I’m not sure if your name is actually Cora. I’m just imagining it’s Cora, and I want to call you by your imagined first name because I know that you’re not just some pixelated words on a computer screen. You are a real person with real feelings. I’m a blogger myself, and I know how hard it is to have people talk about something you have put out into the world with good intentions and in good faith in a negative or controversy-filled way. I want you to know that I am writing you this open letter from a place of respect and understanding.
The reason I don’t know your first name is because I haven’t read your blog post yet. Honestly, I’ve been avoiding it. I saw a lot of the ruckus online, and read a couple of indirect responses to your post by friends of mine (like this one and this one). I also saw the response your daughter wrote because it was posted in some online forum that I’m magically a part of on Facebook even though I never signed up for it (thankyouverymuch Facebook). I know the post’s general premise, but I haven’t read the actual post. I’ve been scared to. I’m scared it will hurt me and make me feel sad and frustrated. I’m scared of the feelings it will evoke in me, and I’m scared of the helplessness I might experience knowing that whatever it is you said is probably emblematic of how many people think about me and people like me.
As it turns out,
I do a thing here on my blog called Friday’s Frequently Asked Question where, for a 24 hour period, my readers can ask any question they want and then vote on the question they want answered. The next week, I then answer the winning question. It so happens that last week, reader Bjorge Queen won, and her question was this:
Have you read “well behaved Mormon woman’s” diatribe against the movie Frozen? If so, what are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them.
I know your name now.
I’ve read your post. I want to say first and foremost that I admire you for taking what must have felt like a courageous public stand. You are a person who is not afraid to speak. That is a gift, and there are people you will touch (and are touching) because of that gift.
I’m sure you will write many posts that will bless the lives of many people. Perhaps that’s one of the great purposes you have in this life–I do not doubt this, and I commend you for your bravery.
This post, though, is (in my opinion) not helping anybody, and in fact might be hurting a great number of people.
It’s funny, I resisted reading this post for weeks because I worried deeply that your words would be painful for me as a gay man. And they were. But interestingly, I find that I am also insulted as an artist, and that that is the thing that most troubles me. Your reading of a homosexual theme in the movie is, from a literary/cinematic critical standpoint, completely defensible. And that’s because literature, and art in general, is made for multiple interpretations, and criticism also allows for multiple interpretations.
But the thing I most want to say here is this: there is an important, key difference between having an interpretation of a work of art, and assuming you know the artistic motivations behind a work of art. The former is what we all do. The latter is a big, big mistake that causes a lot of problems.
Your critical interpretation of the film itself, while a completely valid way to see the film, is your interpretation. It is highly hubristic to insinuate that your interpretation of a creative work is the correct interpretation because you have devised a theory about the motivation of the piece which you claim is correct. Please be clear on this point: a theory about motivation does not verify, substantiate, or in any way support a critical interpretation. Your theory about the motivations behind the movie Frozen is not verifiable proof of a large-scale conspiracy, as you imply it is in your post. It is simply the thoughts that you have in your own mind, for your own reasons. Interpretation is something we all do–this is why art, when it is done well, is so beautiful. We see truth, and pieces of ourselves in the art we examine. But we must never fall into the trap of thinking that because we felt something was true artistically, that means it was the artist’s intent. You cannot know the artist’s intent. Kind of like when people read a blog post you write then assign motivations to you for it that never existed (as many people have done with the post in question, ironically).
As an artist myself, and one who has gotten some level of attention, I have had many people interpret my work. This was to be expected, and there are many interpretations, and all of them are equally valid. However, I’ve also had many people theorize about the motivations behind my work. This is highly problematic. The most obvious example of this was my viral blog post in which I came out of the closet as a gay Mormon man married to a woman. While my intentions were so bland, small-scale, and innocent that the posts’ eventual high level of impact is almost laughable, there were some people who went beyond critical interpretation to construct theories of their own about my motivations. Some theorized that it was all a conspiracy, meant to advance some political or religious agenda. They were dead set in their interpretations, cited multiple examples, made connections and ties about why I wrote my post, when I wrote it, how my story got so widely publicized, etc. They came up with all the reasons why I had masterminded such a feat. And while the theories they propagated were complex, interesting, and, to some, very convincing, the basic truth was:
IT WAS ALL BALDERDASH.
I get to say that. I get to say that because I am the only person who knows the truth about my motivation. I am the artist in question, so I get to be the expert on this. Other people can comment on the interpretation of my art however they wish, but I’m the only one that knows my artistic motivation. And the honest-to-goodness truth is that these people had simply invented their theories of my motivations, and all the public mechanisms behind them. In the end, their theories were just that: theories. Just like the theories other people have around why you wrote the post you wrote, and just like the very theory you have proffered about the gay agenda angle in Frozen.
There is no difference here. It’s all theorizing about motivation. Which is why the following line struck me as particularly offensive to anybody else with an interpretation of the film:
For those who saw a completely different, uplifting message in Frozen, that’s great. Or any other positive and uplifting message you found to focus on in Frozen, which caused you to miss what the movie was really about, that’s good. (emphasis added)
Can you see why this is so problematic? This is your opinion, Kathryn. You know as much about the true motivations behind the creation of this film as you know about my true motivations behind naming my third child Tessa or Barack Obama’s true motivation for running for a second term or God’s motivation for making trees green instead of purple–which is to say absolutely nothing. You don’t get to claim a theory about motivation behind a work of art is correct unless you created that work of art. And last I checked, you were not a writer for the film, Frozen or any of its soundtrack. As a consumer, you get to interpret the work, and, ergo, your interpretation is as good as anybody else’s. It is as valid as anybody else’s. To claim that you alone know what the movie is really about because you understand the artistic motivation is a blatant insult to the creators of the film, and is also an insult to anyone who derives an alternative interpretation. And, frankly, it is highly deceptive (to yourself and others). The only people who know the true motivation are the creators. But, truth be told, their motivation means very little. It is interpretation that matters ultimately. And, as it happens, when it comes to interpretation, where you see a pernicious evil disseminated to the masses that threatens millions of innocent children, I see a beautiful work of art that I’m happy to bring into my home. And that’s okay! We are allowed to disagree about this.
