A Portrait of the Artist as an Asshole

As a bit of tangential discussion to this entry, I’d like to address the topic of creative people being assholes.

1. Some creative people are assholes. This is for whatever value of “asshole” you use, because what makes someone an asshole is a somewhat subjective thing — like pornography, we tend to know it when we see it. Some creative people are assholes because “creative people” is a subset of “people,” and some people are just assholes, independent of their chosen line of work. There are asshole cops, asshole laywers, asshole doctors, asshole grocery checkout people, asshole presidents, asshole postal workers, asshole baristas, etc.

Additionally, everyone’s occasionally an asshole, because people are fallible. If you have a reputation as an asshole, it’s probably because you’re often visibly an asshole to others and/or when your being an asshole is pointed out to you, you tend to see it as a feature rather than a bug. Be that as it may, everyone’s an asshole once in a while, and has the potential to be an asshole more often than that. Trying not to be an asshole all the time is usually a good thing to work toward.

Finally, some people will think you’re an asshole no matter who you are or what you do. Sometimes they may be right! But other times you may have done nothing other than exist. Honestly, just about the only person in the entire world I have never heard of someone speaking ill toward is Fred Rogers, and I’m sure there’s someone out there who thinks even he was kind of an asshole (please note that if you actually believe Mr. Rogers was an asshole, you’re almost certainly an asshole yourself and should seek help for that).

That some creative people are assholes should not be news. However:

2. Most creative people who are assholes are assholes independent of their creative drive. It’s correlation, not causation. There are the rare individuals who find specifically within their assholishness a deep and abiding wellspring of creativity, because creativity is a mysterious thing. Their numbers are fewer than you would think. For most creative folks, the foundation of their creativity lies elsewhere than in the impulse to attack or belittle or to jump on other people.

Now, there are times when someone will use creativity to amplify their assholishness, because creativity is their tool, or weapon, against other people, and besides it’s often enjoyable, at least in the short term, to take a punch at someone. This is especially the case if that creative person, like any number of creative people, has a cheering section out there in the ether. But using creativity as a tool for being an asshole is different from one’s creativity being forged out of that particular aspect of one’s make up. Most people who are creative are still creative when they are not actively being assholes to someone else.

3. Art does not justify being an asshole to others. The first of those is a thing one creates or does. The second of those is who one is to others. Again, these are largely entirely separate things. One can create gorgeous things, but if one is also an asshole, it’s fair for people to say “that dude’s an asshole, and I don’t care how well he creates, I’m not going to support his work.” There will be people who don’t care (or care, but not enough to stop consuming the work), and that’s fine, too. But at the end of the day the artist has to live with themself, and may want other people to live with them, too. In which case curbing the impulse to be an asshole might be a thing they want to consider. Very few people will tolerate living with an asshole for long.

But censorship! I hear some of you cry. If you can’t be an asshole, you limit your options as a creator. Well, no:

4. Creating challenging/controversial art is (usually) separate from being an asshole to people. Which is to say that an artist and creator should have the right to question, to provoke and to upend assumptions in their work, and to follow the muse wherever the muse goes. When the work gets out there, the rest of the world has their say. How the creator responds to the criticism is a largely separate thing.

And yeah, it can be tricky, which is a really polite euphemism for it. Also, yes: sometimes a creator cluelessly blunders into a controversy they did not intend and has no idea how to respond to when it happens, and as a result makes a few asshole moves. Welcome to the modern world, where such things occur. It’s time to recognize that is part of the landscape.

Criticism is often really hard for creative folks to take — and can be especially so when the criticism is about something the creator wasn’t expecting (or may not have even known about prior to the criticism). If you don’t know the landscape of a particular field or line of criticism, it can also seem unfair. All of this raises the chance of the creator flubbing the response.

Does this mean creators should muzzle themselves? No. They should do the work they want to do. It does mean they should be aware of the world into which their work is released. They should be prepared for criticism, and should be aware the criticism may not be what they expect. That criticism may or may not have an influence on their future work, as the case may be.

(Mind you, sometimes creators do make something specifically to antagonize others — they know what they’re getting into with that.)

5. A creator’s audience is not always their friend, when it comes to the asshole thing. I’m not gonna lie — it’s fun to have a cheering section, i.e., a group of fans who enjoy you as a public personality as much as they admire you as a creator, and who enjoy your adventures and pump their fists wildly as you go into battle against… well, whomever it is you’re going into battle against, for whatever reason you go into battle. They can be relied on to have your back, to tell you it’s the other guy who is the asshole, and to say and do all the things that let you rationalize being a jerk to someone else, or a whole group of someone else’s, or whatever.

The thing creators have to remember is that to a very real extent they are fictional characters to their fans — and that what fans want (the product they like, they way they like it, served up by someone who they often see as being just like them, only more interesting/exciting/successful/etc) isn’t always going to conform to what they actually need in their lives. Additionally, fans will construct narratives to justify whatever behavior a creator dishes up… as long as the end result is more of what they want. Enabling! It’s a thing.

In the real world, however, and being an asshole can have ramifications in one’s career and in the day-to-day personal life of the creator. A fan can make the argument that decades from now, no one will care whether you were an asshole or not. The thing is creators live today, and today being an asshole can make a big difference in your creative life. It can restrict opportunities. It can keep people from working with you or buying what you create. It can make people who care about you move away from you, because you are intolerable to be with.

Creators are actual live people. The lives they lead matter, both to them, and ultimately to the sort of work they will create, by which they will presumably be judged.

(Also, you know what? Decades from now, maybe they will care that you were an asshole. We have no control over how posterity perceives us; it’s always in flux. And at the end of the day, if you leave a long paper and/or electronic trail of your being a complete asshole to people, then there’s a pretty good chance that’s going down on your permanent record.)

Discuss.

100 thoughts on “A Portrait of the Artist as an Asshole

  1. Also, yes: I am aware a lot of people think I am an asshole. It means I have special insight on the topic.

    (And yeah: The Mallet is out, so play nicely with each other.)

  2. Fox News [sic] went after Fred Rogers because he advocated being kind and understanding and accepting people. Google it. But – I think Fox News [sic] are assholes. YMMV.

  3. I’ll add that creativity is, by definition, risky and uncertain. So dealing with creative people is dealing with people in risky and uncertain circumstances, who have likely toughened up beyond the norm of day to day life. Even creative people who aren’t assholes can look like assholes to regular folks. For instance, creative people sometimes spend a lot of time on networking. To ordinary folks, that might look like being a suck-up or a fake. So often, being an asshole is just being adapted to the rough and tumble of a creative life.

  4. A few years ago, I wrote a simple piece asking what makes an artist; I then pointed out that many behaviours that people associate with artists are also practiced by people who are not artists. Addiction to drugs or alcohol? Lots (likely the vast majority) of people who are addicted to substances have never written an award-winning novel. Madness? Lots of people with a variety of mental illnesses never painted or wrote music in their lives. This sounds like a very similar case.

    People who do not pursue artistic endeavours like, I think, to find root causes to creativity in places other than the obvious: the long hard slog learning one’s craft and developing one’s voice.

  5. One can also be identified as an asshole, merely by the company one keeps or is thought to keep. Sometimes this is a fair assessment, sometimes not.

