V Interesting

Great Art, Bad People with Claire Dederer, River Rights, Greening Up Gaming

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A deluge of money is streaming into the southwest to incentivize people to save the Colorado River. The long-awaited video game “Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom” has gamers talking about their carbon footprint. Then, what are we to do with art we love made by people we don’t? V chats with author and critic Claire Dederer, whose latest book, Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, explores our relationship with music, films, and other art in the wake of #MeToo. Can we, and should we, separate the art from the artist?

Note: This conversation contains mention of abuse. If you think this will be hard or harmful to listen to, you can turn off the episode after the first commercial break.

Follow Claire at @clairedederer on Instagram and Twitter.

Keep up with V on TikTok at @underthedesknews and on Twitter at @VitusSpehar. And stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.

Apple Books has teamed up with Lemonada Media for an audiobook club. The May pick, Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer, is a highly topical and blisteringly smart examination of whether we can separate artists from their art, asking: what are the responsibilities that come with being a fan? For more details, visit http://apple.co/lemonadabookclub.

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Claire Dederer, V Spehar

V Spehar  00:00

Hey friends, it’s Friday May 26, Welcome to V Interesting, where we break down the viral and very interesting news you might have missed. It V Spehar, and today, a day lose of money is streaming into the southwest to incentivize people to save the Colorado River. The new video game Zelda has people talking about their carbon footprint. And Claire Dieter is here to talk about her new book monsters which asks whether or not we can like good art made by bad people. All that more on today’s be interesting from Lemonada Media. Let’s be smart together. And now for some headlines. Let’s start in the American Southwest where three states reached a landmark deal this week to keep the Colorado river flowing freely. Well, for at least a few more years. The River supplies drinking water to 40 million Americans not to mention millions of acres of farmland. But decades of drought, population growth and climate change have taken their toll on the river. And the wet winter only helped so much. Water is worth more than gold in the southwest and that water is starting to run out. You might remember last summer that the levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell dropped so low officials worried it would cause a Water and Power catastrophe across the West. They were also finding a lot of old timey sunken cars with bodies in the trunks still no sign of Jimmy Hoffa though. Around this time, the federal government ordered California, Arizona and Nevada to come up with a plan to produce their water use before it was too late. Fast forward to this week, when the States finally shook hands. They agreed to conserve roughly 3 million acre feet of water by the end of 2026. And I know you’re all like what is an acre feet? Well, I don’t know what it is exactly. But that’s the scientific term. Okay, just like picture an acre of land filled with water a foot deep, and then multiply that by 3 million. I mean, it’s a lot of water, it’s a lot of water. The deal will conserve about 13% of the h2o in the Lower Colorado basin. And it’s being called the most aggressive cut ever. So how will the states actually do this? California, Arizona and Nevada say that they plan to pay farmers, ranchers water districts and tribes to temporarily tamp down on their hose use. Some farmers may quit cold turkey and get paid not to farm and I can already hear your conspiracy wheels turning Okay, so listen, this is a heads up every single time they change the water stuff out there and they pay farmers not to farm that conspiracy theory pops up that the government is paying farmers to cause a food shortage. That is not happening. Don’t freak out. And don’t go buy 20 gallons of freeze dried ham okay, you’re gonna be okay. This deal is actually worth celebrating. It’s definitely not a silver bullet. Because first off, it only runs through 2026 and the other four states that rely on the river, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. They also need to face their own reckoning as the River continues to decline. In other words, this deal is going to buy cities like LA and Phoenix sometime, but we’ve got to get a whole lot more work done to keep the fruit back as good of our country alive and thriving westward ho.

V Spehar  05:09

Now the money going out to farmers and water districts in the West came from the inflation Reduction Act. And that act is financing something else to a simpler way to do your taxes. Well, maybe we’ll see we can hope right? The Ira gave our favorite agency, the IRS $15 million to come up with a plan to launch its own free tax filing system. And listen, nobody likes doing their taxes I to wonder why they can’t just give me the number and save us all the trouble. And often it feels like I end up paying the tax preparer more than I actually get back in the refund. I mean, even TurboTax Free File tries to get you to upgrade and pay instead of you know, like just actually filing the dang thing for free. That’s probably why three out of four taxpayers surveyed said that they would rather use a free electronic tax filing service offered directly by the IRS. For ages many of us have relied on the private sector to do our taxes. Think into it h&r Block QuickBooks your dad Wait, maybe does anybody else’s dad still do their taxes? What a guy what we need dads every day all the time, but especially around tax time. And for all those decades those companies have reaped the benefits. According to the research firm IBIS World, the tax prep industry in the US is worth $14 billion dollars. And those companies don’t want their industry to get disrupted. The Washington Post reports that h&r Block spent more than $700,000 this year alone lobbying Congress not to support the idea. And if you think that’s a lot of money into it spent a billion dollars. A spokesperson for the company told the post that a direct to IRS e file system is a solution in search of a problem and would unnecessarily cost taxpayers I mean, they’re not wrong about the program costing us money. The IRS estimates that running the program would cost between 64,000,240 9 million a year. So our taxes would go toward helping us do our taxes. I mean, I don’t know this is like a hamster wheel. I feel like somebody’s got to get paid somewhere to file this paperwork. And I would rather it kind of just cut to the real guy and maybe not deal with all the middlemen. Despite the efforts to squash the program, the plan seems to be moving forward. The IRS says a pilot program for a small group of taxpayers will be up and running by January of next year, when the 2024 Filing Season begins. I hope I get picked. I would love to be one of the first people to try this out. I’m sure my dad would love if I was one of the first people to try this out though.

