When Art You Love Was Made by ‘Monsters’: A Critic Lays Out the ‘Fan’s Dilemma’


The subtitle of Monsters is A Fan’s Dilemma: the dilemma being still loving, say, the music of Wagner or Michael Jackson; still being caught up in movies like Chinatown or maybe even Manhattan. In short, Dederer wants to dive deep into the murk of being “unwilling to give up the work [of art you love], and [yet, also being] unwilling to look away from the stain [of the monster who created it].”

The #MeToo movement propels this exploration but so, too, does our own social media, biography-saturated moment: “When I was young,” Dederer writes, “it was hard to find information about artists whose work I loved. Record albums and books appeared before us as if they had arrived after hurtling through space’s black reaches, unmoored from all context.”

These days, however, “[w]e turn on Seinfeld, and whether we want to or not, we think of Michael Richard’s racist rant … Biography used to be something you sought out, yearned for, actively pursued. Now it falls on your head all day long.”

Maybe you can hear in those quotes how alive Dederer’s own critical language is. She also frequently flings open the door of the stuffy seminar room, so to speak, to take her readers along on field trips: There’s a swank dinner in New York with an intimidating “man of letters” who, she says, likes to play the part, “ironically but not — ties and blazers and low-key misogyny and brown alcohol in a tumbler.”

When she expresses distaste for Allen’s Manhattan normalizing a middle-aged man in a relationship with a 17-year-old he tells her to “Get over it. You really need to judge it strictly on aesthetics.” Dederer confesses to finding herself put off-balance in that conversation, doubting herself.

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