    And I wonder what, pray tell, spurred this?

  6. My #1 Rule for a long time has been “Try to NOT be an asshole.” I don’t have to be good or perfect or exemplary, just… NOT an asshole. It’s kept me out of a lot of trouble over the years.

    (Not always, or I wouldn’t have been banned from a popular website about a year and a half ago.)

  7. Hmmm. I get the arrogant condescending thing sometimes when I go Bones. Maybe it’s our cavalier attitude. I’m not a follower. I just go and if someone happens to be come with me so be it, but I’m good either way. I’m going to do my thing

  8. I used to define “standup comedian” as “an asshole who says and does asshole things on stage for the amusement of other assholes.” And I still think this is true of most standups working today. Exceptions include Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen Degeneres, and about half of Demitry Martin.

    The point being, that was an art which I THOUGHT was necessarily assholic, but even there I’ve been proven wrong.

  9. In response to Ira Nayman, I will say that at least some of the fiction I’ve written over the years has been a way to prevent my Inner Asshole from acting out in public.

  10. There is a particular SF/F author that I will not name, with whom I have had personal interactions, that I consider to be a huge asshole. I have several friends that agree with me in that assessment. Because I consider him an asshole I refuse to buy any of his books.

    However just because I consider him an asshole and won’t buy his work does not mean that I have any particular say in the market. He continues to regularly publish novels and people out there buy them and his publisher keeps buying his work and the circle continues.

    If someone asks me why I have this opinion of him, I will gladly explain so at length. If said someone then decides to also boycott his works, then yay me. But I honestly have no real expectation that my personal dislike of the man is going to have any real effect on his sales and/or make him change his ways.

    Just something to think about, folks.

  11. [Deleted because it's largely off topic. Also, JvP, equating someone being an asshole to mental illness both derails discussion and obfuscates the fact that most people who are assholes are entirely sane, they're just assholes - JS]

  12. I’ve also observed that a lot of creative people tend to be high-strung, for lack of a better term. I have a friend who is a pro photographer who has done work for a lot of actors. I once observed as he spent 15 minutes verbally tearing to shreds a photographer who had been assisting him in the darkroom. It was because the guy had kinked some of the prints. And it made a kind of sense, because photography is a business where you line up a lot of expensive equipment and a lot of different people’s schedules and you get ONE SHOT to get it right.

    I thought of that day when I heard about Christian Bale going apeshit on a lighting assistant, and I had a lot of sympathy for Bale. At least for creators who work on big-budget projects with a lot of other people, they are locked in a constant struggle against entropy to realize their vision while the light is good, or while the funding holds, or while the carefully-picked model still has time, or whatever. I can imagine being pretty tense in that situation, and having high expectations for the people around me.

  13. I wonder if part of what contributes to the “artist as asshole” syndrome is the dichotomy between the very private, individual, inward-looking process of creating art and the extremely public, interactive steps an artist must take to share his or her art with others. Whether publishing written work or showing visual art or performing musical or theatrical art, the artist is forced to engage with others. Like all of us, artists occasionally blunder into being assholes, but the fact that they must needs engage with the wider public to share their art means that the number of potentially offended others increases exponentially.

    Or to put it another way, if a middle manager at the Acme Griznoids Company is an asshole, the folks who will be affected by his assholery are pretty much limited to his own department, maybe a few fellow managers, and possibly some clients (plus his family, if he has one). Say, 50 or 60 people, tops.

    If a highly gifted and popular artist is an asshole, on the other hand, the visibility quotient is far, far higher – especially in the digital age of teh internets. Where the middle manager might annoy five dozen or so people by being an asshole, the artist could affect five thousand, or fifty thousand in some cases, with asshole behavior, even though he or she might never actually meet, or even see, any of those people, because the process of creating art is so individual, introspective and personal.

    I don’t know; could be I’m way off base. It just seems as though an artist is by his/her very occupation expected to juggle two wildly different realities, one totally inside the brain and the other completely out there in the world, and I could see how those conflicting realities could present a real challenge to handle.

  14. I submit that not all creative people are assholes, just like not all assholes are creative. You can be creative and still be a nice person. Some people are mean and some aren’t. The cementing of the two concepts (creative = asshole) seems like a bit of a reach.

  15. Hmmm. I get the arrogant condescending thing sometimes when I go Bones. Maybe it’s our cavalier attitude. I’m not a follower. I just go and if someone happens to be come with me so be it, but I’m good either way. I’m going to do my thing

    I’m a pretty independent person. I take pride in my intelligence and creativity. The word “stubborn” has been attributed to my personality more times than I can count. I love doing “my own thing” and I really don’t respond well if I’m being ordered around.

    I also make it a point to not be an asshole if I can help it. “Asshole” isn’t always part and parcel with being an intelligent, independent person, and frankly, using “But I’m a smart person who doesn’t ‘follow’ others and does their own thing!” as justification for being an asshole? Kinda an indication one might be an asshole.

  16. I think that there’s a bit more of a causal relationship than this piece suggests, although it’s not as straightforward as the “good artists have to be assholes” people seem to think. It’s very similar, in my opinion, to the partial truth of “girls like assholes,” as so many PUA fanboys love to claim: Many assholes don’t give a shit about other people’s negative responses to their actions. Both creative and romantic success are greatly helped by not giving a shit about the possibility of a negative response in certain contexts, and that’s obviously facilitated by not giving a shit about negative responses in general. That said, it’s certainly possible to not give a shit about certain negative responses (e.g. a reader disliking a book, or a woman rejecting an advance) while giving a shit about others (e.g. a reader taking the message from a book that they’re subhuman, or a woman being traumatized as a result of sexual harassment or worse). So being an asshole doesn’t result in better success (at least for any reasonable definition of “success” — which not all people have!) than an optimal non-asshole attitude, but it does result in better success than the actual attitudes that a lot of non-assholes hold.

  17. I would agree with Christopher on this, in the sense that if you are immensely obsessed with something it 1) will probably help you succeed in that area, 2) will (on average) make you care less about the feelings of/be more oblivious about the feelings of those that disagree with you about things in that area. That’s not to say that you *must* be an asshole to succeed, of course.

  18. The use of the term in this post led me to wonder about the derivation. Turns out someone has already done the wondering for us: Ascent of the A-Word by Geoffrey Nunberg [Public Affairs 2013] http://geoffreynunberg.com/ascent/ (BTW, I don’t claim anything about the book other than its existence. It always amazes me what can be studied in depth. I believe there are more books on the same subject. But I digress.)

  19. I think definitions help. What is an asshole? My wife and I had a conversation on this one evening. It can be very subjective. For that matter, who is an artist? I think that most people are artists; it’s how they express themselves that differs. I am a damned good software architect (ego, yes, but I have also been told and rewarded for how good I am). Software and code are my medium of expression; my art form. I rather suck at interpersonal relationships. But few people I interact with would consider me an asshole. It could be that people who are more outwardly creative or expressive have more venue for either being or portraying themselves as assholes. Again, it may go back to ‘what is an asshole?’. I also tend to wear my emotions on my sleeves in times of stress. People have learned that I am not upset with them, but rather a situation I am dealing with. Someone may perceive a curt response to a currently irrelevant (based on emotional relevance) question to be in the category of being an asshole. Or even the emotional state of the recipient of an offhand remark may cause them to consider the person as being an asshole.

