If there’s an abuse of power and everyone sees it, does a career ever die?
I’ve been thinking about separating the art from the artist in the wake of the (yet again) resurfaced and disturbing accusations against Max Landis. In truth, though, I’m often thinking about it, because there is always a new, prominent artist that re-opens a national conversation.
Art is subjective. When I watch a movie, a T.V. show, or listen to a song, my opinion on it is not the only valid opinion. I might think that the newest Taylor Swift song is kind of “meh” while someone else thinks it’s an opus of modern pop music, and that’s totally cool! So, it only makes sense that a discussion on whether or not we can consume art separately from the artist is totally subjective, as well.
So, what do we do? The discussion is a difficult one, as is any conversation that deals with the measurement of someone’s worth. It’s why there is are rivers of bile on Twitter, swirling in infinity pools, whenever someone like Landis is “@”ed or subtweeted.
As you can probably tell from the title, I lean towards keeping the artist present whenever I’m viewing or experiencing their art. I can’t really separate them, which used to make me feel guilty. I hear people, usually this artist’s peers and supporters, claiming that someone’s life shouldn’t be ruined, and that the art is still good. At one point, I had a hard time refuting their arguments. Now, my response is simple: what does any of that have to do with it?
To me, the art can never be separated from the artist. We can see past the artist’s intentions to have our own thematic interpretations, but at the end of the day, the artist is always there in the DNA of a piece. When you watch a Woody Allen film, can you really watch a story about an aging man pursue a much, much younger woman without even passingly thinking about his unusual marriage and long-lasting accusations of pedophilia and predatory behavior? Can you listen to a Louis C.K. joke about sex and relationships without thinking about the women who were forced to watch his sexual gratification? When revisiting that old classic, American Beauty, can you still stomach the scenes where Kevin Spacey indulges in sexual fantasies about a teenager while also ignoring the testimonies about his assault on countless young men?
I can’t and it used to bother me. Allen is a talented filmmaker. C.K. is a funny person. Spacey is a good actor. Shouldn’t they get to keep making their art in spite of the fact that their personal lives are public?
Eventually, I found my answer. Because I can’t make things easy for myself, there’s (at least) two parts to that answer.
One part is this: the existence of good art will not disappear if this one creepy, inappropriate, and/or abusive person is not given a platform. Hollywood does not require a Woody Allen film every other year. Standup comedy will persevere even if there is never another Louis C.K. Comedy Central special. Kevin Spacey was hurriedly edited out of All the Money in the World and no one could even tell the difference! People like this, despite what they and others would like you to believe, are not the make or break of their industries.
This is already proven to be factually true, and yet I am repeatedly told that I should compartmentalize my feelings out of respect for art itself. Look, Harvey Weinstein was banished from his production company, and any other production company, due to the overwhelming evidence of his sexual abuse. This man helped launch iconic films like Pulp Fiction and Good Will Hunting, thereby starting the prolific careers of Quentin Tarantino, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and many others. Miramax is a legend in film.
But, guess what? Without Weinstein, movies are still made. In fact, great movies are still made. Obviously, his absence has not caused a nuclear meltdown. We’re all just fine, and the industry is surely better off without his abuse behind the scenes.
The second part of my answer builds off of the first. My understanding of art will not be negatively impacted if I choose not to engage with these artists. I don’t owe an artist anything. Even if I liked them in the past, that doesn’t mean they are owed my loyalty in the future. I deserve to watch or listen or look at something that doesn’t make me feel bad for supporting a specific person. And, despite what it might feel like at times, I won’t suddenly be lost in some kind of societal shuffle if I decide to skip out on art because I don’t respect the artist as a person.
I might come up with definitive resolutions (I will never listen to Chris Brown’s music or watch him perform). Or, I might stumble into a grey area (I still watch Stanley Kubrick’s movies, despite his mistreatment of actors, but might not watch new ones if he were still alive and making films today).
Either way, I often have to remind myself of a few things. I can my own reasons for wanting to leave an artist behind. I can also change my mind at any time based on changes in circumstances or my own beliefs, and that’s kind of a freeing concept in this modern media age where there is little between the performative roles of “stans” and “haters.”
However, art is still, at the end of the day, subjective. Everyone has their own set of standards when it comes to how they view artists, which is okay, as long as we are not turning a blind eye to someone who is abusing their power and hurting people. Art is not worth the suffering of others at the hands of an abuser.
We should encourage and open up conversations about how dangerous some of these people are and what kinds of repercussions they should face, legally or professionally. We sometimes lose track of the fact that we treat celebrities with these behaviors more leniently than the average person. Joe from down the street would not get the same amount of public support/weirdly lighthearted media coverage as Bill Cosby if he were successfully convicted of the same crimes.
With all of that said, I’m not sure how to end this, because the conversation seems to change every day. I don’t wish harm toward the people I decide to disregard. I don’t think that small or superficial errors are automatically reasons to kill someone’s career. I believe that most people are capable of change.
I just don’t believe that many of these accused celebrities deserve their level of fame or influence anymore. I mean, someone losing their fame is not the same as ending their life. That level of prestige is a privilege, not a right. We should all remember that when we try to decide who to defend and who to cancel.
Don’t give your time, attention, or money to someone who has consistently done things that you are just not okay with. You might be doing it for the wrong reasons.