V Spehar  07:40

Honestly, there’s no chance of me starting my taxes in January. Okay, enough about taxes. Let’s use our screens to do something fun, like play a video game. The new Legend of Zelda game became the biggest release of the year when it launched last week, and it is still sitting comfortably at number one. It’s broken sales records, earned rave reviews and driven some fans to even take time off of work to play. Now my wife has been loving it and me and my friend Kyle had to start a group chat to support each other as each of our spouses are very dedicated to the quest and leaving us to our own devices. But there’s a deeper world inside video games that we seldom dive into their impact on climate change. And I am sorry, I hate to be that guy, and bring up our planet’s demise when you’re just trying to collect your pine cones paraglide and keep that President cuts in sign from falling over. But it’s true. Creating and playing video games burns a lot of carbon and we are finally waking up to it. In his book digital games after climate change. Author Benjamin Abraham estimated the gaming industry produced between three and 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020 to create video games. That includes buying energy from local grids to keep the lights on and power the computers developers used to make them. Abraham says the amount of emissions the video game industry uses is about the same as the global film industry, or the European country of Slovenia, the entire country of Slovenia. And that estimate doesn’t even include the carbon that goes into making consoles and computer hardware, or shipping the games or the power it takes to download them digitally or play them. I mean, this is a lot of power when you think about it. So what can we do about it? Some of the biggest companies have set ambitious sustainability targets. And Microsoft developers are toying with ways to allow players more control over their energy consumption. If you don’t mind a slightly fuzzier pause screen when you go to take a pee. Great. You just saved a tree in the Amazon. X Box is creating new controllers with recycled materials like water jugs and reclaimed CDs and hey, that’s one less Backstreet Boys Millennium album in the ocean. Sounds good to me. And Sony has put pledge to use 100% renewable energy in its internal operations by 2030. And it’s not just the big companies cleaning up their game, take indie developer Kara Stone, who was featured in CNET for running her games off a solar panel. She’s creating games with highly compressed video footage that shrinks your data footprint. Think old school Gameboy level graphics. And I mean, the 90s are cool again, right? It’s very authentic. If you want to learn more about how to do your part as a gamer, check out an organization called playing for the planet Alliance. It’s a collection of 40 game studios and publishers that pledge to reduce their emissions. Yes, video games are a great way to escape from reality. But even Zelda fans would agree the tears of the kingdom shouldn’t cause tears in the ozone layer. Speaking of games, how about a round of mini golf? Let’s head to Vermont where a small liberal arts school is teaching people about reproductive justice using putt putt. Students studying feminism at Middlebury College designed a mini golf course that brings to life the systems that deny people reproductive freedom in this country. Each of the courses 11 holes focuses on a different topic like contraception, crisis pregnancy centers, and the racist history of modern gynecology. At the 10th hole, for example, players are met with a real question that some incarcerated people in Tennessee have to answer.

V Spehar  11:29

Do you consent to be sterilized in exchange for a reduced prison sentence? If you put through the tunnel marking? Yes, your ball soars straight through the prison cell replica without a hitch. If you put through the tunnel answering no, you’re met with obstacles that make leaving the prison cell more difficult. Craters told the VT digger that the kitschy aesthetic of the course paired with the violent injustice it depicts creates a game that feels even more accurately American than regular miniature golf. The course is free and open to all from lakhs bros, putting through a maze of condoms to little kids trying to sink their ball into a state that offers legal abortions. Undoubtedly the most uplifting hole is the last hole hole 11 which focuses on activism. It asks players to discuss what they will do to support reproductive rights moving forward. I can’t wait to see this game sweep the nation. I mean, who needs pickleball when you’ve got reproductive justice, mini golf, if I could play a round of mini golf with anyone right now, it would be today’s guest Claire Dederer, she’s a writer most known for her memoirs, and her latest book y’all is so good. It’s all about how we should view art made by people who ended up doing really terrible things like that about the art of Woody Allen or Roman Polanski or even Pablo Picasso? Do we just light it all up in one big dumpster fire? Or can we grant ourselves permission to separate the art from the art maker? Stick around, we’ll be right back with an illuminating conversation.