  20. JS– you said it yourself. Lots of people think you are an asshole.

    What haven’t you spent oodles of time correcting the fact that a lot of people think you are an asshole? Because another group of people don’t think you are an asshole?

    Once you get a certain amount of fame, you will be seen as an asshole by a non-zero percent of the people.

    That’s why I have said that it’s pointless to worry for one second about any person who thinks you are an asshole. You will never win them over. It’s literally not worth trying. You can chase the asshole vote all day long.

    And at the end of the day, if you leave a long paper and/or electronic trail of your being a complete asshole to people, then there’s a pretty good chance that’s going down on your permanent record.)

    This is unsupporte by evidence. The “asshole” factor is quickly lost from memory. Former Pres. George W. Bush, who was an asshole by most standards, is quickly fading from the asshole memory hole. Very soon he will no longer be an asshole to most Americans. He’ll just be another former President. Pres. Reagan, also an asshole. To most people he’s the same caliber of person as Pres. Carter, who is a genuinely nice person.

    Your work will live on, but John Scalzi, you will be a nothing to history not long after you die. The blog will be gone, your house will be gone, your family will be gone. Your cats, Hugo, all of it will be dust, but your work has a chance to live on long after you gone. Let’s be honest, it probably won’t. Contemporary fiction based on other fiction, and your more original works – they aren’t going to be in the time capsule or the new ark next to Camus and John Updike, but some individuals may remember your work, and pass it along, and along, and along.

    And that will not be affected by whether or not you are an asshole, or associated with assholes, or some random blog commenters thought you are an asshole.

  21. I agree with Craig Ferguson:
    1. Does this need to be said?
    2. Does this need to be said by me?
    3. Does this need to be said by me now?

    If a lot more people reflected on this before hit send/post for comment sections, Facebook posts, tweets, and board postings the world will be a lot nicer place. (Even better if they bothered to proof-read before submitting for grammar, spelling, and coherency.)

  22. I believe Fox News has accused Fred Rogers of being an “Evil, evil man.” Strong support for your hypothesis about the assholishness of anyone who attacks the character of Mr. Rogers, in my opinion.

    I haven’t encountered more assholes among the writers I’ve befriended than I have among the various other groups of people I’ve worked and played with in my life. People are people. I think there are some who think they’re so brilliant they’re freed from the constraints of tact, civility and good manners, but you run into those in other professions too, not to mention hobbies.

  23. I don’t know. I suppose like John mentioned, there are assholes everywhere. But, in my experience, when it comes to artists, whether they’ve been cartoonists, painters, photographers or writers, I’ve always found them to be great people for the most part. Most have been more than willing to help me reach goals and give welcomed advise. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky and haven’t run across the segment of artist assholes that must surely exist somewhere. Or maybe they’re just misunderstood by non-artistic people and thus labeled assholes. I can live with that.

  24. I disagree a bit. Basically I think choosing art as a profession makes it easier for you to become an asshole. Not because assholes are more likely to be drawn to art, but because to SURVIVE in it requires development of a certain resolve that lends itself to assholery. I usually call it “arrogance” but it can come out to the same thing.

    When you’re starting out, basically the problem is the only following you have is you. Maybe a few others. But you’re certainly not “known” and you’re certainly not “succeeding,” not unless you’re very, very lucky. You generally have to work for a long time before you start developing any kind of audience at all, and during that time you’ll see other people succeed. You’ll see other people fail as well, but the people who succeed are more noticeable when you aren’t. They have what you want, essentially, and you’ll have to learn to deal with envy and develop a certain level of resolve to keep going instead of quitting. Along with that, you will inevitably meet people who won’t take you seriously (and dismiss you) precisely because you are trying to make a living at art — people who say “yes, but what’s your REAL job?” or ask you if you’ve sold anything, and if you haven’t immediately ignore you.

    So for a certain length of time, the only person who is driving you forward is you, the only person giving you the energy to keep going is you, the only person cheering you on is you. Effectively the only forward motion you have in your career is the motion you provide on your own–your family and friends can support you in some ways, but your family and friends also have demands, many of them wholly reasonable, that *compete* with what you’re trying to do. So it’s you, you, you, you, you for whatever length of time it takes before you start getting noticed, support, money, encouragement, whatever.

    It’s something of a crucible, and it’s easy to lose perspective in there. You’re running on ego, and ego is a dangerous and unstable fuel. If you don’t keep it in check during that time (or don’t have people around deflating that ego for you) then guess what, your chance of becoming an asshole goes up considerably because you’re turning into a Sith lord, releasing your anger, etc.

    I don’t think a disproportionate number of assholes go *into* the arts, but I think think the way the arts as a commercial venue work today makes it pretty easy to skew toward asshole when you’re coming out the other end. Certainly not everyone, and certainly not everyone will experience those pressures. But I think it’s there.

  25. dpmaine:

    “Your work will live on, but John Scalzi, you will be a nothing to history not long after you die.”

    It’s possible, of course, and indeed I expect that to be the case. I also find the idea of my work not lasting forever to be non-controversial. On the other hand, you never do know. And also, this blog has spawned three books of columns so far, all of which have sold reasonably well and which have hardcover copies out in the world. Finding out about me, to the extent that it’s collected in book form, will not actually be all that different for future researchers, if such is their wish.

    As for why I don’t spend any time correcting the opinion that I’m an asshole: Because most of the people who think that I am delighted to annoy. But again, if one wants to be stop being an asshole for one’s own reasons — a concept which you apparently simply cannot wrap your head around — then by all means one should do it.

  26. Uh, I should add that this is a conclusion I reached based on my ongoing experiences and struggles as I try to work my way out of that desolate space and crawl out the other side, so maybe it’s not everyone. Maybe it’s just me. :)

  27. My philosophy is to completely separate the work from the author. If by your definition one author is an asshole it doesn’t make his/her work objectively any worse (or better). I find this about as relevant as whether an author is vegan, prefers cats over dogs or has a funny walk.

  28. Mark H, if an artist were contributing large sums of money to organizations devoted to oppressing (and in some cases killing) people like you, you would feel differently about this.

    I’m going to guess that you’re not a member of any class for which anyone is actively doing this (that is, there are no organizations that exist to oppress any class of which you are a member), or you wouldn’t have made so blithe as statement.

  29. Dpmaine

    It does seem to me that you are totally clueless about the nature of history, as well as being totally clueless as to why someone might wish not be a asshole.

    However much you would like to believe that history = pop culture, it just ain’t so. Ignorance is, of course, an integral part of pop culture but demonstrating your ignorance of historical scholarship ad nauseam merely underlines the fact that you are not only ignorant but are apparently incapable of taking any steps to cease being as ignorant as you are at present.

    As for being an asshole, you are still obsessed with the idea that it is an arbitrary and unfair label which exists only as a label and has no relationship to the actions of someone who may be classed as an asshole. That ain’t so either; when push comes to shove we all do assholish things on occasion but some people do them so frequently that asshole is a fair description of their general state.

