The Art VS the Artist
Posted on September 23, 2020 Posted by Athena Scalzi 127 Comments
Last night, I wrote a post for the blog. It was only about seven hundred words, and it took me probably an hour or just over that to write it. In the post, I was talking about how much I liked a piece of media, and telling all of you to consume the media, too. However, after completing the post, I told my friend what it was about, and they informed me that the creator of said media was kind of a bad person.
I had known the creator wasn’t, like, an ideal person, or someone to really look up to, but after learning about this heinous thing they did, I decided I simply couldn’t post something that was promoting them or giving them the spotlight in any kind of way.
And so comes the age-old question; how much can you separate an artist from their art? Are you a bad person if you enjoy the creations of a flawed creator? Can I still watch Baby Driver even though Kevin Spacey is in it? Can someone enjoy a Woody Allen movie or does that make them complicit in his awfulness? Can I still love a book series even if the author turns out to be really problematic?
If you consume the creation and enjoy it and don’t know about the bad deeds of the creator, does that make it okay because you simply didn’t know? And then if you find out and continue to enjoy that thing, does that make you a bad person? What if it’s been years and years since said celebrity got “cancelled”? After a certain time period, is it okay to enjoy your problematic faves again? If you acknowledge that the creator is flawed and keep that in mind while consuming their media, does that make it acceptable, or worse?
If we got rid of every single piece of media ever made that had someone problematic star in it, direct it, write it, sing it, or create it, how much would we have left? How many people are actually bad and problematic, how many were falsely “cancelled”, and how many people have more complicated cases that we don’t know all the facts about?
For example, Johnny Depp. Here’s a celebrity that has starred in pretty much everything, and has done a good job, and became widely loved by the public. So when it came out that he might be an abuser, a lot of people were completely shocked. Some swore off Johnny Depp movies forever, and some adoring fans stood at his defense. Then, recently, when it was revealed maybe he was actually the victim, those same fans said they knew he wasn’t bad all along, and suddenly all those people who had banished Johnny Depp movies from their lives could watch Pirates of the Caribbean again without feeling guilty. But his case is ongoing. Is he the victim, the victimizer, or both? During this ongoing case, should we continue to enjoy his movies in good faith that he is a good person, or steer clear of his work just in case he isn’t?
I can’t get on a high horse and say “you shouldn’t engage with this media because so and so is a garbage human” but then turn around and consume media from people I definitely think are a problem. Is piracy a viable option in this situation? If there’s a movie you want to see but don’t want to put money in the pocket of the problematic director, is that fair to subsequently be taking money out of the pocket of all the actors, producers, and others who worked on the film? Maybe you could just borrow a copy of the DVD from a friend who already purchased it, or get a copy from your local library? Same with books from problematic authors.
On the other hand, old books that are now seen as kind of bad, the ones where the authors are long dead, if you buy a copy, where does that money go to? It’s okay to buy it if it isn’t supporting the racist/sexist/homophobic dead author, right?
I don’t really have the answer to any of these questions. I think it’s okay sometimes to like art made by problematic people, but also to make sure you don’t give them a platform or showcase them to others like I almost did with my post last night. And maybe don’t buy the problematic person’s merch. There are some cases where you’d literally have to be living under a rock to not know what someone did, and then there are cases where you really had no idea that this person did a bad thing a decade ago. It’s okay if you didn’t know, I think. It’s not your job to keep tabs on every single creator and celebrity in the world. Ignorance is okay, so long as it’s not willful.
Incidentally, for everyone about to mention “Hey, your dad has tackled this one before,” a) she’s aware of that, b) this is her take and her perspective, independent of anything I’ve written on the matter.
This is incidentally likely to be the case every time Athena essays something I’ve already written on (which, considering the site’s been up 22 years, will happen not infrequently).
[Deleted because Ken has already made me tired, and it’s just the second comment — JS]
It’s okay to be uncomfortable consuming media by someone you know to be dreadful (I do feel this way about Woody Allen), but it’s also okay not to feel uncomfortable. It’s not on one person to judge someone else for being awful for liking something.
I struggle with this one myself. I grew up listening to, and howling with laughter at, the stand-up comedy of Bill Cosby. We all know where that has led, but how ARE we supposed to separate the art from the artist? It’s been years since Bill Cosby’s crimes came to light, but i still don’t know.
It doesn’t make you a bad person to like Bill Cosby’s work, even if he is terrible.
I think everyone has a tipping point, and it differs in each circumstance. As an example, I have a fairly low threshold of tolerance for poor editing. A lot of fanfic is poorly edited, and even if the story is interesting to me or comes highly recommended, I’ll walk away due to poor editing. A professionally published work with poor editing gets very little wiggle room. However, if I find the story very good, my toloerance of editing issues increases proportional to my interest in a story. I’d think the same thing is likely true for most people in deciding what to consume and what to walk away from, whether it’s due to problematic creators, or some other issue.
I think it’s a giant “who the heck knows.” Can you stand to still watch what they made when you know they are an asshole, is one question. Not giving them any more money is about the only way you can do anything (as it were) about them being an asshole.
I think the line in the sand I draw with JK Rowling is to no longer pay for any of her products, but I wasn’t a diehard Harry Potter fan in the first place and it’s not like I can go shopping right now so it’s no skin off my ass. I don’t know what I will do when something really bad comes out about a favorite creator of mine that I can’t overlook, and god knows I have two favorites that been skirting the line the last few years. They haven’t done anything horrendous yet that I know of, more along the lines of “cheat on the wife” stuff, but someday, it’s likely. I don’t know what I will do when it’s a favorite.
I honestly do not think there is one answer and likely each person will come up with their own line or more likely lines.
For myself I have a line where if an artist reaches a point where I say no that is the point where I stop supporting new things that they do. If asked about the artist I will say I did like them up to a point and there are works of theirs that I still like but I will leave it up to the person asking if they want to obtain the work.
As Adam-Troy Castro as said repeatedly it is hard to disconnect the effect one or more works have on you even though the artist may now be a person you can not support.
I also think it is perfectly fair to say that I thought one way in the past but now I am reconsidering. the lines are not fixed in stone, they are and should be movable
This is a line each person has to draw for themself, I think. For something like a movie, it’s complicated. Kevin Spacey is hardly the only person whose work is represented by Baby Driver. What about everyone else who worked on that film? Does their work get cancelled too because the main character was played by a person who did bad things? I use a personal “gut feeling” which is probably very inconsistent and uses a variety of sliding scales based on things like timeframe of creation, whether the “bad thing” comes across in the work itself, and my own personal “ick factor” about whatever the creative has done.
Good post, and a good topic to consider, especially in the light of “cancel culture” judgments going on right now.
I agree that people should be not be held accountable for the ignorance, though I would expand it even to those situations where others think it should be “obvious” – everyone has different interactions and history with pop culture.
I personally come down on the side of “avoid media made by people who likely hurt others.” I have some levels of gray in there, but on the whole tend toward finding unproblematic creators. This is a personal take; I do not judge those that do not subscribe to it, but neither will I flex my own opinion to appease them.
To the question of, “what if we got rid of media made by problematic people,” that’s a much easier answer for me. There are so, so many works of art out there in every conceivable medium that are created by those without problematic pasts that it tends to be an easy decision for me, though admittedly it’s become easier the more I practice it (I used to really like Dilbert! And Louis CK!). And when I stop and remind myself just how much else is out there. In terms of quantity, it would likely be difficult to notice.
I have been struggling with this as well for the past few years. Bill Cosby (Also mentioned) was a big turning point for me. I loved his comedy recordings. I had a couple of records and tapes. The way he tells stories was brilliant. Then I learned that at the same time he was “America’s favorite dad” he was drugging and raping his subordinates. Made me feel gross…
Interesting question, always worth thinking about, in my opinion.
I hate to say this–it sounds like such a cop-out–but I really think it has to be a personal choice. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent my life enjoying works by writers whom I KNOW I wouldn’t want to invite to dinner . . . or even shake hands with, unless maybe I could wash said hand immediately afterward. But I draw that line probably a lot further out than a lot of people would, in that it doesn’t really bother me if, say, an actor or a even a writer or artist is a POS if I enjoy their work. (If they have embodied their pos-ness IN their works, that moves the line–certainly while they are still alive and relatively close to the world I live in, where they don’t have the “the culture supported this evil” excuse.) For me, it seems to be largely an emotional response: if I can enjoy the work without thinking of the creator, I’m fine. If I can’t–well, I don’t try.
For example, there was a novelist a number of years ago who, I discovered, had been involved (as perpetrator) in a particularly horrible murder in that novelist’s youth . . . I tried to read the next book in the series I’d been following when it came out, and I just–couldn’t. I told myself I wasn’t being fair; the novelist had been judged and punished for the crime as the courts deemed appropriate–but I couldn’t get past thinking about it. Possibly I could have if the author had written something other than murder mysteries? I’ll never know. It was a purely emotional and illogical reaction–I mean, I suspect could have come up with logical explanations for my response, but they would have been after the fact. Rationalizing, at best. So I went with my emotions and found something else to read.
That said, I’d never try to argue with people who say “Don’t support this evil so-and-so.” Not only do I respect their opinions, but I support them (particularly, as I said, if the artist is still alive and profiting from the work). The people who draw the “don’t pay money for this–don’t read or watch this” line closer in are almost certainly being more rational and less emotional-kneejerk about their decisions than I am. And I do try to pay attention, to make sure that I’m not giving money to someone who using his/her celebrity to actively harm other people (that tends to trigger an emotional reaction in me, anyway). But I’ve had to conclude that my general ability or even automatic tendency to separate the creator from the work makes me something of an outlier. FWIW.
Each person has to make their own decision on the tipping point between “Makes great art” and “Too much of a dick to support/enjoy.” Salvador Dali was cutting edge for his time, but also a major jerk.
You can argue amongst yourselves on pro- or anti-, but in the end, like many other things, you can’t legislate morality, just apply it to yourself.
It’s the neverending “Should Wagner be played in Israel?” debate. There’s no good answer because people want things that contradict each other. They want to boycott works from people they don’t like, and they want to enjoy works that they like. As long as bad people produce good work, that’s not going to go away. Everyone will make individual decisions balancing perceived good against perceived evil.
Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn have been married for over twenty years now. At the very least, he’s not a serial monogamist constantly looking for new young women. I don’t believe the allegations against him. Ronan Farrow, who supports and has helped publicize those allegations, has recently been the target of investigations himself, pointing out that he fails to thoroughly check facts before reporting his stories.
The serial monogamist thing reminds me of a joke – “At the ski resort where young women come looking for husbands and husbands come looking for young women, the situation is not as symmetrical as it first appears.”
In terms of financial support (buying books or tickets), I definitely draw the line for those doing ACTIVE and ONGOING harm. Orson Scott Card is a brilliant writer and I used to buy all his books, but his support of the Mormon Church’s anti-gay political efforts, and his position on the board for the National Organization for Marriage means I will never buy or read any of his works again (as a gay person, I might as well slap myself in the face). Same for Chik-Fil-A, which actively continues to support anti-gay causes. I do judge my fellow queers who would support either OSC or Chik-Fil-A (eat Popeye’s fried spicy chicken sandwich instead!)
There is more room for forgiveness for those whose offense was in the past, who have admitted, tried to make reparations, and so forth. None of us are perfect. (I’m not speaking about how any victims should react; just my stance as a consumer / reader.)