V Spehar  15:06

Hey friends welcome back. When is the last time you enjoyed a good work of art? Odds are it was probably pretty recent reliving your eras tour favorite musical moments or taking a quick trip to the local art museum. Or even finally checking out your friends one woman cabaret where she interprets her childhood through the lens of a melting icicle. Is that just me? I guess I’m just lucky than we’ve all grown fond of at least one work of art in our lifetime. It can often mean a lot to us and contribute to who we are today. But what happens when the artists behind that work? Does something bad? Something really bad? Do we continue to support it to boycott it? Can we separate the art from the artist? Is that even that deep? My next guest explores just how complicated this can be, especially when a certain work of art holds a lot of value in our life. Claire Dieter is an acclaimed memoirist, essayist, and critic. In Her most recent book monsters of fans dilemma, Claire grapples with what it means to balance moral outrage with admiration. From learning the difference between thoughts and emotions to reckoning with Kancil culture. Claire delves into this conflict we feel when viewing something beautiful made by somebody who did a really, really horrible thing. And I do want to know, before we get into this conversation, it contains a mention of sexual abuse. If you think this will be hard or harmful to listen to, please take care of yourself first and just play a different episode. Okay, let’s bring in Claire. Claire, thank you so much for being here.

Claire Dederer  16:43

Hi, V. So nice to see you.

V Spehar  16:45

I am so excited. You’re here to talk about your new book, which builds on your viral Paris Review essay, what do we do with the art of monstrous men? What made you want to extend the essay into a full book?

Claire Dederer  16:57

Well, it’s sort of funny, the essay was actually written as the first chapter of a projected book. So the origin story is that I was writing my previous memoir, love and trouble, which was about growing up as a girl in the sort of sexually not sort of very sexually predatory 1970s and 80s. And because the subject matter was, you know, a bummer. I was trying to figure out how to engage with it in a way that felt dynamic. And so I started working with different borrowed forms. The book is written in a bunch of different forms, like lists or maps, or I don’t know how to guides and one of the forms was an open letter to Roman Polanski. So I sort of take pull it out, you know, it’s a memoir, but I don’t know Polanski, I just take him as a kind of, you know, straw man, or totem figure of the predatory man of the 1970s because he raped a 13 year old around the same time I was molested. So it sort of becomes a stand in for my own experience and a more cultural lens to look at it. Anyway. I did all this writing and thinking about Polanski, I researched him. I researched the crime, I looked at the deposition. And when I was done, I had this very strange experience of still wanting to watch the films. I had been a film critic. I’d done film studies in college and some of his films, Chinatown repulsion, and Rosemary’s Baby are among my favorite films of all time, and I found I could still watch them. And this was like in 2014, or 2015, long before me too. And I thought, well, this is an interesting problem. And I just sort of thought it was my problem. I thought it was like a lonely problem that I was going to think about. And the more I thought about it, I was like, this is a book and I began writing in 2016. And I’ve been writing for a year, when in October of 2017, of course, the accusations about Harvey Weinstein kind of coalesced a lot of forces that were underway, right, like, it’s not as though me too, or the movement didn’t exist. But suddenly, that’s what mattered. Suddenly, it was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. And I thought, I’ve been writing on this for a year, like I need to participate in this dialogue. So I took what was then the first chapter and submitted it to the Paris Review. And it did, as you said, go viral, which was a very interesting experience.

V Spehar  19:16

Because we all have these problems, right? Even with people we love in our regular lives, where we’re like, I love this person, maybe it’s a sibling or a parent, they have done this horrible thing. And I’m so conflicted with like, where I stand on morality for strangers, and where I stand on like, forgiveness for the ones I love. And so I’m not surprised that it’s a book, you probably could do several chapters of this. And everybody right now is likely thinking of the monstrous person that they still just like wish that they could love but struggle with how do we love that person? Or is there a place for it? Or is it just over and we can’t have it anymore? And in your book, you explore the work of many artists including Woody Allen, Michael Jackson, which was a huge you know, issue for so many people struggling with that. And we know that some of the more recent artists who did or said horrible things such as like our Kelly or JK Rowling. But can you give other examples of tainted art that people might not be as familiar with?

Claire Dederer  20:12

Yeah. So when I started thinking about the issue, I really, I think one of the reasons that the Paris Review piece, I think one of the reasons it really struck a chord, though people didn’t know this was that I had been writing it for over a year. So you have this kind of dialogue, which, as you say, people are bringing a lot of emotion to and at that moment, especially in 2017, it was filled with hot takes, right? Everybody’s bringing their their big idea. And my take was the coldest of takes. I mean, it was emotional. But I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. And I think that I was really surprised by how much people wanted and needed the nuance of what I was doing. And so when I want to kind of complete the book, my editor and I talked a lot about how do you touch what’s emotional and real about this problem, but not have it so contemporary and so heated that people get, you know, so caught up in it, that it just the conversation kind of loses, almost loses focus, or becomes overly volatile. And so she really urged me to use examples from the past, both to kind of keep out of that hot take dialog. It was almost like Louie CK was the cut off. I don’t know why, but it was like anything after Louie CK we mostly didn’t include. And so I think that we made it mostly people from the past to keep out of the hot take dialog, but also to kind of make the book maybe have more, more longevity. So I mean, it’s of its moment, but it’s also I hope, something that will endure to some degree. That’s the dream. So some of the people I talked about from the past art, Picasso Hemingway, Wagner, I talked about Doris Lessing. I talked about Valerie Solanas Raymond Carver, a writer from the northwest who’s very, very important to me. Those are a few of the people that I address.