    There are a multitude of possible reasons for Mike K’s New Year’s resolution; at the sharp end it may come down to the fact that a business which wants to expand needs finance, and the people who can provide that finance don’t want to be publicly associated with assholes.

    MRAs cheering dickwolves on ensure that the money people run not walk to the nearest exit; the last thing that PA needs is the perception that it caters to unwashed sociopaths incapable of functioning in the real world, and thus likely to become unemployed and incapable of buying products. So regardless of whether Mike K is going for personal or business growth, encouraging him to carry on being an asshole is going to damage him, and at that point it becomes obvious that you really are not interested in supporting him.

    It’s all about you, and so far you have demonstrated that behaving like an asshole has no relationship whatsoever to creative ability…

    Mark H

    I think that describing your viewpoint as a philosophy is stretching the definition of philosophy beyond the breaking point.

  30. My philosophy is to completely separate the work from the author. If by your definition one author is an asshole it doesn’t make his/her work objectively any worse (or better).

    Some people choose to do so. That’s their business. But presenting it as just that easy misses the extremely salient point that Xopher makes: It can be a lot harder to separate the asshole from the work if you happen to be targeted or directly affected by said asshole behavior.

  31. I’ve been running into this recently, and I’ve noticed a thing:

    I don’t object to people who admit they are perhaps assholes nearly as much as I object to the people who have large and elaborate justifications for why what they are doing is okay and is not actually mean.

  32. Fox News dissed Mr. Rogers? Wow, and I didn’t think they could sink any lower. That’s pure high grade asshole.

    Sure, it matters less after you’re dead whether you were an asshole or not. Wagner was anti-Semitic but you gots to admit “The Ride of the Valkyries” is awesome music. And yet, some people hold that against him. Harlan Ellison’s a talented writer, but some people refuse to read him because of his decades of being an asshole, sometimes to innocent people who didn’t deserve it. How many people boycotted “Ender’s Game” after the author announced that people of similar genitalia should be thrown in jail for using the parts together in the way they wanted?

    But EVERYTHING matters less after you’re dead — whether you continue to exist or not, the petty concerns of Earthlings aren’t important if you’re worm food, playing a harp, boiling in oil, or waiting for your next go-round as a lower form of life for being an asshole this time around.

    So try not to be one for your brief stay here. The planet is both beautiful and terrible; try to make it more the former and less the latter. Think upon the wise words of Craig Ferguson (stand-up comedian, author, and man who’s actively working on not being an asshole) which were mentioned above. Think on Wil Wheaton’s “Don’t be a dick.” Think on Kurt Vonnegut’s “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

    Sure, there’s temporary fun to be had in getting in that snarky response and ginning up a crowd to do your bloodthirsty bidding. Just like there’s temporary fun to snorting coke or shooting heroin. Both eventually drive decent people away.

    And it has NOTHING to do with your creativity. Being an asshole, being an addict, being a diva… don’t use “I’m creative!” as your excuse. Own up to whatever you are. You’d have been that anyway. Work on your own baggage.

    I’ve noticed in various fields of creativity (from Olympic medalists, to Emmy winners, to Hugo winners) that the most assholish are those of little or no talent. They’re the sorts who brush off “the little people” yet ask “Do you know who I AM?” and ask for extra favors. But the really big ones? They’re nice. Even when they’re busy, they’re gracious. They work with what they have. They talk to the little kid fans. It’s not inevitable, of course — there are nice mid-rangers and asshole stars — but it happens often enough. And guess who gets more opportunities in their field? Guess who gets the good press, and the long-term and second generation fans? Guess who gets the happy family life and no ulcers and doesn’t show up on TMZ and Behind the Music? Yep.

  33. Oh good grief. A light hearted post about assholes has become a soapbox for people to rant about how they feel they are victims and such.

    As for the subject of this post, it reminds me of this joke:

    The brain said “I do all the thinking so I’m the most important and I should be in charge.”

    The eyes said “I see everything and let the rest of you know where we are, so I’m the most important and I should be in charge.”

    The hands said: “Without me we wouldn’t be able to pick anything up or move anything. So I’m the most important and I should be in charge.”

    The stomach said: “I turn the food we eat into energy for the rest of you. Without me, we’d starve. So I’m the most important and I should be in charge.”

    The legs said: “Without me we wouldn’t be able to move anywhere. I’m the most important and I should be in charge.”

    Then the rectum said: “I think I should be in charge.”
    All the rest of the parts said: YOU?!!
    You don’t do anything! You’re not as important as we are, surely!
    You can’t be in charge!”

    So the rectum stopped working…
    After a few days, the legs were all wobbly,
    the stomach was all queasy,
    the hands were all shaky,
    the eyes were all watery,
    and the brain was all cloudy.

    MORAL OF THE STORY

    It only takes one asshole to shut down a job and an asshole is always in charge of everything.

    SIDE NOTE: We need assholes

  34. Caveat: I’m not posting because I think anyone doesn’t already know and needs a lecture… I’m unpacking my own reasoning as I go, and I’m a bit of a pedant.

    Christopher Wright, I think you are on to something. There’s a level of … emotional energy? mental momentum? needed to produce art. I don’t know that it’s unique to art, but art is what we’re talking about here.

    So the emotional energy needed to produce art, people generate that in different ways. Some of us use the emotional charge of striking out into taboo conceptual territory. We can use the incidences of others pointing out that we’re violating social norms as fuel.

    And as Col. Snuggledorf noted, the urgency of the creative process can create stresses. We can offend others in our haste to make our idea real.

    Lots of opportunities for conflict there. And once we’re in a conflict, we have that whole set of feelings to work with: anger.

    It is easy to make the mistake of conflating anger with the energy needed to be creative. Indeed, it is easy to conflate anger with feeling good, generally.

    It is also easy to double down on anger, escalate or perpetuate the conflict. But it is possible to learn to do otherwise. It’s a skill, and it takes practice.

  35. I don’t think the idea of separating work and author is so crude to completely dismiss it (I’m surely not the first person to bring this up ever). I also don’t know why it matters if I call it a philosophy, a thought or an idea.

    Of course it’s not that easy, but if I have the choice (so if it’s not an extreme case that borders on criminal) I choose to separate work and author and/or just not research any biographical data. Being an asshole or not an asshole is not just black and white. So while I, for instance, appreciate John’s books, his blog, his ability to articulate himself through different media and to most of the time find exactly the right tone, you only have to look at the classics to see that a lot of these writers probably could be considered as sociopaths based on modern Internet definitions.

    For instance, a couple of years ago I was at a reading with Margaret Atwood and I think she acted like a jerk (she made fun of her translator, who struggled a bit, but really tried her best). I also think that she often does not find exactly the right tone in what she says in interviews etc. So based on that I could say that she is an asshole. But I still read and like her books. And yes I know that example is probably not as shocking as somebody who gives money to organizations that kill people.