I do try to spend more time thinking about how I can support and elevate marginalized voices. I am a huge fan of Afrofuturism and black sci-fi and any type of queer sci-fi. I try to purchase, review, and promote works by diverse creators, and/or works that have diverse characters (regardless of who the creator is). We get so hung up on some of these abusive creator types, while ignoring the creatives they oppressed or harassed — let’s celebrate the unheard.
This is an issue I’ve given occasional thought two. I used to love Bill Cosby as a comedian and grew up watching is first sitcom in the 80s that made him super-big. I remember later hearing rumors that he was a major asshole on set and that niggling doubt gave me a bit less enjoyment. Now that everything about him has surfaced, I can’t watch or listen to anything of his. I see/hear his affable persona and the only thing that I can think is “monster putting on false face.”
But if someone else got joy out of those old works, I don’t think there’s anything immoral about it. He was an accomplished actor and comedian. He played his role well. I just can’t do it myself.
Folks, let’s not actually try to litigate cases in this thread, please.
I was just talking to a friend about this this morning. It really varies for me. For most creators that I learn are terrible people, I resolve not to spend money on their work going forward, though I may consume it on a case-by-case basis. The key example for me here is Orson Scott Card; I still treasure Ender’s Game, but did not buy a ticket to the movie, borrowing it from the library instead. I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan, but follow roughly this same path with JK Rowling.
I never liked Woody Allen, so that was an easy avoid for me. Some actors/directors I can’t watch in the same way – the movie Maverick is an old favorite, but Mel Gibson is…not great. The movie isn’t as fun as it used to be for me.
For some creators, the things I learn about them turn me off their work. I cannot read Marion Zimmer Bradley anymore. Her work was massively, massively influential on me as a teenager but I can’t even pick up her books anymore without a twinge of horror.
I would say one of the unifying trends across the board is that I find I don’t recommend their work anymore. I’ll certainly give my opinion of it if asked, but don’t go out of my way to tell people to read it the way I might have.
I think most of the comments have hit it on the head with “it’s up to the person consuming the artist’s work”. My personnel opinion boils down to a saying I was recently given by a co-worker “There are people I can work with, but never drink beer with; and there are people I can drink beer with, but never work with”. I believe people and artists are multi-faceted and it is ok to only like or deal with certain parts of that person/artist and acknowledge that there are parts of that person that you don’t or won’t deal with.
I think a lot of my decisions on this topic come down to “What has this person done lately?” Are they in full denial mode? Have they owned up to mistakes? Are they a repeat offender? Without some evidence that the offense is regretted and in the past, a big “No!”
And then there is the factor of “How long ago was the offense?” Are they the same person now they were then? A 20 year old action by someone who has done nothing since (depending on what that action was) is not necessarily who that person might be now. Allegedely our society believes in a person “serving their time” and earning a second chance. “Cancel culture” does seem to fly in the face of that.
And as someone else noted, what about everyone else involved in the project (if there are others)? Is it fair to those people to boycott something because of the actions of one participant?
Sometime you love the art, and then try not to support the artist anymore. Brilliant art is still brilliant art.
I can relate. I was in high school and college in the 1970s when Marion Zimmer Bradley was writing the best of her Darkover series books (or at least it seemed so to my sister and me). They were very important to me. It wasn’t until years later that I found out her husband was a pedophile, and then after that, her daughter said MZB was abusive as well. I still have fond memories of the books, while acknowledging both that the author and books were seriously flawed.
On the other hand, I liked Orson Scott Card’s books until he was GOH at a Mythcon, many years ago. He was so obnoxious that I swore never to buy anything of his again. I won’t even read his stuff unless I absolutely have to. (I’m on the committee for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award – that would be the only circumstance where I would need to.)
I’m going to put some further thoughts here that nobody will likely read, but it’s somewhat important to me. Part of what would turn me away from a creator would be the public persona vs. the person. Once again, Bill Cosby… Wholesome persona. Didn’t work blue. “America’s Fav Dad”. Look at what he did.
Kevin Clash… He was the voice of Elmo for cryin’ out loud!
J.K. Rowling… Pushed for inclusiveness in the HP world. Help those with less than you. Condemnation against “classist” behavior… Yeah, that sort of thing.
If they’re currently, actively, publicly being loathsome and hurting people (and the example in my mind is using a massive media reach to “punch down” too), then I think “yes, I enjoyed their work, but I’m done with it.”
As with another commenter upthread, if it’s in the past, they’ve admitted wrong AND have not done it again (“I’m sorry” followed by continuing the behaviour is not ok), well great. Learning from mistakes is good, if I like their stuff I won’t feel bad about consuming it.
It’s gotta come down to your personal comfort level–otherwise you go through life saying “that dude was a rapist” every time someone says “all men are created equial.”
My own comfort level is giving dead artists (generally) a wide pass: Picasso, Lovecraft, Lewis Carroll, Michael Jackson, and so on aren’t going to profit from my consumption of their art.
With living artists is mostly depends on the accusation and the amount of support you’re giving them: Kevin Spacey’s residuals from Baby Driver are probably smaller than Harvey Weinstein’s cut every time someone watches a Tarantino movie or Paddington, so we’re all probably supporting his legal defense.
My only recourse is to hope a lot of these dudes (mostly dudes) kick off fairly soon so they can fall into the first category.
I see many people are “having a debate” here but can I just say, Athena, that I found your piece open, honest and thought provoking. We have different reference points given my (advanced – older than your Dad!) age but it is a perennial struggle. Wagner wrote great music while holding some fairly toxic views and Herbert von Karajan conducted some of the greatest ever performances of Beethoven’s music while openly supporting (let’s say) a ‘dubious’ movement in the 1930s/40s. We each reach our own decisions about how we handle it but ‘ not knowing the answer’ is where we all are really.
I think this is one of those things that is not universal for one simple reason.
Many people who consume works of art (books, paintings, movies, etc.) don’t care about who wrote, painted or acted on them.
It’s just not relevant.
For a non English Native like myself there was tons of entertainment I consumed when I was young performed by what were to me perfect strangers.
The same goes for books, not living in the US and not following US local news I have no idea if author X or Y his a bad person or not. This applies to many other people.
To put it into context to the average American, imagine you are watching a Polish/French/Spanish movie.
Do you care what the actors, directors, producers, etc. have done? Will you look it up before watching just to make sure you are not supporting a “bad” person?
Well, I don’t that as well…
I guess the obvious current one is JK Rowling – many of her recent comments and actions can easily be interpreted as transphobic, and she’s got a bit of a record for retroactively declaring representation of ethnic minorities in Harry Potter, even though she didn’t actually include them in her books. I’m certainly not about to buy any new JK Rowling material, but the problem I’ve got is that my daughter absolutely loves the Harry Potter books and movies. She wouldn’t comprehend it if I suddenly said we can’t read the books or watch the films anymore (she’s not old enough to grasp the issues at hand).
I can’t really condone piracy, which creates all kinds of problems in it’s own right, and my daughter is borderline special needs – she draws comfort from certain things, Harry Potter being one of them. I’m not at all enamoured with lining Rowling’s pockets, but I can’t ‘punish’ my daughter over something she doesn’t understand and deny her a source of enjoyment.
Your post got me thinking….maybe it’s OK to like the stuff the person did before they “broke bad”.
I mean, are we c clouding that their bad choices later in life are because of their inherently tainted nature, or did they go astray?
If the latter, then perhaps it’s OK to like Cosby’s early comedy.
On the other hand, I guess we don’t want to reward bad behavior with royalty checks.
I guess it’s going to be up to each of us to draw the line on what behaviors are heinous enough to make us “cancel” an artist from our own life.
That said, I think we should avoid passing judgement on each other’s decisions on where those lines should be drawn. No need to let other people’s bad behavior create division among friends.
In my mind, it depends on what the creations represent or obfuscate. Do they represent the creator’s loathsome behavior in my mind, or are they intended to hide who they actually were? Bad people can create worthwhile things, and good people often make regrettable mistakes.
In one case mentioned above, I felt his comedy was so disparate from reality, it was a hiding mechanism, so I quit. In another sci-fi writer’s case, I haven’t discerned whether they have anything to do with each other, and only quit reading him because I’m tired of him retreading the same universe over and over.
Two cases in point about representation: the Confederate statues can be admired for their artistic merit, but because of what they represent and that a fair number of people are proud of that heinous behavior…blast those things into tiny bits! Then look at Dachau concentration camp in Germany, a symbol of reviled evil. As long as it stands to represent a warning, then let it stand. The second it becomes something too many people are proud of (and yes, Nazism is becoming a thing in Germany again)…then tear it down!
So, in my mind, does the loathsome artists creation represent evil, or not? The two don’t always follow. But, I do get squishy thinking about supporting them. Most of my reading comes from the library these days, just to keep a little social distancing, because you never really know.
I loved the piece Anne Theriault wrote about this a couple years ago, dealing with how racist Sylvia Plath was, and how much Theriault loves her work. What we read shapes us, not necessarily in who we become, but always in what we consider remarkable or not, in what we are willing to accept around us.
I am going through this right now with a certain writer of comics I kinda liked, who built a whole culture in his work and on his forums around what constitutes the kind of woman whose story is worth telling. When revelations about his private life came out, they weren’t exactly surprising, given that context, but I’m finding my reaction is less about “avoid supporting this guy’s work” and more about “maybe I should look at it again and unpack the ways it affected how I feel about _my_ story, and what kind of hero I would be in a book.”
And I grieve the work we’ve lost, from people who came up against these guys as gatekeepers. It probably would have been awesome, a fair bit of it.
And nowadays I do think more about who makes the media I consume, _before_ I consume it (as much as possible), because it is So. Much. Work. shovelling out the nonsense from all the assholes I read during my “formative” years.
Should any of us be forever judged by the worst thing we have ever done, regardless of any subsequent actions to atone for or to make amends for that thing?
As others have said in this thread, how long ago the worst thing happened, and what the person has done in the meanwhile, should be considered when we decide whether to support or to follow a given artist/creator/performer.
Does the art enable the bad behavior? Weinstein used his fame and power over other artist’s livelihoods to threaten his victims’ entire careers.
Does the art defend the bad behavior? JK Rowling is specifically writing a thriller about a serial killer male who wears women’s clothing to support her own transphobia. Perhaps Harry Potter’s generalist message about fighting for the underdog outweighs her personal views against a different type of underdog, but now she’s using her art to specifically target them, perhaps Harry Potter money shouldn’t go into enabling that.
Has the bad behavior been suitably punished or addressed? Maybe if these artists were thrown in jail for their crimes despite the resources and support they have from their fame, their art would be fair game because the grievance has been matched by justice. If every person who had ever been to jail was never allowed to have their work read, we wouldn’t have many of O. Henry’s short stories. On the other hand if the fame and fortune of major artists is protecting them from justice, perhaps the first thing to do is to remove the girders of their fame and fortune by deprecating the position of their art in culture.
Who is the victim and are they being redressed? Proceeds from O.J. Simpson’s “If I Did It” go to the family of Nicole Brown Simpson. Whereas none of the proceeds of Cosby’s work goes to his victims. On the other hand, If I Did It re-victimizes the family by basically admitting that justice was not served and he got away with it, whereas Cosby’s work brought a lot of inspiration and humor to people’s lives.
