Who owns the interpretation?

A few days back, I was working out and listening to Tyler Mahan Coe’s “Cocaine and Rhinestones” podcast on Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee. Now I have been listening to that song since I discovered Country music in the late 70s and I found out that I had it all wrong. That it wasn’t meant to be the conservative anthem it has become. ‘Hag’ had intended it as a bit of satire, but since it also went to number one (and still gets regular airplay), he accepted the judgment of the audience.

Now, in my alternate (and money making) profession, I sometimes teach a course on politics and literature and one of my favorite books is Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is often included in the reading list. My reason is that the lessons taught by Jean V. Dubois, the History and Moral Philosophy teacher in the lead character’s high school are arguments about the connection between rights, responsibility and civic duty. (BTW, if you have not read it DO NOT WATCH THE MOVIE to get these, they are ignored in the film). Students say it is promoting a fascist society because only veteran’s get to vote. I point out that Heinlein was a libertarian and was only looking at how Americans looked at the issue of rights.

So why do I link the two? Because in both cases the writer had a different intent than the listener/reader. Which brings me to the title, ‘Who owns the interpretation?’ of an artists work. Do I as a fledgling author have the right to tell a reader or reviewer they are wrong? Or does it mean that I need to be a better storyteller?

I have to admit, I don’t know the answers to these questions, so I leave it to anyone that comes across this blog to post their answer below. I’m interested in what you have to say.

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