To illustrate my point further let’s play a little game I like to call “flip the criticism on its head.”
Here is a very small beginning to my critical interpretation of Frozen as being all about the repression of Well Behaved Mormon Woman’s religiosity.
Elsa has a great power that she has been taught by her parents from the time she was a child, is not publicly acceptable and that she must fear its expression, at all cost, thus hide it from people, even her own sister who could be hurt by it – even killed. Shame is at the core of Elsa’s feelings about her magical powers: Kathryn has powerful religious insight into the motivations behind a media-endorsed, greed-driven movie meant to indoctrinate kids into blindly accepting a nefarious Gay Agenda. She wants to tell the world, but she feels afraid that people will misinterpret her or judge her. She feels repressed by a dark, confused world, and knows that she must remain silent. She feels too ashamed to share what she knows with the world, or even those closest to her.
Elsa is devastatingly lonely and depressed being forced to live a life of isolation, believing her powers to be evil. Her sister, kept from the truth, and affected by the inflicted secrecy also becomes victim to the dysfunction of her family and experiences equal isolation and confusion: Kathryn’s insights cause her to feel alone and isolated–like nobody understands the truth of what she is seeing. Like the prophetess Cassandra, the few trusted friends she tells about what she knows do not believe her. She continues to watch as innocent children she loves are negatively impacted by the film. Her shame leads her to continue hiding The Truth from the world, even though family members are becoming victim to the dysfunction of society. She wishes to shout from the rooftops but knows she cannot.
If I want to uphold that interpretation as a valid rendering of the film (which I don’t), I can. But, what of artistic motivation? For this, let’s look at your blog post. If I wanted to I could comb through your life and find stray strands to weave into my theory about the motivations behind your blog post. I could claim that I know, for certain, that all of this has to do with your relationship with your lesbian daughter. I could delicately weave the facts of your life, incidental connections to other people, and misconstrued words you have spoken online into a tapestry of “proof” that my theory of the motivations of your blog post are correct, and then I could point and say “see? See how right I am? I figured it all out. My theory about Kathryn is the only possible explanation–I know because I’ve been ruminating on it for weeks!” I could even do what you did when you found out the writers of a song from the soundtrack didn’t mention the Gay Agenda in interviews and say “see how she didn’t even mention my theory when she was talking about her blog post after the fact? That’s to confuse you, readers. That’s so anyone who agrees with my theory behind the motivation of her blog post–which is true by the way, and the only correct interpretation of her motives–will look totally crazy. She knows that I and good, righteous people like me are on to her, so she’s not mentioning the theory I’ve devised just to confuse you all and make me look bigoted and paranoid.”
Of course, I won’t do that. I would never do that. It would be futile and unkind. I have no idea what motivated you to write your piece, deep down. I would never claim to. This has been done to me too many times, and I have more respect for you artistically than that.
I am, however, allowed to extend my opinion of the possible interpretations of your piece, acknowledging, of course, that this is just one man’s opinion, and not in any way authoritative:
Your post talks of good and evil. You speak of the conflation of light and dark–of there being a co-existence in certain mediums of dark messages packaged in bright colors. Of evil influences being cloaked in pristine, squeaky clean packaging so that the uninitiated or ignorant can lap it up without realizing that with the sweet nectar they ingest they also ingest poison. I find this ironic because it is exactly how I feel about the message of your blog post–I believe that packaged in your well-intentioned, religiously-based warnings is a hurtful, biased, fear-based philosophy of intolerance and exclusion and “othering.” I believe there is an “us vs. them” mentality that hurts gay people. I, someone who feels just as much a gay person as a devotedly religious person, feel like your message is divisive and problematic and causes fear where I wish there to be hope and acceptance. And I believe there is a population who laps your message up, assuming it’s benign–nay righteous–not realizing that along with the promises of protection and shelter, they are also lapping up a poison that has the potential to one day rip their family apart as I have seen happen in family after family after family.
But, remember, the above paragraph is simply one interpretation of your blog post. And there are likely many, many more out there that are very different than mine, and that are just as legitimate and valid as mine because that’s how criticism actually works.
I’m guessing that you have been so overloaded with feedback to this post that you probably won’t get the chance to read my response, and that’s completely okay. I totally understand how that goes. If you do stumble across it though, Kathryn, I hope you understand that I am coming from a place of some pain as I write this, but also from a place of love and understanding. I know how hard the job you are doing is. I know how hard it is to put yourself out there, and I think you should keep doing it. Continue speaking your truth. But don’t try to assume you know what others’ motivations are as they speak theirs. And I will try to do the same. (I’m sure I’ve made this mistake before as well!)
Also, if you care to have an actual dialogue with me at any point (which I would totally understand if you didn’t have time or inclination to–just want you to know that I am completely open to it), you can email me at joshua (dot) weed (at) gmail (dot) com.