  36. Lurkertype … You wrote: “I’ve noticed in various fields of creativity (from Olympic medalists, to Emmy winners, to Hugo winners) that the most assholish are those of little or no talent. ”

    Making a connection between jerkish-behavior and talent doesn’t ring true in my experience. There are some talented people who are mean, selfish assholes and worse; and also talented people who are able to treat others respectfully. There are creative people who thrive on acts of kindness. There are also quite a few folks who treat *some* people poorly, but have pockets of generosity and tolerance in how they treat others. I don’t see a correlation between creativity and the level of human interaction. There are extroverts, introverts, and people with kinds of reasons they choose to interact (or not) with the world in a positive way. There are kind people, bullies, people who are fearful, and people who are chameleons with their behavior.

    You can be a jerk and still be creative and talented. Or vice versa.

  37. It seems to me that certain professions lend themselves to jerks and cads. I can’t speak to the creative professions directly since I am not in one myself, but I can speak to my own profession and speculate as to others. As a criminal trial lawyer I have to be a hard case, negotiate stubbornly, deliver bad news, attack people (although I am always courteous about it) and argue for case outcomes that cause real pain to real people. That’s what I do for a living and I am sure that there are some who would call me, to use John’s delicate phrasing, an “asshole.” This is common amongst lawyers who actually argue and try cases.

    Others, including successful creative types and high-ranking folks in business and politics, end up surrounded by a bunch of “yes-men” and bootlickers. These folks have no real social consequence to jerkish behavior because of their money/power/influence, and that lack of social consequence seems likely to lead to being a boor.

    Contrariwise, folks whose professions don’t engender as much conflict or toadying are more likely to have social and professional consequences if they don’t behave themselves. Thus, while there may be jerks in every profession, certain professions will tend to encourage and/or forgive such behavior more than others.

  38. A quick correction to @Avdi’s post – Christian Bale did not go off on a lighting assistant. He went off on the Director of Photography. Major difference.

    Taking both of them as “assholes” for the sake of the conversation, a DP is not far removed from the director in terms of authority on set. Bale was definitely punching in his own weight class.

    Which is not to say that one or the both of them is not an asshole or even easy to work with. Only that it’s a very different type of action when you pick on someone your own size.

  39. I read this aloud, as I sometimes will do with really good essays (of which this is one). I discovered that there’s really a limit to the number of times you can say the word “asshole” before it begins to feel really strange in your mouth. :)

  40. Stevie–

    I am a PHd candidate for European History as we speak. So I am well trained in history. Unless you get to this level of historical study, you very often learn nothing about the people who move history and create memorable works.

  41. @Mark H – ‘you only have to look at the classics to see that a lot of these writers probably could be considered as sociopaths based on modern Internet definitions.’

    I wonder if, for older writers especially, being seriously balls-out nasty by modern standards, of the sort that would get them ostracised completely – and given the existence of Fox & Friends that’s a high bar to jump – is just a subset of assholeishness or is something else entirely.

    I personally feel different about Dickens being an asshole in his personal life and Kipling being, or being accused of being, racist and imperialist in lots of his actual work. I don’t really care about the former when I’m reading David Copperfield, but I get acutely uncomfortable in reading much of Kipling, even though I know all the counterarguments and caveats and exceptions.

  42. Lurkertype: There is no writer in the field who has been kinder or more supportive to me than Harlan Ellison. Those incidents where he’s perceived as being an asshole may get more press, but I believe they’re far less frequent than my experiences with him.

    Bill

  43. It’s easier – for me, anyway – to overlook assholishness in artists who are no longer around, because they can no longer affect anything, and sometimes their work has value that has far outlived their assholishness. Kipling, for example (I love The Jungle Book beyond measure, and am quite fond of the “Just So Stories,” and “Rikki Tikki Tavi.”)

    Harder to overlook in living artists, who can still make peoples’ lives miserable, and who advocate for awful actions, policies and/or viewpoints.

  44. Actually, I think it’s more a case of the assholes being the ones who get more attention for themselves as people, while the nice ones get more attention for their art. We love gossiping about what jerks the jerks are – it’s just human nature. And if someone isn’t being a jerk, we can’t gossip about them – but hey, that painting/photo/sculpture/novel/dance piece/movie they did was still great, so we look at their work instead.

    I actually am drawn more to the nice guys in the art world anyway (I worked in theater for 10 years and boy, that resets your tolerance threshold for asshole artists like whoa) – it wasn’t until after I got a kick out of their work that I started hearing about what nice folks people like Jesse L. Martin and Cote de Pablo and David Tennant and Wil Wheaton were, and so hearing they were nice folks was just gravy. (I actually met two of those three people and worked with a third, and can confirm that they are all exactly as wonderful and gracious as advertised.)

  45. A factor I haven’t seen mentioned yet is how “invaluable” the person is. Think of a movie for example. There are many people who can be an assistant camera operator, but there are only so many “A” list actors. Behavior tolerated from the star, their full range of assholery, won’t be tolerated from the assistant camera operator. So, the camera operator has to learn how to not be an asshole. The star, does not.

    This is carried well beyond the arts though since bosses are often given far greater latitude for their assholish ways than their employees would be. If you want to keep your job as Minion Second Class, you don’t complain about your bosses tactics because there’s always someone else willing to be a Minion Second Class.

    I just think it is more noticeable with artists because they aren’t necessarily the manager. The director let’s the star get away with it, even though he’s supposed to be in charge. So it breaks the normal paradigm in a way of only allowing management to be assholes.

  46. Actually, I think it’s more a case of the assholes being the ones who get more attention for themselves as people, while the nice ones get more attention for their art. We love gossiping about what jerks the jerks are – it’s just human nature. And if someone isn’t being a jerk, we can’t gossip about them – but hey, that painting/photo/sculpture/novel/dance piece/movie they did was still great, so we look at their work instead.

    I actually am drawn more to the nice guys in the art world anyway (I worked in theater for 10 years and boy, that resets your tolerance threshold for asshole artists like whoa) – it wasn’t until after I got a kick out of their work that I started hearing about what nice folks people like Jesse L. Martin and Cote de Pablo and David Tennant and Wil Wheaton were, and so hearing they were nice folks was just gravy.

    Hm, good point.

    Though, I will say that in my narrow slice of the theatre world, I’ve gotten to know a fair chunk of the top artists, and the vast majority of them are pretty damn nice and are great people to party with. Capable of doing asshole things, of course, but most of them try to ameliorate it after it gets brought to their attention.

    One of the most talented and most famous of them is also one of the nicest people in the field. “You mean he’s not only more talented than I am, but he’s a better human being? Damn, I better be upping my game….”

  47. dpmaine

    As a European I do tend to be aware that Europe is a very big place, and has been around for a very long time; we’ve got a lot of history. If you are hoping to obtain a PHd you are going to have to narrow it down very considerably, so I wish you the best of luck with your research.

    However, in Britain at least it would probably be fairly easy to find people, for example, capable of distinguishing between the approaches to the Faustus story of Marlowe and Goethe; our educational system expects people to acquire some knowledge of the works which have shaped our culture as well as the events which have shaped our culture. For that matter we are encouraged to look at the things which have shaped other cultures; my daughter is a medical doctor but along the way she acquired a history qualification focusing on the politics of the US in the mid 20th century.