And then the really tough stuff about history and memory, the Statues and Classics stuff: Is the historical relevance of this text necessary for understanding any moreso than other texts about the era that can give historical perspective? Are other voices being ignored in favor of these larger ones? D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation doesn’t necessarily show any meaningful film techniques that his other movies showcase. Other movies deal with that era of the post-Civil War South and the transition from Reconstruction to Jim Crow from positions that don’t cheer the Ku Klux Klan as the good guys. So is Birth of a Nation really important to see as a ‘classic’ of cinema? On the other hand Buster Keaton’s The General has the hero on the side of the Confederacy, but pretty much ignores racial appeals and focuses on train based action sequences and pratfalls — is it okay that it ‘whitewashes’ history even if it doesn’t specifically portray black people as poorly as Birth of a Nation?
Your mileage may vary on any of these questions. Personally here’s where I’ve landed on most of it:
There’s other stuff out there. Truly. There is more art and writing and music and everything, from every era of history, that you could discover and appreciate, that being overly concerned about “cancelling everything” is ridiculous. Statues can be replaced with new statues. Even if you forego Griffith’s entire filmography, there’s thousands of other silent films to showcase the sensibilities of the time and the development of film. Even if you find out that one of your favorite actors or singers is a bad person, there’s plenty other movies and bands out there. Nobody needs to read JK Rowling’s new book, this blog itself presents us new stories and authors on an almost daily basis.
And on the other hand, if there’s something you REALLY LIKE that happens to come from a problematic source, then acknowledging that problematic aspect is important but you’re allowed to defend your appreciation of the work. That’s not the same thing, at all, as saying that the artist should go unpunished, disbelieve the victim, or that you should intercede in justice because you like an artwork. Too many people are acting like an attack on a person’s behavior is an attack on their enjoyment of a text.
I personally really wish Roman Polanski was jailed for his crime, because I like his work a lot and would like to enjoy it knowing that people haven’t deliberately interceded on his behalf because “He’s such a good artist.” I’m willing to watch any of his movies again, provided he does the time. But he hasn’t, so I have a long enough list (of literally 500+ other movies) I want to see, so there’s no reason I should be overly concerned about whether or not his disappear.
I can add this: be careful spurning an artist over only allegations, as they may prove to be untrue.
We all have to have some way of deciding what tips allegations over to “this almost certainly happened” and then the preponderance of these comments, i.e., we all have to decide for ourselves where the line is, applies.
Art is so personal.
I evaluate art by my own standards, and I make no guarantee that they will be consistent or acceptable to anyone else.
[Deleted because it’s not actually on point. Also, again, stop trying to litigate cases here — JS]
Cosby is my primary example as well. I grew up with his early albums in the mid-70s, watched the Cosby Show in the mid-80s (but frankly Bill Cosby Himself was far more of a favorite than Cosby Show).
The thing with me is that once his abusive behavior came out and was confirmed, it altered the way I heard far too many of his routines. In particular, most of his routines on mothers and wives went from ‘funny use of classic stereotypes’ to ‘dear Ghu these misogynist stereotypes are being recited by someone who was a real abuser.’ In the past, I could dismiss them as funny caricatures, because he also used a lot of classic stereotypes about fathers, and I didn’t treat any of them seriously; but not now when there are actual cases of abuse.
For me, it largely comes down to “will my support of the work aid the creator?”
Example: I think most of us can agree HP Lovecraft held racist views. I’ve backed two Kickstarters for collected essays on his works because I enjoy the writing of the person doing the essays and it’s not like Lovecraft is alive to collect a licensing fee. But if Lovecraft were still alive, or his works were still under copyright, I’d have to think twice.
Very thoughtful post, AMS. I still struggle with this. “Chinatown” is one of my favorite movies ever, and I don’t think that will change, even though it’s director is a rapist, and I won’t watch any of his other movies (There’s one I’d kind of like watch, “The Writer,” I think, because it sounds interesting, but I haven’t made any effort to find it and probably won’t go to any lengths).
There was one book by a Sad Puppy writer that sounded interesting, but I didn’t want to send him any money, so I found a used book. And actually it was pretty good.
It’s a tricky subject.
It’s a tough question, and one I think everyone has to come to their own answer for in each circumstance. For me, the more I loved an author before I found out about something I consider intolerable, the more angry/sad it will make me. Authors I didn’t already love, it’s easier to just walk away from. Offenses that don’t bother me as much, it’s easier to say “I can still enjoy this art.”
My parents did not ever say I couldn’t read Roald Dahl. But they did give me a heads-up that he was seriously anti-Semitic. I still read a bunch of his books because I read just about everything. I enjoyed a few of them and there were at least two I reread a few times. But I also kept in mind throughout that he probably would have hated me. I think that’s fine. If someone is vocal enough about being selective with how they treat other human beings, then it seems fair to me that their reputation will follow them around (see also Wagner).
I’m not interested in comparing everything everyone’s ever done against some gold-standard, but on the other hand, I don’t have sympathy for those meeting criticism after choosing to go public with declarations of bigotry and misconceptions (J. K. Rowling). Especially targeting those already disproportionately likely to be mistreated or worse. For me it’s more a question of a priority list than of some imaginary quest to go around drawing giant Xs on people. If the group someone has targeted includes me and/or people I care about, then I’m going to look for ways of supporting them well before I bother with the artist.
I keep thinking that describing anything as “cancel culture” must be a massive knee-jerk reaction label. Generational differences are just one of the flip-sides of the loss of stigma over time, surely? Not that there isn’t some way to go, but I’m a thirtysomething and it seems to me that e.g. of course a lot of young cis folks are going to bristle if someone insults our trans friends.
I don’t think there’s ever going to be a right answer to this question due to its subjectivity. Like others have said it all comes down to personal choice. I have two examples from my own life. One is a band I’ve loved for years called As I Lay Dying. The lead singer went to jail for for soliciting a hit on his ex-wife. When he came out they released a single and I really struggled about whether or not to listen cause this band meant a great deal to me, but I don’t want to support someone who did something like that. I did research and found that he had been trying his best to not just make amends, but to better himself and others after he got out. To me that level of showing remorse, and living it, made the difference on whether or not I would support them by listening to their music.
The other is Rowling and since she has been showing no remorse for the hurt her words have caused I can’t support her work any longer. So for me the line seems to revolve around them growing and taking meaningful steps to remedy the hurt they’ve put in the world. It’s not perfect, and never will be, but we all have the lines we have to draw and choices we have to live with.
I used to love the band Lostprophets, until in 2012 the singer pleaded guilty when accused of stuff so sick I don’t want to list here. I now can’t listen to any of their old CDs, even though he was only 1/4 of the band. Their music was really great and I kind of miss it, but just hearing his voice reminds me of what he was convicted of and it takes away any pleasure.
An edge example maybe, but this is difficult.
I try to keep the art and the artist separate. I don’t condone Kevin Spaceys’ past behavior but I still think he’s a good actor. Also, when I watch (and really enjoy!) Baby Driver I am supporting a large group of people.
This is something I tend to work out on a case by case basis, both for art and businesses. Sometimes I feel I can’t even enjoy the work anymore at all (Bill Cosby, Chick-fil-A), sometimes I can still enjoy it but without spending any more money (J.K. Rowling, Orson Scott Card), and sometimes I still do it and just feel guilty cause I’ve been too lazy to find an alternative (Amazon). I don’t usually judge other people’s lines, just try and feel comfortable with my own choices.
Bill Cosby was knock-you-dead funny, and on The Cosby Show, well, he was America’s Favorite Dad for a reason. It was a pretty modern family, too, not a retread of the family sitcoms of the 50s and 60s.
And he was doing a lot of his awful stuff while he was doing that show. I don’t begrudge anyone who still enjoys it. That stuff isn’t in the show. But I can’t, anymore.
Marion Zimmer Bradley–Once you know about her and her husband, when you read the Darkover books, it’s right there on the page. This was a case of a lot of the moral complexity I thought I saw when reading them in ignorance of her behavior, vanished once I knew. It was just flat out excuse-making, and made me feel complicit.
Rowling–I loved the Harry Potter books. Still do. I won’t give up the joy they gave me. But later, her misuse of skin walkers, and completely indifference to the distress and anger of Native Americans over that misrepresentation, was a huge red flag. She doesn’t, and never has, respected any culture but her own, and refuses to learn anything from anyone. I’m not giving up the original Harry Potter delight, but there is absolutely no reason for me to spend another penny in a way that benefits her.
I think I know who the murder mystery writer referred to above is, and I come down on the other side on that. She was a minor. She was tried, convicted, and did her time. She’s lived a quiet, apparently blameless life since then. I’m happy to enjoy her books now.
But I can’t see any basis for a completely consistent response to any of this. It matters to me that they did bad things, but I don’t expect everyone will find the same things absolute red lines that I do. Heck, it’s a big problem for me if a character on supposed to like is a beer drinker, for reasons that are personal to me, tied into things that would no doubt incur more general disapproval than the beer drinking. Most people associate beer with pleasant evenings with friends. I associate it with loud voices and heavy fists.
And no matter how much people understand my feelings, most people are just not going to share them.
There is no one clear rule that’s going to work, for every problematic producer of media, or for every consumer of it. I think the main thing is that, when you do know about someone’s problematic behavior, you be thoughtful in your choices, and also understand that it’s okay if other people make different choices.
Short answer – people are MESSY.
Not a one of us – not me, not you, not AS, not JS – none of us – are perfect people. As JS likes to say ‘we all show our ass sometimes’.
Not only that – but just as times change, and what was once perfectly okay later becomes – at least to some, absolutely NOT okay so too do people change and a person who was once a total jerk might change and be a decent or even admirable person. Or the reverse, a good person could become awful. I’ve seen both happen.
Athena’s question makes people think – and that makes it a very good question. One of the first things to remember – and it can be HARD to remember – is that western society has the position of innocent until PROVEN guilty for a reason (for which see Johnny Depp). Before we had this accusations that were strident enough could get people hurt – or killed. Salem witch trials anyone? And we can flip that around too – how much ‘smoke’ does there have to be for us to decide something’s on fire? Zimmer-Bradley for example, it’s pretty hard to imagine that there wasn’t something offside going on there, even though her daughter’s accusations were made after she was dead. But given what we know about her husband it seems very hard to imagine something messed up wasn’t taking place. So even though ‘innocent until proven guilty’ – boy there’s a helluva lot of smoke coming out of that house…
I’ve met many folks over the years who were ‘famous’ for various reasons. Some, like the late Michael Sheard (Admiral Ozzel from Star Wars who Vader chokes to death in Empire Strikes Back) became friends for years. Others were just neutral, fun to spend a few hours with, a bit embarrassing, really kind, gruff, etc. etc. – the full range of humanity in short. But two – both authors whose work I really liked – left me with fairly bad impressions which made it hard to enjoy their work after. Neither was a criminal or abuser or anything like that. They were just – kind of jerks. Yet I’ve been assured by those who knew them better than I ever did – and both have passed now, one of them quite young – that in fact they were both fine people. So maybe – maybe I just caught them on a bad day?
I think the thing to do is to realize that liking or disliking something due to an author’s positions, politics, personality or sometimes even crimes is going to have to be something purely personal. If something REALLY bothers you – you’re probably best to try and avoid it. If it doesn’t and others have issues with it – they should probably respect your choice as you aren’t them and you may have your own reasons.