V Spehar  22:04

And it was so interesting, because oftentimes, when we’re talking about like, monstrous people, we’re talking about men, right? Like, typically, it’s gonna go because of me too, or just the volume of terrible things that a lot of men have done. Not all men, but quite a few of them have done because the positions of power that they hold, we don’t often hear about monstrous women. But you do include women in the book. And that has sparked a little bit of like interrogation into the concept of monstrousness. What made you want to include women in this?

Claire Dederer  22:35

Yeah, well, kind of backing up to what you were saying about the interrogation of monstrousness. You know, this word monster, which, which I used for several reasons, but I began to look at it during the process. And I thought, you know, is this the right metaphor? Is it the right word, it’s when we say monster, it’s very othering, it’s very finger pointing. And it also somehow, they still take up all the space. And I really wanted to talk about the experience of the audience. That’s what the books really about. It’s really trying to be an auto biography of the audience. And so by calling them monsters and sort of foregrounding their crimes, it’s just making a catalogue of people who did rotten things, which isn’t that interesting. And instead, I wanted to look at what it’s like to consume that work. And I thought, you know, what do I mean by Monster, I think what I mean is someone who has done something that makes us experience their art differently. It was really important to me for several reasons to write this book from a really subjective point of view, and really own my own perspective. And understand my own perspective in terms of gender, history, all tied class, all kinds of things. I did write the book with some memoirs stick impulse. And if you’re doing that, like it doesn’t take very long before you think, well, am I a monster? How am I a monster? What’s What do I do? That’s not okay. And one of the things I came up against really quickly was this idea that when I’m making art and shutting the door against my children, who are adults now, but weren’t at the time I started this book, is that that can feel monstrous. Is it as monstrous as you know, all of the terrible crimes that are cited about men here? No. But there’s a way in which women are judged for that behavior and internalize that judgment and feel monstrous. So I was trying to write about kind of an interior experience of the female artist. That is a little more nuanced than just I did you know, someone does something that is reprehensible.

V Spehar  24:38

There’s a lot of like, who are the monsters adjacent? Also, I came from the food and beverage world. I was at the James Beard Foundation for a number of years. And you want to learn about a couple of monsters? We sure did have a bunch of them. Won James Beard Awards. And do you get into chefs at all in the book?

Claire Dederer  24:55

No, I would really like to hear you say more about this. It was I could have done I could have done shafts I could have done sports figures, I had projected Pratt chapters on politicians. But after a while, I realized that there’s something very specific about the dynamic between artist and audience that I wanted to talk about. But of course, this exists in every industry.

V Spehar  25:16

The food and beverage, I’m going to tell you, that’s a whole other book on its own, because these are recipes much like art that becomes a part of your personality of your family of your traditions. And so you’re looking at a Mario Batali sauce that you really love his bolognese, I’ll say, and people have incorporated that into the way that they serve food to their families and have conversations, and he has a monster do you make Mario Batali is Bolognese anymore? And for us? The answer was no. But, you know, there was a lot of people who were like, Well, what about April Bloomfield, if you’re going to take Batali out, then you have to take out a sous chef? And then you have to take out the James Beard Awards? Also, because they’re the ones who propped them up? And what about Food Network? And what about the crocks company? I don’t know. Like, you can just keep going and going and going and going. And the end of this monstrous ecosphere never quite ends. But with art, I imagined that that was something that people were experiencing as well, this is something that’s provoked an emotional reaction in people something that helped them find parts of themselves through this art. And now we’re being told, Well, can we like these songs? Can we enjoy this artist? Can we appreciate their literature? Can we?

Claire Dederer  26:24

Yeah, so I think that I love what you just said. And one part that I mean, I just want to acknowledge what you said about all of the other pieces of the puzzle that go to make a restaurant or a recipe or what have you the same thing with a work of art, when when we let go of the you know, the offender’s work, we’re also letting go of all the people who surround them. And that’s very complicated. But you also brought up this idea of loving the recipe, you know, like if they ever canceled on Marcela Hassan and I can’t have my tomato sauce, I’m going to be very upset. So I get it. But you bring up this idea of love, you know that you love this sauce, and then it becomes kind of integrated into the life of your family. And I think that that none of this matters. If there’s not that side of the problem. You know, I remember my, my then husband saying, Well, I’m never gonna listen to Kanye again. And I’m like, You never listened to Kanye in the first place.

V Spehar  27:22

What about David Bowie?