    It may be that you live somewhere that doesn’t include these things in the curriculum but Europeans do…

  48. MSNBC made fun of adopted black child in Romney family, google it, me thinks they are assholes

  49. I generally find it pretty easy to separate the art from the artist. Unless the picture/song/prose that I’m currently consuming actively makes me think, “The person who drew/sang/wrote this is an ASSHOLE,” then it doesn’t come up. And it’s only a short step from judging an artist on their personality to judging them on their politics or their sexual orientation. I do not wish to miss something that I might greatly enjoy because I judged the artist instead of the art.

  50. We are all assholes at one time or another. Comes with being human. What makes you a mensch is 1): owning up to your mistakes 2): the quality of those passing judgment (sometimes the person calling you an asshole makes is a badge of honor or endorsement)

  51. I’m pretty sure John *has* in fact walked himself back from being an asshole. It’s recorder history on the blog here. And I’m pretty sure that it was because people who’s opinions John respects told him he was being an asshole.

    When people I respect tell me that I’m being an asshole, I work to correct my behavior and apologize *because I don’t want to be an asshole*

    You really can’t not care what people think of you and care for people/be cared for. There’s always someone who’s opinion is going to be important. If you literally don’t care what anyone thinks of you at all, despite you not caring, I feel sorry for you because you’re not someone who has friends or love in any meaningful sense.

  52. Lurkertype: But the really big ones? They’re nice. Even when they’re busy, they’re gracious. They work with what they have. They talk to the little kid fans.

    Connie Willis. Lois McMaster Bujold. Samuel R. Delany. And, I might add, John Scalzi. All have had the ability to at least appear to take an interest in the blatherings of at least one burbling fanboy long enough for said fanboy to calm down and have a real conversation.

    Connie Willis explained to me once that after an experience she had at a convention early in her own fan life, she decided to treat each conversation with a fan as if they’d remember it forever…and she knew how she would want to be remembered.

    This is a really good lesson. I try to keep it in mind, along with Chip’s decision to treat everyone he met as if they were smart (which few people are compared with him). But he defined “smart” as follows: they knew something he didn’t, but would like to. Nearly everyone you meet is smart that way.

    Damn. Now I want a button that says “Burbling Fanboy.”

    Mark H: And yes I know that example is probably not as shocking as somebody who gives money to organizations that kill people.

    I was referring specifically to Orson Scott Card, who gives extensively to organizations that work for continued/renewed oppression of gay people in America, and to the organization that was trying to establish the death penalty for homosexuality in Uganda. He’s someone who “gives money to organizations that kill people.”

    Atwook is a jerk about science fiction, but I don’t think she contributes to anything other than the continued ghettoization of the genre. And she was a jerk to her poor translator, which actually does make ME less inclined to read her books.

    Kurt: Christian Bale did not go off on a lighting assistant. He went off on the Director of Photography. Major difference.

    And from what I hear he was completely justified, but as usual the context didn’t make the viral video. But that’s off-topic; look into it if you’re interested. Definitely not clear-cut assholism.

    Kevin Hicks: Unless the picture/song/prose that I’m currently consuming actively makes me think, “The person who drew/sang/wrote this is an ASSHOLE,” then it doesn’t come up.

    When I read this I instantly thought of what happened when I read Piers Anthony’s Race Against Time. I said to myself “this is a racist book, and only a racist could have written it.” And it’s why I, who love puns, have nevertheless never read another Piers Anthony book.

    Josh Jasper: Yep. Most people who care “too much” what other people think are really caring about what the wrong people think. If you don’t care at all what anyone thinks of you, you don’t belong in society at all…so there’s a species of asshole that we have to contend with because it’s become rather difficult to go off in the woods (in, say, Deep Pools, ME) and be a hermit.

  53. While nobody is justified in being an asshole just because they are artists, it does seem that some artists are driven to it by their struggles with the creative process. Martha Graham is a famous example of someone who’d bite of your hand for small failings. My own choreographer sometimes crosses the line, but I ignore it because I can see she’s just furious at the gap between her choreographic vision and the performance reality.

  54. Xopher:

    I was referring specifically to Orson Scott Card, who gives extensively to organizations that work for continued/renewed oppression of gay people in America, and to the organization that was trying to establish the death penalty for homosexuality in Uganda. He’s someone who “gives money to organizations that kill people.”

    I knew you were referring to him, and I almost responded when you did, but I didn’t because I wasn’t sure it would add anything relevant to the conversation. But it might, so I’ll give it a shot: when I read your response to Mark’s first comment I was bothered, because giving money to organizations that kill people requires words that go beyond “asshole.” I would start with “cruel” and move on to “malicious” and perhaps even traipse into “evil” if the person was doing so with full knowledge of their activities. “Asshole” is a much shallower word, and I sort of figured Mark was using it in the shallow way, based on his descriptions (“vegan,” “loves dogs more than cats.”)

    Or put (possibly) more succinctly: assholes aren’t necessarily villains. The specific charges you’re making about Card are charges of villainy.

  55. Christopher, I actually entirely agree. We’re using ‘asshole’ in a lot of disparate ways in this thread, which I suspect has caused some people who don’t actually disagree to think they do (or to think they disagree more than they actually do, etc.).

  56. Apropos of absolutely nothing, I am reminded of a phrase a friend once used: “Rude, but not uncalled-for.”

  57. As to point 4, about creative work involving challenging people, I go with John Rogers’ definition of comedy, which is to punch up. Punching down makes you an asshole. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for people to agree on what, exactly is “up”! One of the worst evenings I’ve ever had was at stand-up comedy where the theme of the night seemed to be “women, amirite?” And yet much of the audience thought the jokes (which mostly involved the comedian as a loser in love to hard-hearted women) were great, and not derogatory to women at all. I never went to stand-up comedy again without reading reviews first!

  58. @CS Clark: “Kipling being, or being accused of being, racist and imperialist in lots of his actual work.”

    I think it’s something else entirely if that “assholeness” is IN the work. While I do think that there are personal elements in every work of art, I don’t think that it’s a 1:1 relationship (you cannot always pull a completely accurate personal profile of the author from a book, or vice versa). I’m not sure if that makes sense at all, but in these cases first and foremost the work is the asshole. I can still judge their work, but who cares about authors who are long dead? The work is what is still interacting with the world, not the authors.

  59. Here’s a theory: Assholishness correlates with ego, and ego correlates with being a creator.

    Unpacking that a little: Creating a piece of art for public consumption requires a certain amount of self-confidence. You are saying, “Here are my personal thoughts, they are important and I want you to spend some time considering them.” You have to be prepared to overlook a certain amount of criticism, including people who think your work is stupid and will say so loudly.

    Obviously this doesn’t have to slide into not caring what others think in general, which is the foundation of assholishness, but it could do.

    It might also explain different levels of assholishness in different professions. The level of ego required to become a Hollywood movie star is probably greater than that required for a writer. Then the successful stars get fame, kudos and groupies which even the biggest writers can only dream of, which would amplify any pre-existing asshole tendencies.

    Doesn’t have to happen, of course. Paul Newman was a huge star, and famously courteous and nice to work with. But he might have been the exception.

  60. Re: Fred Rogers – I once played online games with someone who was on the fringes of Hollywood/TV in her youth. Among her many stories, she had one about getting felt up between takes by Fred Rogers, who invited her to meet up later.