Things like movies or plays make this even harder. Michael, in his first book ‘Yes, Mr. Bronson’ in talking about many of the various film people he worked with over the decades describes – apparently quite appropriately – a certain director/producer as ‘Sir Arsehole Hitchcock’. Does that mean I shouldn’t enjoy Vertigo or Psycho? I know for a fact that James Cameron can be a really difficult person (I’m putting it nicely) does that mean I can no longer watch Aliens or Titanic? We all have to make these choices for ourselves but in the case of something like a major motion picture – there’s a literal ARMY of people involved in such a production. Some will be nice, some won’t. Even during the production some of them may have disliked or even hated each other – so how do you decide what that makes the film itself?
Athena asks a good question. The only possible answer is – it has to be a personal decision. I would venture to say, though, that if someone else makes a DIFFERENT personal decision, we should all try and respect that. They aren’t us after all.
Very thoughtful comments already.
My sister takes a strict line on this: “Don’t hang the artist with the painting” is her approach.
I have a different approach which is much more of a sliding scale.
I am much more likely to boycott the work of living artists who do abhorrent things. Dead artists, less so.
Also this debate unveils the sad truth that people are complicated and that great talent has nothing to do with character. We want it to, but it does not.
One of my dad’s best friends had Thomas Jefferson as his idol. He was so crushed by the revelation that Jefferson indeed raped Sally Hemmings and that she bore his children. The friend denied and denied and denied the DNA evidence for years. He couldn’t handle the truth that his idol had flaws. Serious, horrible flaws. So he wanted to deny reality. Jefferson was very great and very awful, all at the same time.
I have no hard and fast answers. I think it’s good to have the discussion and for everyone to weigh their response.
I don’t buy the argument that we have to take historical factors into account because as far as the issue of slavery, for example, there have been people in every era who spoke against it and knew it was wrong. Same with things like women’s rights.
Also there is a difference between acknowledging people’s place in history, and honoring them or naming awards after them or holding them up as a role model. People can be really good at a certain thing like political theory or art or comedy, and really awful at character or morals. All at the same time.
Thanks for the post.
Nearly all of the responses frame the issue as an individual judgement. The local art cinema is showing a Woody Allen movie. Do you go to see it? That’s complicated. But you know that it doesn’t stop there: The local art cinema is showing a Woody Allen movie. Do you picket the art cinema? Do you shame anyone expressing approval of the particular movie? Do you bombard the cinema board of directors with demands they desist? For another example, the local art cinema is showing a film featuring Paul Robeson. I’d go. But he was a Stalinist who pretty much knew what was going on back in the U.S.S.R. and some folks to this day are seriously bent about it. This is where it has exceeded all this weighing of individual values and becomes political and sometimes very nasty and sometimes more than a bit stupid.
1) I think there are sometimes pieces of media production that are so influential, or so iconic, that if you don’t ever watch or listen to them you won’t understand certain other things. Like, a lot of other things. In that case, I would never attack someone for deciding to check that media out, or even for recommending it, so long as they include any relevant caveats they know about, when discussing or writing about it.
2) When you check something out from the library, the library does pay attention and use those usage statistics to help them figure out future purchases. So if you want to give a clear message to a library about someone, please communicate directly to library staff. Requesting good material from creators who are not problematic is also a plus here.
3) I think cancel culture is in danger of erasing the concept of personal redemption from our social culture. Which is odd, since redemption storylines are pretty common in our media. I don’t believe every person has the ability to learn and change and become a better person. But I believe a lot of us do. I also don’t think actions someone took later in their life “spoil” art they created earlier in their lives. The people who did those things had the same name and same social security number and fingerprint, but otherwise, they were not the (exact) same person. So, um, yeah, I guess I would say art that was specifically involved in or enabled by awfulness and abuse, that’s one thing. Art that came before, or after? May be something different, or may not, and that’s worth thinking about, not just in terms of our approach to that media creator, but in terms of how we think about having hope, ourselves – both for ourselves and for a better society overall.
I had a big long explanation of a complicated flow chart for how to deal with problematic artists, but in the end it really boils down to “how mad/upset does this person’s actions make me?”
When I found out about MZB, I cried. Like, a lot. And all but one of her books (one written with other authors) has been purged from my house. I don’t care that she’s dead and those books were secondhand, I just couldn’t have them around.
JKR, I’m furious, and will not give her another dime. (The books are not mine, but are tucked away with the OSC books in the “problematic” section.)
At the end of the day, art pulls on our hearts, so we have to decide with our hearts as much as our minds.
I mean, this is like the “moral war” question. For some, all it takes to justify a war is a sideways glance. For those who try to wrestle the complex moral implications of killing on an industrial scale, its a lot more complicated. And both groups will never agree.
Consuming the art of a morally questionable artist isnt quite as severe, but has the same issues of different definitions and no one agreeing.
So for some, consuming the art of an artist who does something immoral is verbotten. For others, its more complicated. For the more complicated, there are probably a couple basic questions at least:
Question 1: Does the art itself endorse a horrible thing? For example, does it have unexamined racism? Sexism?
If yes, then dont consume it.
If no, keep asking questions.
Question 2: Does consuming the art help the artist (or their heirs) forward a horrible thing? Is the artist actively advocating for horrible thing?
If yes, then dont consume it.
If the art itself does not forward a horrible thing and if consuming the art does not somehow give money to the artist or its heirs to forward a horrible thing, then you may be able to consume it morally.
However, if even still, you dont want to consume said art, then dont. But also however, if the art itself isnt immoral and consuming it doesnt help the owner forward an immoral thing, it becomes more of a grey area to tell others to not consume said art.
The term “sepia effect” (I think) refers to when an actor’s previous movies or off screen life bleeds into the film one is watching. My counter is to be “in the moment” pretending the film is real.
My only exception are two good comedy shows on TV where I keep seeing the characters simultaneously as actors, but that’s only because I took drama once and I am extremely impressed by the competence shown. (Three’s Company and Mom)
For the rest, I never look to squint to see lighting or props or stunt people. I mean, why?
As for wanting to know if people are bad, for me that’s like wanting to know how the sausage is made. I have no desire to be an accidental vegetarian.
As for “supporting” them with my cash, sf writer Spider Robinson wrote in a column that the amount of royalty he got from a single book was less than the postage required to send it to someone requesting the book for free. For books and other media, I just don’t think I’m important enough that any director, group of producers, or stunt person would care.
Abstractions are tricky. Like vegetarianism, or Political Correctness. I’m confident that when the film Mississippi Burning came out people praised it for being so PC, for how the white bread film makers were not trying to “speak for” Persons of Colour: because PC meant a clear chain of logic abstract reasoning. Today we could justifiably say, “Yes, but it should have included a representative POC story line.”
Sometimes it’s easier to follow peers than to follow a chain. For my part, I will continue to have my naive fun for all the media I invest my time in consuming.
Another abstraction is the seven year statute of limitations. Someone upthread mentioned redemption.
The Guardians of the Galaxy guy got in trouble for a tweet that was over seven years old, and even though all the cast stuck up for him, it took a while for him to be restored to making the franchise.
Our dusty old ancestors were not stupid. I respect their seven years thing.
I wasn’t trying to litigate.
This is a difficult subject, and one that I think about regularly. I’m not sure what the correct answer is. I can’t deny loving Tristan und Isolde, but wow, was Wagner anti-semitic or what? OTOH he wasn’t the only 19th century German (or other nationality) to hold those views. You’re not exactly going to find enlightened attitudes towards non whites among large swathes of the American public in the 18th century, either. So do artists from the past get a pass when their attitudes were not too far out of line back then, but we find appalling today?
I can’t watch any Woody Allen movies since he married his stepdaughter. Nope, beyond the pale for me. I don’t know whether or no he sexually abused his daughter, and that suspicion doesn’t help. I will still watch movies he made before that, though
I will watch Roman Polanski movies, though. What he did to SG was vile. But… there was some legal culpability at the time (I do think he got hosed when the prosecutor reneged on his deal), and his victim has publicly stated on multiple times that she wants to move on. She’s settled with him legally. So since there was a modicum of culpability (although I don’t believe that he believes he did anything wrong) and the victim wants legal proceedings ended it’s enough for me to continue enjoying his work.
I don’t care enough about JK Rowling and Harry Potter to follow that kerfluffle.
I think Jon Landis should have done time for his role in the Twilight Zone. Three people died. He never admitted any responsibility, got off, and was still allowed to make movies. Wrong.
Randall Miller deserved his conviction and prison sentence for the death of Sarah Jones. He should never be allowed in the movie business in any role at all ever again. I would boycott his work.
I’m sure there are plenty of other artists of all media out there whose attitudes would repulse me. But whatcha gonna do?
Okay, my thinky bit.
I think that of consuming (I hate that word in this context. It makes me think they are eating it. But whatever.) the works of someone problematical is a personal comfort thing.
I can’t watch Cosby anymore. I just can’t get his behavior out of my mind. Maybe the person standing next to me can. I can watch Johnny Depp. I’m not quite sure why myself. I can listen to Michael Jackson, in spite of all the revelations about him. (Shrugs)
If we look back in entertainment history, there have been many bad actors. Lots of bad people created great art. The “casting couch” is just one example of it. If see decide that we don’t want to listen to music created by drug and alcohol users, I’m not sure what you’d listen to…Maybe muzak? Rock would certainly be out of the question. Even Dean Martin and Glen Campbell would have to go.
A long way of saying that if you can’t watch, listen, etc., then don’t. Go with your gut and don’t let anyone else shame you for it.
There is no black and white, saints or sinners. If you look deeply enough at anyone you will find blemishes. We come in different shades of gray.
Enjoy art for what it is, not based on ( or despised by) who created it.
So many good comments already. For me… I *can’t* separate the art from the artist, as part of my consumption of media is through a critical/ analytical lens, which I enjoy. Usually this is just pulling apart different concepts from the story, figuring out what worked or didn’t work, then playing around with those things (e.g. fanfic). I maintain that media/ the arts can be used to say a lot of things that otherwise wouldn’t be as easily heard, or explore what-if concepts in a safe (because it’s not real) but thought-provoking (because it’s based on truths from society) way.
It doesn’t feel safe to do so when the artist is a tool in whatever way that may be, and consuming that media might give the artist further support, or suggest to others that I’m okay with the person’s dickheaded behaviour. Not to mention, my concern of what I may be subconsciously absorbing through their work, which I then have to actively counter against later. (E.g. stereotypes, bigotry about groups…)
That’s been a challenge over the past few years, because one of my biggest idols growing up was JKR, and I utterly adored the Harry Potter series. To be made increasingly aware that she’s really *not* a role model has been a challenge at times. But I can’t support her work at all anymore because she’s an absolute tool, so. No more merch or Potterverse media consumption. Maybe dabbling in fanfic only. And only consuming even the fan-created merch or other activities in private, where I can be absolutely sure that someone isn’t going to see and read it as support for her.
Also there are so. many. good books (etc.) out there that I can replace her/ others with, so. If it’s only nostalgia holding me on, I just need to deal with the nostalgia and let go.
It isn’t the answers you get, it’s engaging (wrestling with? Jacob?) the questions.
Welcome to the ring.
To add to the confusion: by any modern standard, Homer was a waste of skin. But the Iliad and the Odyssey — how do we cancel them? (Same goes for any ancient classics.)