Claire Dederer  27:25

So it’s not just that these are great artists. And I think that that is, was a really big realization for me in writing the book, you know, I think that at first I thought it’s, well, how bad is the crime? And how great is the art and can we, you know, kind of make a calculator and balance it out and figure out if it’s, quote unquote, worth it, right. But really, what I came to realize is that it’s more about your individual experience of both halves of that equation. You know, if you’re looking at, for instance, what it is that the person’s done, if you’re a survivor, that’s a different experience than someone who’s, you know, not been through that, like, you’re bringing your own subjective ideas to it. But you’re also bringing your own subjectivity to your love, right? Like, you may have a recipe you love too much to give up, or I might have a song that’s crucial to who I was, you know, a David Bowie song that was I listened to every day in 10th grade. Or maybe you’re a kid who, you know, needed the Huxtable family, as an example of something to imprint on, you know that you loved that when you were a kid, because your experience is different than mine. If we start to try to balance some idea of something that’s objectively good against a crime, that’s objectively terrible, we immediately get into trouble because who gets to decide. And so in a really deep way, the book is about pushing against that authority. And asking critics and people who are consuming art to think about their own subjectivity, their own historical status, who they are, where they come from, and their own emotional response to the work not as a, you know, not as a problem, but just as part of the experience. And to my mind, I think that it’s I mean, I know that it sounds a little squirrely to say, I don’t know, but I don’t know. You know, I really feel like it’s, each time a work of art is consumed. It’s not just the biography of the maker that we’re encountering. It’s the biography of the consumer. And that occurs every time. I feel like either way, you know, if you just say I can’t do this, I absolutely support people who say I can’t spend money on this, or I just doesn’t taste good anymore, right on some kind of psychic level. But I also think that how we consume art is maybe not necessarily our best use of our political will. And there’s other things that we can do in challenging ourselves to participate in other ways as well.

V Spehar  30:22

It triggers like a little bit of shame in us, right when we supported somebody, and we loved them. And we bought their albums, or we hung their art on our walls. And we said, we align ourselves with this person, this person represents what I care about and who I am in some ways, and then they do something that’s not in line with that value system. And now we have to try and balance that moral outrage with our admiration. What do you think about that?

Claire Dederer  32:16

I think that this problem has existed for a long time. Yeah, right. I think that these the people have done terrible things and made great art. As long as there’s been humans, I’m sure. And I think one of the things that’s really different now is that we are in this intensely biographical moment, we’re in this moment where we know everything about everyone. You know, when I’m 56, when I was a kid, if I wanted to know about some band, if I was lucky, I’d find an article about it in, in Rolling Stone, but it’s just you know, maybe you find one little sentence about a band member, the guitarist, I was interested, you know, or if you loved the Beatles, you’d wait every five years for a new Beatles biography to come out. But now, the internet and biography are basically the same thing the internet is made up of, and monetized by biography, our biographies as social media users, but also biographies of people that come at us. So there’s been this acceleration of our enmeshment with these figures, you know, but this idea that we sort of this imaginary relationship we have with with famous figures, it’s there’s like an emotional tenor that didn’t used to maybe be there so intently, because there’s kind of a category error error, because their biography and their image and their self is so omnipresent in our lives, we become collapsed with them. And then of course, because fan communities are so passionate, we further that identification by you know, writing fanfiction, or making our own art or connecting with people online, or, you know, there’s ways that that and measurement is so intense, and therefore, when it goes sideways, when they say something we don’t agree or support. There is this kind of attendant shame. What does that mean about me? Because part of me is now bound up in you, the artist, and it’s heartbreaking. I mean, I think it makes the problem we’re talking about more emotional, and I think it’s one of the reasons I thought so much about teenagers in this book. You know, I really thought a lot about the experiences of all different kinds of teenagers but because I remember being a teenager and needing music needing art in a way it’s like identity formation, and it’s like, a loneliness mitigator all those things that aren’t does and I think that teenagers and their disappointment is sort of the kind of purest form of what we’re talking about. Because their love is more intense as well and of course teenagers are incredibly moralistic, intensified on both side.

V Spehar  34:49

That is so true. My 16 year old niece is evidence of that certainly we’ve been through several artists now that haven’t met the haven’t met the moral code a couple times. It’s okay you get your heart broke. As a teenager, it makes you a better person over and over and over. Right?

Claire Dederer  35:03

Well, right. And that’s like these kids are taking these things seriously. I think it’s, you know, I talk I’ve been talking to so many people since the book has come out. And I, when I have questions after events, often I will heal or hear from parents who are worried because their kids are somehow all caught up in what they call Kancil. Culture. Yeah. And I’m like, Well, you know, maybe, if you didn’t give it this diminishing term, canceled culture and listen to what they were saying you could be having a dialogue about this, because these are the kids who are bringing up this stuff. There. I mean, obviously, sometimes they’re doing it just to chap the assets of their parents. But they’re, it’s also really serious and really important. So it’s been interesting to watch that intergenerational dialogue.

V Spehar  35:51

Do you think that there is any, like, good part to cancel culture? Is there something that we’ve gotten to with canceled culture that is a benefit to society?

Claire Dederer  36:02

Well, I think that the phrase canceled culture is one that always makes me very uncomfortable. Because what we’re really talking about is people, the inciting incident, the seed of canceled culture is somebody raised their hand and said, this crummy thing happened to me. Right, that they spoke up and said something rotten that they lived through. And we cannot do better and less people do that. And we listen to them. So the inciting seed is necessary. And the fact that it’s happening more often, I would say, is overall, a net good. The problem is that, given the response to it, there’s sort of several things that happened. But the main thing that happens is the person who’s been accused experiences a loss of status. And loss of status is horrible. It’s a shitty thing to live through. It’s it’s really a crummy difficult thing. It seems to me that there’s a kind of balance between, I get to say what happened to me, you experience loss of status. That’s the trade off we’re at right now. And that seems to me, even though it’s a basically terrible situation, tracing it all the way back to the person raising their hand, I think that’s incredibly important, if we want to do better. And so all this stuff that follows after that is complicated, and sometimes out of control. But the, it doesn’t mitigate the fact that it’s important for us to listen.

