In the age of #wokeness and rapid sharing of information on social media sites, we’ve seen an onslaught of new allegations of abuse and misconduct flying around. It’s easy to be upset and disappointed when your favourite celebrities or artists have done something wrong. After all, pop cultural icons are revered to varying degrees. Their words and actions carry a lot of weight, and especially when they’re under a national spotlight, it’s easy to normalize their behavior if we’re not critical of it. However, once the dust has settled, once the trial of public opinion has come to an end, once the condemned has gone on to their apology tour or been kicked out of the national spotlight, we are often left with the extremely uncomfortable question: am I still allowed to enjoy their work?
After all, pop culture is filled with despicable, vile, powerful men and women who uses their influence to threaten and intimidate those around them. Whether it’s legendary icons such as John Lennon, who has a dark past of beating his wife and emotionally abusing his own son. Or if it’s Quentin Tarantino, who allegedly forced Uma Thurman to perform a dangerous act with a stunt, thereby resulting in a concussion and damaged knees. And now disgraced Miramax co-founder Harvey Winestein, who is now probably one of the most hated men in Hollywood, with 84 accusers according to his very own Wikipedia page dedicated solely to his allegations of sexual harassment and abuses.
But as bad as they are, does that mean we have to boycott everything they do? Does that mean we have to stop watching any Miramax films, burn all our Beatles’ CDs, and put that Pulp Fiction poster into the trash?
The Case For Still Appreciating
“Why should I give up what I enjoy just because (insert disgraced celebrity) is a shitty person?”
To some, to link the art to the artist thereby denouncing and boycotting any work that was created by them is a tad extreme. Sure, they might argue that it is completely reasonable to condemn and vilify the artist for their problematic behavior, but should the art suffer as well? And for those who still have ongoing projects that are being developed, should those be completely shut down as well for the sake of holding one person responsible?
Let’s take Kevin Spacey for example.
Being accused of sexual misconduct against fourteen-year-old Anthony Rapps back in 1986, Kevin Spacey has gone into a downward spiral, receiving sanctions and criticism and basically being pushed out of Hollywood’s spotlight. To make everything even more disturbing, there is a complete timeline of everything he has been accused of, and it does not look pretty. After releasing an apology, the attention of the media moved on to the newest allegations against yet another famous male celebrity, the concern of his current projects came up. Let’s be clear, the people are not concerned that he won’t have a job anymore, they’re more concerned about other people involved in the projects who might face consequences for something someone else did.
There are countless people who work on a project like House of Cards, one of his most recent and one of his most well-known projects to date. You have the crew, the investors, the other actors. Those who seek to boycott such a large production may end up hurting innocent people who have a family to feed, and a career to maintain. “Separate the art from the artist” is a common slogan. In fact, The Tylt did a poll on how people feel, with two very simple options: Separate the art from the artist or Boycott the art as well. The majority of people voted for the separation, with comments voicing concern over not being able to consume any form of art if new allegations keep coming up. Although this poll may not be a good indication of how Western society views this difficult dilemma we’re facing right now, it does shed a little bit of light on people’s thoughts.
Many saw Netflix‘s decision to fire Spacey from his role and place Robin Wright’s character to the forefront of the story as the perfect balance between preserving the art whilst punishing the artist. But what about his other movies, what about his previous seasons? Can we still praise this man for his acting chops? Can we still enjoy watching him destroy political opponents with shady backdoor deals and riveting techniques while fully knowing well of his history of abuse?
In simpler terms: should we separate Spacey from his show and continue viewing his work whilst condemning the artist because of who he is?
The Case Against Still Appreciating
Maintaining power is the main concern for people against the entire idea of separation between art and the artist. For those against supporting an artist after their list of allegations are revealed, cutting their source of money is the only way to ensure that their abusive behavior will not go unchecked.
And that is a compelling point.
If you publically condemn an artist for shitty things they did but still throw money, time, and support to the art that they churn out, you are directly making sure that they have a paycheck. In the case of Hollywood, going to a movie made by an abuser or rapist isn’t as simple as just watching moving pictures projected onto a screen – it is directly making sure that the horrible people in charge of making the films are directly benefitting financially, and through exposure. Hollywood only cares about money, and as long as someone can provide profit, what they do seems to be of no concern.
Let’s take Woody Allen as an example.
One of the most revered and hated man, depending on who you ask, with an extremely disturbing sexual harassment claim involving his seven-year-old adopted daughter, which, to say the least, is extremely chilling in nature, seems to be completely exempt from any Hollywood backlash.
His career continues to flourish, making film after films with A-list Hollywood stars (many of whom have worked alongside him in his previous works) coming out of the woodwork in defending him as a person. No, these people aren’t mouthing the same ‘separate the art from the artist’ slogan, but rather defending him as a person, as a whole individual. With celebrities such as Kate Winslet who went on to say that as an actor, she can’t afford to think about the director’s claim of sexual harassment because she is required to “step away” from what’s true and false, and just focus on him as a person. And Blake Lively who did not see the irony when she gushed about how empowering it was to work with the director on their film ‘Cafe Society’. (Both of their accounts and any other actresses who came out in support can be read here).
Whenever the argument to separate the art from the artist comes up, the proponents of this argument gladly point their finger to Allen’s thriving Hollywood career. It’s not enough to separate the two, you’d have to make sure a message is sent, and the only way to do so is to completely destroy the art made by abusive artists.
So, I guess the question comes down to: which side are you going to take?