It’s great to know other people are just as confused as I am about all this. There was a video from Dominic Noble about why he decided to quit supporting the Harry Potter franchise despite how much joy the books and movies brought to his life. And basically his response was that supporting JKR would bring active harm to people he cares about.
Maybe that’s a good enough answer for most of this. Will supporting this person bring active harm to people?
There is so much good art being created by good people that we shouldn’t have time to worry about problematic artists. If I want to reread a popular young adult fantasy series, I’ll read any Rick Riordan book. Our family preorders every book he writes. I used to watch late night interview shows on PBS, but now I listen to the same subjects on Pod Save America. (Honestly, a few podcasts and Superstore reruns is all I have time for.)
@darthimon – Check out Kane Chronicles by Riordan for your daughter. It’s about magicians, but it’s based on Egyptian mythology. It’s not my favorite series by Riordan, but it is the closest to the Harry Potter world. The Percy Jackson series is also just plain fun. (I’d even say “dam fun.”)
Lis Carey: “I think I know who the murder mystery writer referred to above is, and I come down on the other side on that. She was a minor. She was tried, convicted, and did her time. She’s lived a quiet, apparently blameless life since then. I’m happy to enjoy her books now.”
Yeah, you nailed it. I’m responding because, when I think about this case, I absolutely agree with you–there was no reason for me not to enjoy this author’s books. I don’t think I would have had any moral problem with giving her money (possibly even the reverse). And I tried, sincerely, with the next book that came out–but I couldn’t finish it. Emotional response, and it made me feel sad and, frankly, a little guilty. I mean, I usually have no problem separating creator from work! So why couldn’t I in this case, when I really should have been able to?
I still don’t know. I mentioned it only to demonstrate how complex and personal and, well, even peculiar this particular decision can be–also why I carefully didn’t mention the author-in-question’s name.
Speaking only for myself, my guiding principle on this subject has long been the quote, “Every human being must be viewed according to what it is good for; for none of us, no, not one, is perfect; and were we to love none who had imperfections, this world would be a desert for our love.” That comes from Thomas Jefferson, which in itself is interesting, as he did more than a few things that were simply dreadful. Still, he is one of my heroes, and one of my favorite presidents. Another is FDR, who did so much good for this country and the world- but let’s not overlook the Japanese American internment camps. Or look at Werner von Braun, who worked Jewish slaves to death at Penemunde, and yet the Apollo program was his. I can’t hate that.
These are real problems. This isn’t simply a matter of putting someone aside because they vote the wrong way, or you don’t like their opinions. These people did genuinely terrible things. They also did genuinely wonderful, beautiful things. How do you separate those things? I believe you can’t, and should not try. The answer to the question, “were they evil or were they good”, is Yes. I don’t believe there is any need to justify or rationalize our love for a person’s good works, on the basis that they also did bad things. Yes, of course they did, it must be acknowledged. We do, we’re human.
On the question, “…and how many people have more complicated cases that we don’t know all the facts about?” The answer seems clear to me, 100%.
And on the question, “Is piracy a viable option in this situation?” I don’t think so, just on the principle that two wrongs don’t make a right. It becomes too easy to justify petty theft by telling oneself, “It’s ok though, I’m sure they did something bad once too.”
This is something I’m currently struggling with a lot. I was a huge Harry Potter fan growing and (and still am), but JK Rowling has become increasingly problematic over the last few years.
I’m still a fan of the books, but I can’t get excited about any new stuff she’s doing, just because of who she is.
For myself, I’ve noticed that as a theme. If I find out the creator is toxic (or they turn toxic) after I started liking their art, I’ll still like the old stuff, but I won’t even bother to engage with more.
> Is piracy a viable option in this situation?
I personally don’t treat it as such, mainly because there is *so much* other good stuff coming out, I’ll cope. Also buying used is most of the time an option which doesn’t provide monetary benefit to them
A lot of things I once liked became unenjoyable once I learned about the bad things an actor/writer/producer did. The knowledge can change how I see certain characterization or plot points, etc.
But if I enjoyed it in the past and somehow the knowledge doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of it now, I’m…okay with it?
I’ll certainly not support a problem person’s subsequent work. I won’t buy books from Badly Behaving Authors. My TBR pile is huge, and I can happily keep it slightly less huge by eliminating some options for moral reasons.
sorry, I flashed on Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, when the angry conspirator-hunting crowd tracks down the wrong guy named Cinna, who frantically exclaims “I’m Cinna the poet!”.
So someone yells “tear him for his bad verses!”
Wasn’t there a famous early-movies comedian who was cut out of any further career because of unfounded rumor and gossip? That’s an easy call-out, in hindsight.
As the folks above have expounded, most of us draw a line somewhere, but that Pale line varies a lot. Charlie Chaplin was an avowed communist – and a dedicated womanizer. I could care less about the former, but the latter would concern me depending on how far he went. Other might reverse the sentiment. And then, of course, there’s what you hear in the military and retired military about Jane Fonda…
I struggle with this a lot, too. I don’t pay for a lot of music or movies or whatnot at this point in my life, so I worry less about financial support, but how about enjoyment of the works? Particularly when it comes to my kids. My kid(s) are getting into Harry Potter, frex, as I was back in the dark ages when they were still being written. Do I encourage my kids to read them, or not? There’s plenty to read, for sure, but they’re picky so do I go with what they’re into or try to dissuade them and risk less reading? And what happens when they run into another problematic author? And how do you even define “problematic”?
I don’t know. It’s tough. I don’t think there is a right answer, but I can’t really fault anyone else for their choices in this regard, as there are a lot of pieces to it.
I have been thinking about this, too. I try not to consume media by people whose views I don’t agree with, but I’m not consistent. I wouldn’t watch Woody Allen films, but I still listen to Michael Jackson and AC/DC.
There is also the problem of how much I can make decisions for others, in this case my children, asme as @samiratou above. They do like the Harry Potter books, but now when I’m reading those for my younger kid, I get quite annoyed by even that story, not even counting the more recent outbursts. I still feel I can read those to my children (or let them read them) and perhaps raise the issue later. I think they will find the trans-hate comments and we can discuss that then.
Great overviews of a grey area.
No one’s mentioned Charles Williams. He had interesting visions in his very original writings – many with high morally intriguing implications – but all of which I suppose MUST be counterbalanced against later intimate biographies of him in real life. For example, read Letters to Lalage by Lois Lang-Sims, and and ask yourself if lower moralities exposed in her biography may also have influence in some of his high moral if opaque ideas. Here’s why I ask.
In the late 60s & early 70s I interviewed a few gurus for a college writing course, some who had “harems” for (more than likely) non-guru-like and baser desires. Erm, I got similar vibes from a commune I attended. I remember one thing particularly in all cases: how easy it was to “fall” for whatever leader that was there along with their wisdoms (I mean this non-sexually) … but then a bit later maybe wanting to take a shower and wish I simply hadn’t had the experience.
I guess none of us want to be lured; we want to see whatever we’re buying as forever transparently true, backward and forward; and we can’t help but wonder if we’re being hoodwinked when some things unexpectedly come to light. As is said in West Texas, maybe we won’t shake hands if things don’t seem right and maybe we’ll just mosey on by; or maybe not ride that horse that has a quirky thing about it, that we didn’t see the first time around. … Or maybe there’s a solution. (Read Ben Green, a horse trader, for examples of nasty horses that fit well for some things.) Sometimes you just need to look more steady at something without quick judgments – even at a work of art or whatever. But maybe you also should pay attention, if for some vague reason you begin to feel you want to take a shower. Then maybe you should mosey on and find something else.
Some people bring up the argument that cancelling means ‘no redemption’. There’s two points to address to that:
1. Saying you want to cancel (i.e. no longer consume the works of) an artist does not automatically imply this is forever. Whether or not the ‘cancelling’ person means that is situation-dependent, and if it isn’t clear, why would you assume forever instead of just asking “so what do they need to do to redeem themselves”?
2. Assuming redemption is a possibility, why would someone be wrong in ‘cancelling’ before a demonstrable redemption? The possibility of redemption does not void the current bad behaviour, after all.
Regarding the argument: ‘what will be left if we cancel everyone who’s behaved badly’:
Here’s an alternative viewpoint: Which people, who today are shut out of an industry, would be able to create and share their art if we made misbehavior so unaccepted that abusers and assholes are prevented from squashing potential artists’ success?
Since a given asshole abuser probably ruins more than one career, I suspect that, when we sum up the net gain and loss, we’d come out ahead in art production if we embrace more of a culture of cancelling than if we protect the abusers.
I’ve been meaning to write a blog post like this myself for a while now. So many names build up. And what about when you like the artist’s past work, or loved them when you were young, but as you grow older, they’ve changed. How do you stay true to your younger self’s memories?
Interesting to see some commenters slam Scott Adams for supposedly being a “Trump supporter”, thus the need to be canceled etc.
News flash: he’s not.
He simply was able to predict, based on past events, that Donald Trump was going to win, even when the late 2015 poll had him at less than 5%. He explains it all quite convincingly in his book “Win Bigly” (really, it’s a very good book. even if you’re close minded about the President, give this book a read). And if you saw somewhere (like Twitter) stating his political preference was as a Democrat, he’s not. He’s 100% independent, but because he was getting online threats etc., he announced that he was in order to get them stopped.
With some of the other artists mentioned here, some I do agree with the commenters on, and some I do not. For example, I still quite can’t bring myself to watch any Kevin Spacey movies, but by the same token, I have no qualms in reading the comic strip “Dilbert”.
As everyone here implies, it’s a matter of personal perspective/personal taste/personal beliefs when it comes to either accepting someone, despite their flaws/viewpoints (I know of quite a few musical acts that fall into the former category for me) or rejecting someone because of those flaws/viewpoints.
Once you have decided that [Artist] is a terrible person and you don’t want to ever consume their work again, how much effort should you spend telling people all about this any time [Artist] is mentioned?
Discovering that a celebrity or artist is a crappy human is a drag; I lose out on more entertainment that way.
To answer the question, I guess it would depend on the flavor of objectionable.
All assholes aren’t created equal, so there are some who’d get a pass and others who’d never again get one red cent.
More importantly, concrete evidence of said artist’s “crimes” or unsavory viewpoints would have to be available through a reputable and unbiased source.
For example, as a black woman, I am disinclined to plunk down money or devote time or brainpower to someone who thinks I’m something less than human.
I went through a brief New Adult stage and was reading a lot of Jamie Maguire, Webber and Carmack.
As literary junk food went, it was okay at the time, though I wouldn’t touch it now if it was the only reading material on the planet.
In any case, I had two of Jamie McGuire’s books on deck, found out she was a huge bigot and unceremoniously punted those…offerings onto the DNR shelf.
I then edited the reviews I’d already posted so that prospective readers could access the evidence of said racism for themselves and make an informed decision about whether or not to spend money or time on her work.
I’d feel like a perfect fool spending hours or days on an audible edition of a book penned by someone who believes I’m beneath them.
Most importantly, far be it from me to dirty up someone’s bank account with the funds of a subhuman.
Would I have responded in a similar fashion if the artist in question was anti- (insert group to which I don’t belong)? My answer is, probably so.
To continue, R Kelly’s music turns my stomach and makes me want a shower, and I wouldn’t touch an MZB or Junot Diaz novel at gunpoint.