V Spehar  37:39

I listened to this podcast behind the bastards just about every week, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. But one of the things that I’ve run into personally, is when you hear the stories of awful people and the awful things they did, you sometimes start to develop empathy for their root story, because oftentimes, something awful happened to them. And that can be a very difficult feeling for the listener to navigate. You hear about the bad thing, let’s say about a historical figure, like Picasso, he did this bad thing, but then you hear about his life. And you’re like, Well, of course, he did a bad thing. And it’s like, no, of course. No, there were other choices. And we start to really question ourselves, when we have empathy for monsters, as you were writing the book, did you find yourself finding empathy for these characters and these people?

Claire Dederer  38:20

Yeah, I love that you use Picasso as an example. And of course, Picasso had very good politics. But I will add, you know, I mean, there’s some thought that our Kelly suffered abuse, there’s, you know, Michael Jackson certainly was exploited in his childhood, Polanski himself survived the Holocaust. And then, of course, the brutal slaying of his wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson family. So people, you know, some of these people have experienced the very worst things that can happen, and then, you know, went on to do rotten things themselves. So I do think that there’s, you know, this in terms of causality, I do think sometimes there’s a relationship there. But the larger question of finding empathy, you know, finding compassion, that becomes a preoccupation toward the end of the book. Around partway through the writing of the book, I became sober. And the, if you become sober, you are in a sense, acknowledging that there was a problem or some kind of monstrousness because otherwise, you wouldn’t have to quit. I mean, that’s sort of a key thing about being an addict and stopping being an addict. You don’t quit because everything’s going great. Right? So I think that there’s there’s a dialogue in recovery communities that is really wrestling with problems of of me too, because of course, there’s all kinds of exploitations and accusations that are going on in recovery communities, because these are incredibly vulnerable populations at the same time. A lot of people in that community say, well, we can’t just monster the other person or accused the The other person, because if we get rid of the bad people, that’s us, right? That’s how we ended up here. So that experience of living through that really took me to the other side of starting to think about what compassion looks like, not just what is it for me to forgive other people? But what is it for me to expect and want forgiveness from them? Which is, you know, how are my monsters? Can I be until people stop loving me also becomes the question. And I think that gave me more room to start to think about, approach my politics from more structural point of view, rather than a finger pointing kind of punitive point of view, which is maybe where the book starts out. And that’s kind of the growth of the narrator of the book, I think she starts out, then, you know, I started out much more kind of, kind of a classic liberal feminist of like, let’s just get these guys in trouble. And then it grows into a much more systemic questioning and trying to find some room for compassion.

V Spehar  41:05

Did you find compassion, then?

Claire Dederer  41:07

Oh, I don’t know.

V Spehar  41:09

For everybody, we can be a little stingy with our compassion.

Claire Dederer  41:15

I think, you know, maybe that I, on a good day, maybe? It’s hard. I mean, I certainly would.

V Spehar  41:22

Compassion is fluid, it can be given and taken away to put.

Claire Dederer  41:25

Yeah, but it does exist.

V Spehar  41:30

What do you think about this idea that to be an incredible artist, you have to be a tortured artist, you’re mentally unstable. So you’re a genius. And like, that’s part of it, that this monstrousness is somehow what makes good art.

Claire Dederer  41:42

Right? I think that I was really interested, as I worked on this book and thought about this. And this is by no means I comprehend, you know, this book is not meant to be a comprehensive catalogue. Again, it’s a subjective experience of the audience book. But what I noticed is that people who really got to enjoy the fruits of being a tormented and fantastically strange artist were white men. Yeah, there’s a privilege that comes to doing these kinds of out of bounds impulsive behaviors that are expressive of a total freedom, you know, what you could call an absolute freedom, that is not only in how you make the art, but in how you sort of feel the world and then also what you take from the world, you know, this, this impulsivity is like, given license all across the board, if artistic impulse is good, then all these other impulses must be good as well. So it’s not to say that suffering or insanity are a privilege, but the to perform them and have them lifted as part of your art is something that a privileged group enjoys, or enjoys might be strong.

V Spehar  42:46

As you were going through this. Were there any artists that you’re like, you know, what, this actually is a hard path. This is a hard No, we can’t separate the art from the artist in this case.

Claire Dederer  42:56

Yes. I mean, there are I think that, you know, Cosby, is their accusations, you know, he hasn’t been convicted. And but I think when somebody has done something that’s so at odds with the work, it makes it really, really hard to consume the work. So it’s not just sort of an intentional hard pass. It’s almost like it’s impossible. Like, how do you perceive the warmth? And the, you know, the family minded quality of doctor in this? Yeah, exactly. In the in the context of the accusations, it’s, it feels impossible to me, I have tried. But, again, I think we come back to that problem of, I mean, I loved the Cosby Show when I was young, but it was an integral to who I was. So for somebody else, maybe it wouldn’t be a hard pass. Maybe that’s that shows still valuable to them. But for me, that was the one.

