Bobby Fischer is dead.
For a lot of people, the name Bobby Fischer probably doesn't mean a whole lot. But, if you're a big chess fan, you probably have some feelings about the man. Bobby Fischer was an American chess prodigy at a time when Americans weren't seen as "real" chess players. He reached the rank of Grand Master- the highest title you can get in chess- at only 15. In '72 he became the first American to win the World Chess Championship. He wasn't just an amazing player, he was one of the greatest players of all time, and- when I was growing up and learning the game- was a huge inspiration.
He was also, as it turns out, a huge antisemite. He denied the holocaust, and said, in radio interviews, that he was the victim of an "international Jewish conspiracy" and that the United States was "a farce controlled by dirty, hook-nosed, circumcised Jew bastards."
When I was growing up, studying Fischer's endgames, and learning about his theories, these aspects of his personality were completely unknown to me. Bobby Fischer was the greatest. Now, as an adult, I'm forced to reconcile my love for the man's talant on the board with what a horrible person he was off the board. How do you do that, though?
And it's not like it's just Bobby Fischer, either. I love H.P. Lovecraft. I think that his contributions to horror writing are remarkable- the man was a genius. Also a huge racist and antisemite. Ian Flemming's writings are filled with blatant sexism and racism.
I've been sitting here thinking about whether I can still respect someone like Fischer, now that I know more about him. Can I enjoy and respect the work, knowing where it comes from? I think that I can still recognize the great things that Fischer did for the game and his genius on the board while recognizing that he was a horrible person in a lot of other ways.
I think that with Fischer it's a little easier, though, because the game doesn't reflect his views in the way that, say, a movie or a song might. I can't watch Falling Down because of the troubling racism it's filled with, but you can't see antisemitism on a chess board. Then again, James Bond books are, as I noted, filled with racist and sexist imagery, but my reaction to them isn't the same as my reaction to something like Grand Theft Auto.
So, what do you do when that happens? What do you do when a person that you love or respect for some talant they have or some contribution they've made to a field you're interested in turns out to be... well... an asshole? And not just a run-of-the-mill "I'm a jerk" asshole, but a racist/sexist/homophobic asshole? Can you seperate the contribution from the contributor, or are they forever linked? Or maybe it depends on the circumstances?