Paula Dean (racist), Michael Richards (racist), Doctors Oz, Phill and Drew (Darwinist, covid downplaying quacks), Bill Cosby (rapist), Dog the Bounty Hunter (racist), Ray Rice (woman beater), and DMX (child abuser) are, in my book, permanently canceled.
I don’t judge their fans; I’m just not one of them and never will be.
I’d have cheerfully died before touching OJ Simpson’s “hypothetical” dreck but wouldn’t care all that much if others were curious.
As for enjoying something while keeping your money out of the hands of a problematic creator, been there, done that, but it was more about content being a reflection of political views than about attitudes external to the work. I got library copies of the books and refused to review them where Goodreads followers or friends could see. This way, I could enjoy the books without parting with money or recommending them to others via reviews or shelving.
Great subject, Athena. I can’t relate to many of your postings but this one caught my eye. The comments show, I think, that it’s a personal decision and one that depends on one’s position and the situation.
I think that one can separate the work from the artist and I like to think that I’m one of them. (Except for Woody Allen. Don’t like his stuff.) There are nice people that write/paint/sing crap, and vice versa.
Q: About when did John cover this subject? I’d like to take a look to see what responses were like then.
My personal stance is that it’s okay to like the things you like, and its okay to have strong and positive feelings about art that has problematic undertones, either the art itself or the artist. And I also think its okay that you can never look at the same piece every again in the same way without feeling betrayed.
Its perfectly reasonable to have the same piece of art exist in two different places in your mind. One the cordoned off feeling of what it meant to you, and the other how it makes you feel now.
For me, my personal line is that i’m not interesting in giving money to artist I vehemently disagree with, and will stop consuming their new works.
and I generally not recommend seminal works for me, that inhabit that weird superposition in my head, of both tremendously beautiful and extremely toxic.
Which always makes it slightly weird when people ask me what’s your favourite sci-fi book, and my heart says Speaker for the Dead, and my mind will defer to something else, and i’ll just name cool other books that I love.
Athena, I’m glad you tackled this subject, and in such a calm and thoughtful manner. I do think it comes down to a matter of personal choice. I refuse to let what “everyone” thinks or believes dictate my beliefs or behavior, but you can’t close your eyes to facts. There are people who are serial predators whose record with women over the years speaks for itself – Bill Cosby (and yes, I was a big fan, watched his comedy, even saw him perform live), Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Jeffrey Epstein. Then there is the “he said/she said” case of Woody Allen. As someone said above, I don’t believe it. You may well think it was sleazy, even unforgivable, how he behaved, but the child rape charge was Mia Farrow’s “woman scorned” revenge, in my opinion.
There are people, however, who I consider beyond the pale, and Mel Gibson is way up there. I would not only not pay to see him, I will no longer watch anything he appeared in. He is a vicious, virulent anti-Semite, period. But that’s strictly my reaction. As for authors, there are a few I’ve heard reliably from friends who are just @ssholes in dealing with the public. Does that mean I shouldn’t read them? I don’t know for sure, but I might not buy their books.
Again, nice post.
Generally, I come down on the side of separating the art from the artist. I think it’s OK to recognize that a piece of art is an excellent work while simultaneously pointing out the person is most definitely not. This extends into a lot of things – Thomas Edison was a liar and thief but we still use either his inventions or items derived from his inventions every day. Nicola Tesla thought eugenics was a nifty idea, but AC power still courses our houses and I think most of us are fine with that. Henry Ford was so, so problematical, but how many of us own Ford products?
Light bulbs are good (and yeah, I know even that attribution is questionable at several points), reliable electric is good, transportation that works consistently is good. The people associated with them, generally, not so much. But I believe that that’s OK so long as we praise the product and not the producer when the product, as a stand alone item is worthy of that praise.
Sounds like you were lucky this time – ideally, your own due diligence will reliably uncover the badness of the artist well before publishing time!
I haven’t read the WHOLE thread above, so pardon the inevitable repetition…
1. You’d probably appreciate Lindsay Ellis’ videos on Death of the Author, if you haven’t seen them already.
2. There’s not really such a thing as (legal) non-paying consumption of problematic media…somebody’s paid for it, whether it’s your friend or the library you’re borrowing it from. Piracy has its own calculus, and I’m not gonna go there.
3. Clearly there’s no single right answer. For my part I tend to come down on the side of not supporting living creators who are actively awful. This leaves a certain gray area regarding people who have done something awful in the past but have changed.
4. Like some others upthread, I do sometimes find myself viewing the art filtered through the lens of what I know about the artist–to find that it aged like milk. Some day after their respective deaths, I’ll revisit OSC and Cosby, and may find they’re not as appealing as they once were.
Miller:”Interesting to see some commenters slam Scott Adams for supposedly being a “Trump supporter”,”
Yeah, no. Thats not the problem. But thanks for the misdirection.
Scott Adams, after Hillary got the nomination in 2016, said: “If you’re an undecided voter, and male, you’re seeing something different. You’re seeing a celebration that your role in society is permanently diminished. And it’s happening in an impressive venue that was, in all likelihood, designed and built mostly by men.”[
Thats pretty fucking sexist.
Then in July of this year, he predicted that Republicans would be HUNTED if Joe Biden won.
Thats pretty fucking stupid and pretty fucking incindiary.
Adams is actively doing damage to continue sexism and to attack democracy. He’s a straight white male who plays the victim when he doesnt get his way.
As for Orson Scot Card, people, you liked Enders Game because you first read it as a kid when you felt misunderstood, exploited, and lied to by adults, and the story is about a kid who feels misunderstood, exploited, and lied to, by adults. And then as you grow older, nostalgia wont let you see the story for what it is.
But if the first time you read it is as an adult who has taken at least some responsibility for their mistakes in their life, then Enders Game is a crappy story that indulges a kid’s warped view that everything is everyone else’s fault. Ender is a Mary Sue for fuck’s sake. On steroids.
Its crappy, indulgent, writing. And maybe when you read it as a kid, growing up in a lousy, shitty childhood, maybe you needed to be indulged by at least one thing to get through that time, but, gawds is it a lousy book.
Let’s not talk about the general crappiness of Scott Adams further in this thread, please. It’s mostly a tangent.
I wonder if this is partly a “fanboy” (the term is nongendered for me) thing, as in we mix up whom “we would consume” with whom we “would be a fanboy of.”
I can think of two household actor names, one being an Oscar winner: One name was not nice to a Canadian teenage actor, one was not nice to a Canadian transgender. Both names I would totally avoid at a party, even if fanboy peers couldn’t believe I was being so petty and missing such an opportunity. Yet I would still consume their art.
There are reports of Peter Capaldi (a Doctor Who my age) being nice to folks, so him I would talk to in a tourist bar… but never as a fanboy. Maybe I wouldn’t let on that I knew who he was, not right away. Maybe not until I pulled out my Tardis wallet to pay.
Perhaps the Platonic ideal of this problem is the Pernkopf Topographic Anatomy of Man. It is considered by many to be the single most important anatomy textbook in the world, and has many details that other texts miss. How did it manage this feat? By being compiled by a NAZI doctor who dissected bodies of those executed by the Reich for being Jewish or gay or simply protesting the fact that others were being killed.
Should doctors ignore this resource? Should they attempt to replicate it using ethically-sourced cadavers? Or should they continue to use it so that those deaths mean something?
As with all good questions, there is no easy answer.
Much of the commentary here is on the side of people making individual choices about which art they will continue to “consume” and which they won’t. That’s good. But it neglects the fact that there are people that want to impose their preferences on others, which is the essence of “cancel culture”, and that’s not so good. If I want to see performances of Wagner or photographs by Mapplethorpe, but my country outlaws them, my individual choice doesn’t help me.
So there is more to this than individual choice. WIth art as with everything else, we need to come to terms with the fact that other people have different beliefs and preferences than we do, and they may love things we find reprehensible and vice versa. There has to be a social, not just individual, way to accommodate hundreds of millions of people who all want different things.
My own opinion is to show everything and censor nothing, and let people choose for themselves. My impression is that this view is less widely held than it used to be. That’s regrettable.
No doubt it’s a tricky proposition. There is a Certain Author (not your dad, love his work!) whose work I initially really enjoyed, but he got ickier and ickier as time went on. Then I found out he held certain viewpoints that not only I did not like (I can put up with that) but went far beyond that into a realm of, to quote Jeff Lebowski, that shall not abide! I culled my personal library a couple of years ago and when I came across his books, they went in to the dumpster rather than to the thrift shop or Friends of the Library store.
Personal decision. And I work in a library and don’t like the destruction of books. It wasn’t like they were high literature or irreplaceable.
Very tough proposition, cancel culture, filled with personal decisions.
And this is why I don’t look into the lives of authors or artists much. Scalzi is one of my 2 exceptions because this blog is entertainment.
I don’t want to know the views of the content creators because it effects my view of the content.
The content will speak for itself. If I learn the creator of content is awful whether I continue on will depend on how much I liked the content. I still tried reading MBZ’s books even after learning what they did. I used a library to do so like I do with many new to me authors but that still ends up supporting them…and now I imagine her daughter gets a chunk of the book revenue…so that’s good right? I didn’t like MBZ’s books so I quit reading them.
Ethics in general always play a part in everything we do. So much information about anatomy and understanding of the body came from Josef Mengele. How can anybody use that information, withoiut understanding how the acquisition taints it? Mountains of information were generated by outright Nazi scientists, liberated through Opoeration Paperclip at the end of WWII, which was used to get us to the moon. Should those achievements be tainted by those who helped create the accomplishments, even though the vast majority of people involved had likely actually fought against the Nazis just a few years previously? Years ago I worked for the USAF doing computer simulations of Chemical and Biological weapons simulations right there at WPAFB. Only late in my time at that contractor did I discover that so much of the lethality information that we used was generated by the Soviets in their gulags, the Japanese with their Unit 731, plus the aforementioned Dr. Mengele. Caused me enought heartburn that I eventually left, but not for more than a year. I don’t have answers. just questions …
I do think that regarding “art” (movies, books, …) that increased knowledge of the artist can change our understanding of the art that the artist creates. Watching a movie that includes an actor or is part of a director’s body of work with the knowledge of their behavior in certain spaces can add nuance and subtlety to your understanding of the work itself. If you consume art that the artist has direct knowledge about, and you know they know, you can impute certain things (beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder) to the artist. It can inform, it can digust, it can turn off, it can turn on. When Ai Weiewei performs his art, our understanding of him informs our understanding of the art he creates.
Is it acceptable to enjoy art by “questionable” people? As in so many things, “it depends”. What are they accused of, and is their awful behavior reflected in their work? If so, how do you feel about it? Art is meant to make you feel something, right?
Hyman:”there are people that want to impose their preferences on others, which is the essence of “cancel culture”….
Well, since you then make the logical leap that the next thing that happens is “my country outlaws” the art, i will have to say no, that is not the “essence of cancel culture”.
Your making the classic “help help im being oppressed” whine by folks who cant see any difference between, say, a private blog blocking a user, versus, say, the federal government passing a law that forbids that person from speaking anywhere.
The classic whine that any attempt by any person public or private to squelch someone in any way is somehow a violation of the first ammendment freedom of speech in every case, just lets everyone know you have little interest in basic categorical distinctions.