V Spehar  43:56

Yeah, that makes sense to me, because like you said, even I mean, not the book and a more modern figure. But a lot of people feel that way about Ellen right, this idea that she’s so incredibly generous and dancing and wholesome and giving. And then you hear stories about how you know her stuff was saying she wasn’t super nice, or the idea that you’d like to scare people might not be indicative of like a really great person all the time. And a lot of people can separate those things. And some people you know, definitely can’t because it feels like a trick when someone is a monster. But they’re David Chang or Mario Vitaly or somebody who’s like, notorious for being a hothead, and notorious for doing these really deeply awful things. They never were like tricking you into thinking they were a good guy. They were always showing you who they were. And it wasn’t until there was this critical mass of monstrousness that we decided that we were going to move on from them. And to your point, some people had a little bit more leeway and how much of a monster they can be before we reach that critical mass.

Claire Dederer  44:52

I think Ellen is such an interesting choice because she because it’s it’s very similar. I hadn’t really thought of it For but it’s very similar to the Cosby problem where it’s not just that she is sort of tricking you, it’s her whole performance, Everything about her is about this quality of warmth, and inclusiveness. And also, you know, her role historically that she’s sort of the, the acceptable face of queerness, then she’s sort of doing that work to reach middle America, which is amazing. But when that conflict comes up, it’s all the more painful and all the more I can’t the feeling, I can’t look at what she’s doing. I can’t because it’s just, it’s just to at odds.

V Spehar  45:38

Is there any particular piece of art that you think sparks a big moral conflict for people maybe aside from, you know, we’ve talked about the particular artists and what they’ve done, but maybe just like, an example of work that people are like, oh, gosh.

Claire Dederer  45:54

So I think that the one that comes up quite a lot is Manhattan by Woody Allen. So Manhattan for the younger listeners is a film that was made in 1979. Allen plays 40 Something man who’s dating a 17 year old high school student, she does turn 18 over the course of the film, and it’s just fine. You know, he makes a couple of cracks about how it’s weird to be dating a high school student, but the opening scene of the film is Woody Allen, that I mean, his character, having dinner with another couple, also in their 40s, and the Mariel Hemingway character who’s Tracy, who’s 17. And it’s just treated as a normal dinner out. I mean, they make a couple of comments about it, but they’re not horrified. They don’t and it’s just the whole film is this sort of raising up of his relationship with Tracy as being very authentic and meaningful. And Alan does this incredible thing where he puts the words affirming the value of the relationship into Tracy’s mouth. Right, she’s the one who’s always saying that we have a great relationship. We have great sex we trustee, you know, she’s he he very candidly puts those into the girl’s mouth. And there’s this really, I mean, so that is a work of art. That’s sort of the opposite of the Cosby problem, right? If you if in Cosby and Dr. Huxtable, you have this kind of break, you know that they’re so different from each other. It’s almost incomprehensible, or like you were saying about Ellen kind of this, this schism inside the image with Alan you have Manhattan with his relationship with a 17 year old girl. And then a few years later his relationship with his partners daughter soon Yi who he had been a parental he claims he wasn’t a parental figure to her but she was you know, it’s it’s, it’s constantly debated was she finishing high school was she starting college when they got together, but similar age girl, so the bad deed or the deed and the art are so close that it becomes really uncomfortable. And it feels like first of all, it’s I mean, it’s horrifying on its own. Like, I remember watching the movie and trying to think it was okay, when I was a kid, you know, like, I love Woody Allen, I think he’s hilarious. And this seems a little weird, but I guess this is how sophisticated people act grain. But I think that in the in the post soon, ye era, once he started the relationship with his very young, then very young white now wife, it began to feel like in that film, Alan was grooming the audience. And in some ways, I almost feel like he’s grooming himself. He’s telling himself, it’s okay. But it’s a very, very strange piece of work in that sense.

V Spehar  48:45

And it’s very validated by the other actors in that particular film, because you have someone who’s beloved and cherished and perfect as Miss Meryl Streep in that film. And it’s difficult to, to not believe that like, well, she’s a good person, and she’s in the movie and like, maybe it is okay. I mean, there’s there’s definitely choices that monsters make that trick us into thinking things are more than they are.

Claire Dederer  49:07

Yeah, I mean, I think that it’s, it’s, I think for a lot of Allen fans, man, Manhattan was his greatest work. And it has all these sort of markers of high art. It’s black and white. It’s like he brings in Gershwin, there’s just this incredible, and it is technically like a very beautiful film. And there’s parts of it that are very, very funny. But it also sort of has this way of holding itself as culturally profound. That right kind of makes you give more of a past to what’s going on.

V Spehar  49:40

Now your book invites us to reflect on what we’re really feeling about ourselves about these people about this art. What are some tips you’d offer on how to engage in deep introspection to do a wide inventory of your true feelings?