    To be fair, there’s just her word for the story, and she was rather sick and medicated at the time (cancer/chemo). But we could confirm a decent number of facts from her other stories, so I’m inclined to believe there’s at least some truth to the story.

    So that’s my “Fred Rogers is an asshole” story.

  61. “specifically, whether to do more short pieces and/or compilation pieces.”

    Strong piece. I liked it a lot. You are strong on thought pieces (even when completely wrong, Ha!).

    You seem a good guy to me, mostly only an asshole in discrete areas / topics, not at all in a general sense. Much as I loathe he who shall not be named, I haven’t seen the pissing contest as constructive or fun. On that I think you are very much an asshole. But you’ve been an asshole in kind of class way, so it could be lots worse. (Which doesn’t make it a good thing.)

  62. So if I am understading dpmaine right, the argument is: Because there are some people who will always think you are an asshole no matter what, you should ignore everyone who thinks you’re an asshole, because anyone who thinks you’re an asshole is wrong and/or cannot be convinced otherwise.

    Which is on its face silly, but on more thought, just strikes me as profoundly sad. It’s the viewpoint of someone who believes that other people’s opinions of oneself are either unfair and unchangeable (so why bother?), or true but so upsetting that they must be immediately and always rejected (maybe the reason I can’t change your mind is that I am an asshole, and oh god why would I want to think that about myself)? I suspect this is why s/he can’t seem to grasp the idea that anyone might think “Wow, other people are right that I’ve been an asshole. I should be less of an asshole.”

    @Avdi Grimm: I’m comfortable using “asshole” rather than “high-strung” for those sorts of people. I’m willing to bet that your photographer friend wouldn’t have spent fifteen minutes screaming at a rich client, for example, or at their immediate boss on a big project. As Kurt notes, there’s a big difference between people of equal power yelling at each other – who may or may not both be assholes – and being “high-strung” at people who have to sit there and take it. The former might be crankypants. The latter is shitting on people because one can, and that’s a pretty solid definition of an asshole.

  63. @CS Clark, re “I personally feel different about Dickens being an asshole in his personal life and Kipling being, or being accused of being, racist and imperialist in lots of his actual work. I don’t really care about the former when I’m reading David Copperfield, but I get acutely uncomfortable in reading much of Kipling, even though I know all the counterarguments and caveats and exceptions.”

    And your personal reaction is your personal reaction and thus entirely fair enough. My personal reaction to those two authors doesn’t differ as much. Kipling is, as you rightly point out, an apologist for and a popularizer of some very racist and imperialist ideas, which while commonplace in his time, can make reading his stuff challenging for a modern. But Dickens is for me exactly the same thing, an apologist for and popularizer of some very sexist and classist ideas that while commonplace in his time, make reading his stuff challenging for a modern.

    I still read both, I still enjoy both, and I think that both – within their own limitations – were struggling against some of the crap that still constantly rears its head in their work, but I don’t accept your distinction that one of them was only an asshole in his personal life while the other was also an asshole in his work. They were both assholes in their works, its just that the targets of their assholery were different.

  64. I have sort of made a point of trying to not know too much about the people whose work I enjoy. I have dealt with a few and some have been nice but a couple were complete assholes. Now maybe they were having a bad day but a couple have made news for being gigantic assholes and that removes a lot of the enjoyment I got from their work. Maybe its not fair but it is the way I am.

    Everyone should have the right to be an asshole sometimes but people with too much money, surrounded by sycophants who bend to their every whim and never tell them no abuse the privilege.

  65. I’ve always seen a fan base as more of a liability than anything else probably at least due in part to my own tendency to be arrogant which is something I have constantly keep an eye on. I’m a smart-ass and like creative, unconventional thinking and this can attract the wrong kind of attention sometimes by people who are fear based and small minded. I tend to have little respect for that approach, so bad things can happen if I’m not mindful of this. A fan base would probably just make this problem worse for me.

  66. brucearthurs: My #1 Rule for a long time has been “Try to NOT be an asshole.”

    That’s pretty much my #1 rule, too, and I think there’s a very important difference between it and “Don’t be an asshole.” If my #1 rule is “Don’t be an asshole,” and someone points out to me a way in which I have been an asshole, then I have to make them wrong or else I’m a bad person. But if my rule is “Try not to be an asshole,” and someone points out to me that I have been an asshole, I can say, “Yikes! I’m really sorry, thanks for telling me, I won’t do that again.”

    (I actually made this my #1 rule as an extension of the Episcopalian Baptismal Covenant, which includes a line promising that whenever one falls into sin, one will repent etc. Not if, when. I love that line.)

  67. I’ve noticed in various fields of creativity (from Olympic medalists, to Emmy winners, to Hugo winners) that the most assholish are those of little or no talent.

    This may be the segment in which causation is reversed. For those who are inherent assholes, becoming (or pretending to be) a “creative” may be a desirable alternative regardless of actual talent. You get more autonomy and you can prop up your ego from people observing that you are, in fact, an asshole.

    Bonus points if you can self-publish, live off the family trust-fund teat, and hide the fact that you’re nothing but a parasite too.

  68. Some of what looks like, “asshole” can be the ways in which an artist approaches the craft. I am, among other things, a photographer; I do it for money, as well as pleasure. I’ve spent a fair bit of the past 30 years working on the craft of it.

    Which means I can be really exacting in my critique, to a non-photographer it can seem pretty assholish. I can also be (though I try not to be) moderately dismissive of critiscism which misses the mark (someone who tells me, “that’s picture’s not nice”) or of people who denigrate craft (I’ve more than once been abrupt to someone who said, “well if I had your equipment, I could take photos which are just as good).

    I can also be somewhat overfocused. If I get in the zone of shooting I’ll be hard to pull away, not prone to interaction, etc.

    And my sense of standards; as well as my understanding of what can/can’t be done, is why I don’t do weddings as a primary photographer (and why I am indulgent of photographers who are using me as a subject). That’s because I react to the sort of micromanaging which weddings engender by becoming less pleasant to be around; and it lingers (in part because I then try to make silk purses from sow’s ears) and it’s no fun for my family.

    Because, ultimately, what matters to me, is that I don’t want to be an asshole.

  69. I made my living for many years as a work-a-day musician (pianist) playing mostly in a jazz setting. I don’t know exactly what it was about this particular subset of musicians, but it seemed like the assholes were EVERYWHERE. Not only was “punching down” not frowned upon, it was completely expected, as if it were some sort of hazing or rite of initiation. Don’t get me wrong, there were some nice ones too, but man, you really had to look to find the people you wanted to be long-term friends with. It’s difficult to make a decent living in the jazz world, so maybe the assholishness was a result of the hyper-competitive nature of it. It brought to mind the phrase “The fight so hard because the stakes are so low”.

  70. Sorry, that’s supposed to be “THEY fight so hard because the stakes are so low”. Typing on an IPad is sort of a hit-or-miss proposition.

  71. I just audiod Steve Jobs biography. He was an asshole. He cursed employees out and told them they were stupid, then pitched their ideas as if they were his own. He even put his name on patents for things other people came up with. He routinely parked in handicap spots. He ignored and refused to support his eldest daughter for her first ten years. He would cry and throw temper tantrums in meetings.