I don’t know. One thing: why should the one blind spot a person has define their essence? What about all the good things they do, have done, and keep doing? It may depend on what that particular blind spot is, obviously, and how close to home it hits, and has that person actually done anything good. I don’t really believe in the existence of evil people (or good people, for that matter). We are all weird balls of timey-wimey stuff. I mean, we contain good and evil and undefinable characteristics in differing ratios. Judge the things people do and say. Don’t judge *them*. Adore the good things people do and say. Be wary of fully adoring anyone as a whole; you’re only going to be disappointed in them at some point.
(Loving someone and accepting them doesn’t require approving of everything they do and say, mind.)
If I were writing a blog about the art of someone who has done something problematic, I might prepend it with “this person has made great art that I think makes the world a richer and better place, but has also done some horrible things”… I don’t know.
KE: Soviets had a lot better ejecting seats in their fighter jets than any Western manufacturer. Reason being, when developing the system, they offered some people sentenced to Siberia a deal: if you act as a test subject and survive, you’re free. Of course, after Cold War ended, all Western manufacturers promptly licensed the technology from the Russians. Was that okay? The same gray area as with art, I guess.
Mary Frances: I know exactly who the novelist you mean is, and went through the exact same process and came to the same conclusion. I no longer can read the books. I just have a visceral revulsion now to them. Like you said, it doesn’t really make sense, but I just can’t anymore. But I certainly don’t judge others like my sister who know about the author and still enjoy the books.
You could take the HBO series Lovecraft Country as a model for how to react. Generally, I think it is a serious mistake to view artists of the past by the standards of today. Society evolves but dead people cannot evolve with it. On the other hand, I haven’t watched a Woody Allen movie since he became a pedophile, not even the earlier ones. Gives me the creeps. But that doesn’t make Annie Hall or Sleeper worse movies. I guess it is an individual choice. You can’t come up with a rigid rule on this that fits everyone nor can you impose your rule on someone else. As far as blog posts go, however, you do always have it in your power to put the work in the perspective that you think fits it.
Israel has an informal but effective ban on Wagner. Two years ago, Israel Public Radio apologized for playing part of the Götterdämmerung on air.
In 1990, the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati and its director were charged with obscenity for exhibiting Mapplethorpe’s work (and were acquitted at trial, but the chilling effect can hardly be underestimated).
Right now, Netflix is being pressured to remove “Cuties” from its lineup.
The essence of cancel culture is to cancel. That is, not to urge people to choose for themselves, but to force that choice on others through the application of social, legal, or fiat pressure, and to prevent “problematic” art from being made or seen at all. For example, cancel culture acted to prevent YA novels ‘Blood Heir’ and ‘Ember Days’ from being published. (Months after withdrawing their book, the author of the former went ahead and published it anyway. The latter is still in limbo.) It acted to halt showings of The Mikado, and to prevent white opera singers from performing the role of Otello. It even acts to get white people fired for saying “niggardly” or “那个”, or for accurately reading from classic literature and judicial decisions.
Facts are facts, no matter how they came to be known. Discarding true information about the universe seems like poor practice.
The argument is made that unethically acquired knowledge should be ignored, because that will prevent others from acting to acquire knowledge the same way, just as child pornography is made illegal because the act of making it was illegal, and allowing those images to be seen will encourage others to make more. I think it’s more productive to put procedures in place to prevent abuse, punish the people who act unethically, but to keep the knowledge anyway.
By the way, throwing away such knowledge now happens routinely. If you read the Retraction Watch blog (and you should!), you will see many papers that have been withdrawn for their authors failing to have dealt correctly with their Institutional Review Board.
“Is piracy a viable option in this situation?” For Johnny Depp, isn’t it kind of mandatory? :-)
(He’d been a brilliant actor for a long time before that, of course.)
There are problematic artists whose work I seem to still enjoy, and some I just can’t, and some I could but won’t.
Cosby’s early stuff about being a kid in Philly and later being a parent talking about “all kids are brain-damaged”? I thought that was funny when I was a kid, and also as an adult. I wasn’t bothering to watch TV in the 80s, but I can’t see enjoying the Huxtables with what we know now. And I know lots of people who knew MZB, the original Breendoggle was long before my time, but I can’t see asking them to rehash long-ago horrors, or hunting down any Darkover books I missed.
Dilbert? Dude, I worked for a phone company when it was new, and after I moved to California I’d see Adams’s car on the freeway while we were working at different phone companies. But the last decade or so, it’s really gone downhill, and he’s been eaten by Demons Of Stupidity. As somebody said about comedian Dennis Miller “I remember when he was liberal – and funny.” And I’m glad I’d gotten tired of Woody Allen before everything about him came out.
Haven’t seen Baby Driver, and now I don’t plan to, but Spacey was brilliant in The Usual Suspects and Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, and I’m still occasionally haunted by American Beauty. By contrast, Lethal Weapon and Mad Max were fun, but lightweight, and Mel Gibson trying to do depth didn’t grab me even before he started blaming (((The Jews))) for everything when he got drunk.
One of my main criticisms of criticisms of “cancel culture” is that, like complaints about political correctness, they imply a general disregard for marginalized groups and appear to advocate for consequence free speech and behaviors.
I submit that for many “cancel culture” critics, it’s easier to shrug off unsavory attitudes or reprehensible behavior if it is aimed at groups to which they do not belong.
That said, I wouldn’t attribute to bigotry what can best can be explained by privilege.
Now, should people automatically cancel people who’ve been charged with problematic attitudes or behaviors? Maybe not. At the very least they should be looking for verification of the offense before lowering the “cancel” hammer.
Do they have an obligation to do this? Absolutely not. People get to decide not to spend money or time on accused child molesters, alleged domestic abusers or probable bigots.
They also get to side-eye people who openly or tacitly defend problematic artists.
Should those who eschew the cancel hammer be harassed or harmed? Absolutely not.
Will they be judged? Probably. Whether or not they should be is a matter of debate.
Finally, I think you are conflating government censorship with cancel culture, something that puts your argument on a slippery slope.
“if they are”
proofreading is a wonderful thing!
We’re beginning to lose focus a bit, I think —
D. C. Sessions says: “It isn’t the answers you get, it’s engaging (wrestling with? Jacob?) the questions.
Welcome to the ring.”
Reminds me of being a student helper in the late 1980s: the professor I worked sometimes interviewed applicants to the medical school. He’d ask their views on subjects like abortion & assisted suicide, not looking for specific answers but wanting to know that they had considered the subjects carefully and could explain their positions. I’m pretty sure anyone who said they had *no* opinion on the hot-button topics was not considered a serious candidate.
I, like so many above, am not consistent on this particular subject..but I do think everyone needs to decide on their own. I’m generally on the side of not supporting new works by creators under a cloud, but will most likely see the next Harry Potter franchise film eventually, virus permitting. So many other people are involved in the production besides JKR, and Mom enjoys the movies.
I think it’s interesting to assume one’s art is “clean” if no harm is known of the named creator, despite the fact that with almost every work of art numerous other stakeholders/ contributors are involved, and get a chunk of the profits – publishers, commercial funders, advertisers, etc etc etc. Not saying this as an argument to consume stuff you don’t want to, but I think we can rest assured that much of the art and entertainment we consume is hopelessly morally compromised whether we know the identities of the bad people involved or not.
With dead authors, there’s a lot of pick and choose… there’s some Lovecraft I can still read, some I can’t. Some Shakespeare plays, not even a really good staging and interpretation can save. As others have pointed out, especially with works in the public domain, there’s a limit to the damage that can be done.
With living authors and artists, I have to take it on a case by case basis. Bill Cosby was such a betrayal; “Bill Cosby, Himself” was one of the funniest things I have ever seen, but I can never watch it again. To be honest, I already found OSC to be depressing and rather horrifying before I found out about his problematic views and actions. JKR was never that important to me; I’m disappointed that she went off the deep end but I honestly preferred the movies and had no real plans to re-read her books, or any interest in reading what she’s publishing now, so it’s a moot point.
Closer to my heart, there’s one big name author whose work I adore who has some pretty credible accusations leveled against them. I’m not going to throw out their stuff, but I’m not going to buy anything else of theirs… not until they’ve apologized and made restitution and some time has gone by. On the other hand, there was recently an accusation made against another of my favorite authors that, as far as I know, hasn’t been substantiated, so I’m fine with still buying their stuff. I hope that nothing changes so as to make me regret that decision.
There is a section in one of the Benjamin January books by Barbara Hambly (Crimson Angel) where the protagonist is looking over the medical journals of a sadist, torturer and murderer and has to decide what to do with them:
“Knowledge, once given to the flame, is gone. And he was physician enough to know that however the knowledge had been acquired, it was precious. A treasure that would save [the] lives … On every other page, January thought, ‘that’s what I needed to know that time I took care of old M’am Passebon … That was EXACTLY the way poor Allys Berte’s baby was tangled up in her womb …'”
Eventually, he heeds the words of his best friend:
“The law proclaims that it is wrong to keep the profits of a crime, not because of spite toward the guilty, but because keeping the proceeds is an incentive – a permission – for others to commit crimes for the sake of the rewards. And it is perilously easy to commit crimes against the helpless.”
My answer, like most others, varies on a case by case basis. I have Orson Scott Card and David Eddings on my shelves, but I haven’t listened to Bill Cosby in years. I go back and forth on Dilbert, and JK Rowling is particularly difficult for me to wrap my head around.
So, yeah, great question, and one without an easy answer.
I tend to differentiate between those who have caused physical harm and those who’ve just said (or tweeted, or wrote) bad things. The word is not the deed.
“Rowling’s most famous works, the Harry Potter books, preach broad tolerance. Yet the same woman who sympathizes with fictional werewolves struggles to extend the same charity to people undergoing real-world transformations. She also argues in those novels that fear is morally compromising and courage is an antidote to bigotry. In her June manifesto, Rowling acknowledged that personal experiences with domestic and sexual violence inform her views on gender identity. It’s tragic to think that the person who invented Harry Potter has had her own experience of the world so deformed by fear.
But boycotting Rowling’s new work or denying you ever liked Harry Potter doesn’t negate her power to persuade and entertain. And it’s far smarter and more strategic to dig into works by an author you consider both influential and dangerous to understand what makes them effective.
Even Rowling’s most disappointed critics might take away this lesson from the Harry Potter books if they revisit them. Denying Voldemort’s return didn’t do a darn thing to help the Ministry of Magic. The only way to defeat evil and ugliness is to find out where they come from and to face the nature of their power. Disavow Rowling’s views if you disagree. But don’t give up the model she created for how to fight back against them.”
I will note that if you do decide piracy is justified because of an author’s horribleness, you really should donate the unspent money to some charity, preferably one opposing the specific horribleness in question.
(Didn’t OGH do something like this once? Though I think he did 10x.)
What if “the word” is in support of bad deeds that are currently ongoing? For example, I just learned that Liu Cixin made comments in support of the Chinese government’s horrible treatment of the Uyghur people. Is it enough if I just don’t watch “The Three Body Problem” series when it’s released, or, in light of the “Cinemax theory of racism”, do I have to cancel my Netflix subscription? And if that’s not complicated enough, the people calling for Netflix to cancel the show are republican Senators!
“The word is not the deed.”
True, but for some groups, the slur is the deed, especially when we’re talking about adults with full knowledge of the implications of their words.
Roseanne was one of my favorite people until she referred to someone who looks like me as an ape.
She made the conscious decision to dehumanize a person of color.