Claire Dederer  49:53

Yeah, I think that early in writing the book, I started to think about it The difference between ethical thoughts and moral feelings. And I noticed that when people wanted to tell me their thoughts, they always ended up telling me their feelings. So I remember one friend saying, you’re writing about Woody Allen I have so very, very smart friend, I have so many thoughts about him. And then when we started talk, she said, I hate him. He just fills me with rage. And I was like, those are feelings. And so I think that that was a really signal moment in the writing of the book for me was realizing that we think we’re having thoughts, but we’re really responding emotionally. And that is not to denigrate emotion, it’s to understand that that’s the core of how we’re approaching the problem. So I think that that’s, I don’t know what tips I have, like light a candle, I don’t know. But I do think just when you’re having a very strong response to something, try stating it to yourself as an emotion rather than as a rational thought, and try to get after what it is that it’s making you feel. I mean, I think there’s a lot of political issues, this could actually be really helpful. But I appreciate the question as a, you know, how, how do we actually turn this into a process for solving the problem? And I think the number one thing is, stop sort of, you know, trying to stop yourself from valorizing these feelings by making them thoughts about how the other guy’s wrong? Well, what is it? You know, what is it you’re feeling? What is it what’s coming up?

V Spehar  51:28

Yeah, I feel that, man, if you’re in my DMs, or my comments is the exact same thing, like you say, the thoughts or the feelings in mind, oftentimes, it’s like people are sharing their fears, or the things they’re excited about, which are both emotions, but framing them as facts. And I’m like, Okay, let’s work through those together. Like, yes, it’s triggering this work, or this event is triggering something in you that needs to be expressed, how much of this is fact? And how much of this is how we feel about it? And does it matter if it’s a factor or a really strong feeling? Because sometimes, those are two different types of truth. And they both matter, incredibly, to us. And so it’s like, oh, man, we’re gonna have to bring a psychologist in for the end of this interview.

Claire Dederer  52:09

Exactly. No, I think that that’s really true. This tension between fact and feeling or even thought and feeling is at the heart of a lot of what we’re dealing with right now.

V Spehar  52:19

What do you hope the the listener or the reader takes away from the book?

Claire Dederer  52:25

I hope that I, what I really hope and this is sort of a funny thing to say is, I hope it reconnects them to the value of art in their life. I think that that’s one of the things the book is really holding up is what art means to you get to decide what it means to you, and you get to decide how you’re going to navigate this problem.

V Spehar  52:46

What’s coming next for you any topics you’re excited to explore?

Claire Dederer  52:50

Really nice people who do kind things.

V Spehar  52:55

Oh, let’s not get into the saints, because I will probably find a few more months.

Claire Dederer  53:00

That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. I’ve had enough of the monstrous men for a while.

V Spehar  53:06

Yes, yes. Definitely a break as needed. Maybe just something on like, I don’t know. Yeah, happy things. I can’t think of any right now. But I’m sure there’ll be something.

Claire Dederer  53:15

Well, you know, I’m living my my father passed away last year, and he had lived in the same houseboat in Seattle for 50 years. And I’m living, I’m living on his houseboat. And so I’ve been making, and I’ve been making notes on that. And it’s been a really, really fascinating and sometimes hilarious experience.

V Spehar  53:34

I would love to read that book. Honestly, I’m so just like, obsessed with the stories of older people, and especially older men, just like my grandpa, just the coolest guy also recently passed away. But we’re finding little things that he cared about now. And we don’t take enough time to think about like how our dads or how our grandpa was really cherished and thought things were precious and had these deep emotions about stuff they kept. I think that would be a really interesting book and living on a houseboat alone. You could probably write a book about all the challenges of that. Exactly, exactly. tell folks where they can find you. Do you have social medias and all that?

Claire Dederer  54:08

Yep, I’m under Claire Deder on all the while not on Tik Tok, but on Twitter. Facebook and Instagram. Yeah, eventually I’ll be doing some dances so yeah, they can find me there.

V Spehar  54:19

Perfect. Thank you so much, Claire for being here.

Claire Dederer  54:21

Thank you so much for having me. It was a delight.

V Spehar  54:26

Every episode of the show, I leave the interview with like a weekend’s worth of reflecting to do and this week that is especially true when she talked about weighing your own emotional connection to the art with the bad thing that the artists did. I mean, like, wow, that just like really makes you think. And that calculation is going to be different for everyone. There is not a one size fits all decision here. After the credits stay tuned for an exclusive listen to Claire’s book monsters, compliments of Apple books and our very own limonada Book Club, which unites lovers of storytelling from pot Casting to audiobooks. You can learn more about our Book of the Month picks and listen to monsters in its entirety at Apple books. Be sure to tune in to next week’s episode where we dig into the headlines you may have missed. Please leave us a five star rating on whatever platform you’re listening on. It really does help people find the show. Follow me at under the desk news on tick tock, Instagram and YouTube. And guess what friends there is even more be interesting with laminata Premium subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content, like former MTV News reporter Sucia and puck on the importance of maternal health care. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts. And don’t forget stick around after these credits.

V Spehar  55:44

V Interesting is a Lemonada Media Original. Our producers are Kryssy Pease, Kathryn Barnes and Martin Macias. Our VP of weekly programming is Steve Nelson. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittles Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Mix and scoring is by James Farber. Music by Seth Applebaum. Please help others find the show by reading and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @VitusSpehar, @underthedesknews and @LemonadaMedia. If you want more V Interesting. Subscribe to Lemonada Premium only on Apple podcasts and follow the show where ever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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