    He was also a creative genius.

  72. As we can all agree upon, there’s no more creative field than Accounting — a field in which I’ve spent most of the past 3 decades. I used to be told frequently that I was an asshole: dismissive, abrupt, arrogant, condescending, etc. That was feedback I generally ignored, because it was clear to me that I never INTENDED to be an asshole, and therefore I couldn’t actually be one. Then I came across a bit of folk wisdom that said (paraphrasing): “If one person calls you an asshole, that person is having a bad day. If two people call you an asshole, it might be just a coincidence. But if more than two people call you an asshole, then you are an asshole.” Now I work hard(er) to not be perceived to be an asshole.

  73. Assholes do actually care what others think of them, sometimes quite a bit. What makes them assholes is that they are callous and they act on that callousness. Not everyone who does things creatively is callous. Many people who do things creatively have forms of mental illness, and that can effect their behavior into very negative areas, but it is not the always factor of callousness. A lot of people who do things creatively take drugs, which can effect their behavior into very negative areas, but drugs are not the always factor of callousness. Ideology tends to be a main factor of callousness. If you have a belief that you are justified in feeling callous about others and acting from it, then you are likely to act on it if you get the opportunity. A lot of people who do things creatively believe that doing creative things and getting acclaim for it from certain quarters justifies their being callous to others. They feel they’ve earned it or the person they are callous to deserves such treatment from them. A lot of people raised with money or who obtain money believe that justifies or excuses callous behavior. Sometimes famous or acclaimed people will seem callous when they are actually tired, stressed, being hunted or have other people speaking for them.

    Being acclaimed for creativity certainly buys you a lot of tolerance for callousness, as well as a lot of criticism for it too. People who are callous are not necessarily happy. Sometimes they act callously in order to act out and get attention. This can correlate with the desire to get attention that comes with some forms of creative acts, like acting. But callous behavior and creative acts have no connection to one another, just because sometimes the same person does them.

    Bottom line is that there is no form of creative act that requires anyone to put up with callous behavior from you. Even creating life-saving medical procedures or drugs. Inventions can be created by one person, but any invention could also have easily been first invented by a dozen of other people working on the same issue. So if the person who does the creative act disappeared, there would still be lots of creative acts, usually equally creative, interesting and useful, from others. So performing acts of creativity earns you squat in acts of callousness. But if you have money, power, or other bargaining chips, or just some people who love you despite your behavior, then you may be able to get away with being callous. It will not improve or ruin your ability to do creative acts. It may mean other people doing things creatively will stay the hell away from you, though.

  74. dpmaine

    That’s why I have said that it’s pointless to worry for one second about any person who thinks you are an asshole. You will never win them over. It’s literally not worth trying. You can chase the asshole vote all day long.

    Regardless of other flaws in your reasoning, are you aware that you’re basing your argument on a textbook case of the nirvana fallacy?

  75. Human nature is a paradoxical combination of light and dark elements; everyone’s an asshole, but no person is ever just one thing, people will surprise the hell out of you, if given the opportunity.

  76. “A creator’s audience is not always their friend, when it comes to the asshole thing.”

    Quite so- as Randall also pointed out, the *successful* creative person often ends up with no downside to being an asshole, because such behaviour will be tolerated.

    It’s quite possible that people can be turned into assholes (rectified?) by constant adulation, where they might have escaped such a fate if they’d been creative but obscure.

    The cult of the celebrity doesn’t help here either – some people get away with behaving like assholes because they’re famous for being famous.

    It doesn’t help that in the current times, success often comes relatively young (we have a similar problem here in the UK with football (US: soccer) players, some of which are making $200K a week before they’re 20 – just the sort of thing that tells people they’re above the rules for mere mortals).

  77. The not true all of the time but mostly true rule of thumb in my house was:if this one was an asshole and that one was an asshole and the other one was also an asshole, then probably you were the real asshole.

  78. Harlan Ellison is an asshole. I base that not on the numerous assholish things he did before I was aware of him, like publicly sexually assaulting Connie Willis. I base that on him calling K. Tempest Bradford the n-word because he didn’t like a parody someone else had created and she had shared, which due to his lack of research he assumed was her work. If your first response to “this Black woman did a thing I don’t like” is to call her the n-word, even obliquely, you are an asshole. And predictably, the people who loooove Harlan no matter how much of an asshole he is (and in some cases because of what an asshole he is) defended him doing that, which made them assholes in my estimation too.

    I ascribe to the Valente Fuckmuppet Theory: limited resources on my part means that if you act like a fuckmuppet (or asshole) I won’t buy your work or support your business. Just as I’d find a new place to eat breakfast if my breakfast spot started treating me or anyone else poorly in the flesh, I don’t have any desire to give you my money via royalties or website hits or what have you if you are an asshole. Just as I wouldn’t refer someone to a fellow lawyer who is an asshole – distinguishable from someone who is tough in the courtroom but professional and courteous outside adversarial proceedings – I won’t recommend the creative product of someone who is an asshole.

    When I was in law school there were plenty of argumentative, passionate, even crude people. Most of them weren’t assholes, though, even the ones who were diametrically opposite to me. The ones who did things like disparage other people’s education on social media over political disagreements quickly became known as assholes – and even people who agreed with them in theory eventually started to shun them. For being assholes. I don’t have data, but I’m willing to bet that there are people who avoid referring them work even now, because even an asshole the same political flavor as you is still an asshole.

    Does that matter to posterity? Probably not. I’m only one person and not an arbiter of trends. But it’s my time and my money and my goodwill, and it matters to me that I not help assholes prosper.

    I think the internet is going to change posthumous recognition of people’s character, as well. Before the Internet, people’s ability to share experiences with famous folks, as well as archiving of things like interviews, was more limited. Tell-all books are expensive to produce. Now anyone you’re rude to can talk about it in a format that may persist for years to come, and every jerk thing you ever said to the press is in a searchable archive, not buried in old clippings. Controlling your image is harder, short of changing your behavior to match. I’m in favor of that. I want people decades from now to be able to see that Anne Rice can’t take criticism, that Harlan Ellison is a predatory racist creep, and that John Scalzi made concrete steps to be less of an asshole when people called him on it.

  79. popelizbet, that’s cogent and beautifully written. I applaud it.

    (Actually Harlan was an asshole for decades before he assaulted Connie Willis, but the remark about K. Tempest Bradford is, I agree, one that puts him out of the “Crazy Uncle Ernie” category and into the category of someone who really should be shunned (actually I think the Willis incident does too, which is probably why he now denies it ever happened). A truly monumental apology might fix this, but…let’s just say Harlan has no practice at contrition, so expect pork in the treetops first. Even though the Bradford incident was in writing, and he can’t lie about it the way he can about the Willis incident.)

  80. [Deleted. Poor attention-starved dude obviously just wants love.

    (pats his head)

    Run along now, Muscles -- JS]

  81. “Most creative people who are assholes are assholes independent of their creative drive. It’s correlation, not causation.”

    Technically, if it’s independent, there is no correlation, let alone causation.

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