to be binary? Are there two categories of people in the world: scumbag and not scumbag? And what do you have to do to be squarely in one category or the other?

Some have vowed to stop watching his movies and shows. This isn’t something I plan on doing. I’ve never really thought of him as this knight on a horse riding in to save the day. I believe Whedon has written strong female characters. Stronger than many Hollywood movies and television shows often portray. I think I can still enjoy those shows and movies and characters, even now that Whedon has been revealed to be a chronic adulterer. But I also love Woody Allen movies. I have a whole post about separating the art from the artist, and I still stand by that, four years later.

TLDR: Hearing about Whedon is disappointing, for sure. But it doesn’t make me any less of a Marvel, Buffy, or Firefly fan. I admire my favorite artists because of their art, not their personal lives, just as I’d hope people reading my books would like them for the writing, not because I’m a nice guy.

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