Was this an act of physical violence? No, but it was a deed nonetheless.
She can be as racist as she wants to be, but she fucked up royally when she let fly with a racial epithet on a public forum.
I felt and still feel horrible for the cast and crew of the new show, but Roseanne is a decades old woman and public figure who should have considered the potential consequences of letting fly with dehumanizing statements about a person of color.
But again, it’s all relative.
I’m not boycotting Full or Fuller house just because Lori Loughlin is a cheating cheater whose privileged mamma bear antics probably cost deserving students a spot at a prestigious university.
She broke the law and did tangible and lasting harm, but I don’t dislike her as much as I do Roseanne.
Maybe this has to do with the fact that her crimes, while disgusting, don’t have as harmful a legacy attached to them as does explicitly stating that an African American woman is an ape, something that has and continues to justify lynching and other hate crimes.
Maybe I’d feel differently if I were the parent of a child who lost out on a quality education because someone with money tried to secure it for one of their own. Who knows?
Ultimately, the sticks and stones defense is all fine and dandy for those who aren’t the target.
This is something that affects me with things like painting, and music, or movie directing, but is almost never a dilemma with writers. Thus far, as others have expressed with MZB, once I know the unsavory proclivities of the author, I see the fingerprints of that belief sprinkled all through their work, and I no longer even want to consume it. There’ve been a couple of occasions where I’ve spotted unsavory world views in someone’s writing, eschewed it, and then been utterly unsurprised when unsavory things come to light later. Something fundamental to how someone views the universe can’t be kept entirely out of their writing, if the writing is at all honest.
Our intrepid murderess mystery writer, though, I can actually read. I remember finding that bit of history, and thinking “Oh. That’s why her murders always seem to be unexpectedly gruesome for the murderer, and things don’t go to plan! That’s how it was for her!” Yet, I don’t catch any whiff in her writing that she holds murderous views any more. Quite the opposite, there’s a lot of subtle hinting in there that murder always goes wrong, that the reasons for it are selfish, and the consequences are far-reaching and unexpected. Which is likely also from personal experience.
Leno Riefenstahl was a great filmmaker who made two great propaganda films for Nazi. I’ve watched ‘Triumph of the Will’ and ‘Olympia’ because they show how easy it is to get sucked in. If someone asked whether to watch them, I’d say that they have to decide for themselves. ‘Triumph of the Will’ is sickening in retrospect.
I’m glad you opened this subject up because we need to think about what we do.
I’m not reading Marion Zimmer-Bradley again. Nor J K Rowling (who I never really enjoyed, so
No Orson Scott-Card, I had a gay cousin who I really loved, No Bill Cosby, I love too many great women who don’t deserve to be treated like that.
Murderer who wrote murder mysteries? hard to say, I worked with a guy who served time for killing his father, just after his father killed his mother. He served his time and was an OK guy.
I’ve heard about other famous authors who were a little squirmy bad, not rapists, not bigots, but still. It’s hard to make a hard and fast rule, as every example is very different. So I do one by one as I go along. Thanks to everyone for insightful comments, and to Athena for bringing up the topic.
An episode of the 1960’s animated Lone Ranger ended with a close up and him saying, “No man should be both judge and jury.” Because it was a kid’s show, he didn’t add “and executioner.” I guess cancelling, as in Johnny Depp before his trial has even half concluded, is a form of figurative execution. How unworthy of us.
If my father’s generation, and my eldest brother’s generation, did not cancel it’s not because they were more stupid or less virtuous, it’s probably because they had less social media. Someday there will be T-shirts that say “social media kills.” (There’s a topic for Athena) But for now, we are not facing up to our responsibility to understand our power: Like Spiderman said.
I can’t do JK Rowling. Harry Potter, I just can’t separate. Too much money, too much platform, too much active and public.
I don’t do Orson Scott Card for similar reasons.
Woody Allen- with the two above I can point and go this is what they did, this is what I don’t like. With Woody Allen… Not convicted on anything, serious disagreement on what is up there, and I have no proof. Woody Allen is either not being treated badly enough or being treated horribly… And I find myself not boycotting him, so much as avoiding him and his work because I don’t know and I don’t want to go there. I don’t think it is particularly fair on my part, but I don’t know what is.
Bill Cosby, Funny routines, but I just think rapist. Who wants to watch an unrepentant rapist.
The hard one for me? Chinatown. Roman Polanski. I love the screenplay for Chinatown. I love the acting. To me it is a great movie. All of the actions and charges against Polanski came afterwards. No one who worked on that film knew.
If he was a minor character actor, it wouldn’t stop me. (and that is probably where I place Baby Driver. I cringe at Kevin Spacey, but move on.)
But Polanski is the director. His victim wants to let it go. But I still think it was rape and he avoided justice. To. This. Day. (and in society we get to face the courts we have not the one’s we want to face.) I haven’t watched Polanski’s new work. It isn’t like Roman Polanski is walking around advocating for what he did… Only that he should be free of it.
And I haven’t watched Chinatown recently… But damn do I love that movie. I can’t say I never would and I have a hard time not telling people to watch it. But today nope, tomorrow I might???
I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. I don’t think I will ever get it right always, even by my own lights.
Even with knowledge, I can’t seem to find a working rule here… So many variables.
While there is always other art out there by people who are not problematic (or who you don’t know to be problematic yet…), I take the position that art is by its nature not fungible. Sometimes you can find other works to substitute that may share some of the same qualities, but each piece of art and its interaction with the viewer is fundamentally unique. Knowing problematic things about the artist can easily affect the way we feel about their art, and if you can’t stand to consume any more of a person’s work because of what you know about them, that’s fine. But I think it’s also fine to want to read or view a particular piece by a deeply problematic creator for reasons that are specific to that piece. It doesn’t mean you have to be a fan of the creator.
People voting with their feet or making decisions about how and on whom to spend their time in money is hardly comparable to execution, not even of the figurative kind.
Public figures who show their buts aren’t dead when we do, they’re just humiliated and lighter in the pocketbook.
No one is being exiled. No one is legally prohibited from purchasing their offerings or viewing their shows/films.
Hardly anyone gets erased from the public consciousness or stricken from the annals of history.
To continue, the context in which Roseanne hocked up an ethnic slur doesn’t really matter.
I don’t really care why Alec Baldwin verbally abused his 12-year old daughter.
I don’t care if Rihanna insulted Chris Brown’s mother, manhood, sexual prowess or talent.
Even if she was the aggressor, he didn’t have to beat her face in to subdue her.
I don’t care how private Dwane Chapman’s racist conversation with Tucker was supposed to be.
I love Snoop and his music, but his misogynist attacks on Gayle King for her deplorable conduct during that CBS interview lower him in my estimation.
I and others get to decide whether or not to plunk down money or spend time on these people.
And again, all of the above ass-showings are wrong but are not created equal.
I’m honest enough to admit to being more outraged by conduct aimed at groups to which I and mine belong. Am I in the minority?
Also, it always amazes me how people with white daughters vehemently defended Ray Rice’s behavior when they all but called for OJ Simpson’s hanging.
I also have to wonder if the same people expressing sympathy for Chris Benoit would do the same if Michael Jordan committed a similar crime.
I wonder if the Magic Johnson draggers are just as critical of Charlie Sheen.
And before someone suggests that this stance applies only to people and phenomena with which I disagree:
1. Jeremiah Wright’s irresponsible and inappropriate remarks were unbecoming of a man of God; Obama’s choice to distance himself from Reverend Write was a smart one.
2. I agreed whole-heartedly with the Dixie Chicks (now The Chicks) but understand the response they got.
3. I love George Michael’s “Shoot the Dog” and was 100% behind that song’s underlying message. Still, I get why so many Americans were livid when it was released.
4. Gayle King asked a fair question, one that many journalists would ask. For the record, I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing anything like that so soon. I don’t necessarily agree 100% with the kind of response she got but understand why she got it.
Bottom line, artists and celebrities aren’t entitled to consequence free speech, nor are they entitled to unconditional support because talent or prominence.
Just as we shouldn’t attack folks who shrug off the bigotry and other atrocities their favorite artists commit, we shouldn’t get dramatic about people who form opinions about artists’ repugnant attitudes and behaviors and act accordingly.
Still, I reserve the right to side-eye privileged folks who rush to defend privileged attackers of groups to which they do not belong.
jenfullmoon: “Rowling acknowledged that personal experiences with domestic and sexual violence inform her views on gender identity.”
I’ve read her rants, and I still dont understand what that meant. Is she saying she has experienced physical abuse/battery from a man in a public place, and the abuse/battery continued until she withdrew to a women-only bathroom, which the man refused to enter because it was illegal? Battery is illegal, but entering a woman-only bathroom was a legal broach too far for the abuser? Is she saying women-only bathrooms are some sort of magical sanctuary?
I’d say either she has such severe ptsd that she doesnt get how idiotic her argument is, OR, she’s simply a bigot who is trying to hide her bigotry/oppressor status by invoking her victim status.
Racists have for centuries argued that they need to oppress black people because, they argue, blacks are more violent. The racist defends their violence by invoking nonexistent victims of blacks.
Rowling is advocating for the oppression of trans people by arguing that trans protection laws would enable violence against women in a way that has no basis in reality. Rowling is justifying real trans victims by invoking non-existent bathroom sanctuary victims.
It is standard bigot operating procedure.
Again, beginning to wander a bit. Let’s tighten things up, please.
For me, the problem Polanski movie is The Pianist, which is just an unbelievably great WWII/Holocaust picture. I saw it before knowing anything about Polanski or seeing any of his other movies (why yes, I do live under a rock as far as movies/Hollywood go) and was horrified when I found out about Polanski’s history while googling about the film.
I still feel like Pianist is an incredibly important film, particularly for Americans who don’t quite grasp either the Holocaust or what the destruction was really like in Europe. But balancing the importance and effectiveness of the message with the repulsiveness of the messenger is really difficult.
If the horrible creator is dead, their stuff becomes fair game again. Else we lose history.
Also, so many people make movies that it doesn’t seem to fair to cancel the movie because of one person, but obviously that’s an individual choice for every consumer.
Also, also, I’m glad you allowed for the ignorance of the consumer because some of us live under rocks.
[Deleted because the hairsplittery here is both off-topic and slightly exasperating — JS]
Indeed this thread was great (thanks Athena);and I wish the Powers-that-be would provide exceptions to that 2-day rule of stopping “thinking bits.” I’d certainly continue with this thread for quite a while.
OK. Now, though I think JKR is indeed a brassy idiot for her transphobic fears, I feel I can yet applaud her for those morally uplifting efforts in the Harry Potter epic; and see no reason to forebear reading THAT in the future. Too, (maybe in added agreement with gottacook), also much of Woody Allen’s works were before his bad public choices; and much of his honesty in his earlier works are still something I can appreciate. And again, I guess I can “respect” Charles Williams’ apparent efforts to make forays into ethical territories yet unexplored; even though I’m a bit horrified by how he apparently applied Tantric methods to stimulate his creativity …. which I’d compare I guess to those many efforts of musicians in the 60s and 70s made in using drugs to stimulate creativity. I love those songs.
Guess I have to say NO to many Artist’s methods & eccentric visions & bad judgments … but YES to much of their actual art????? Cancel culture I’m not so happy with.
Our species is screwed up but there are still beautiful things that pop out like occasional flowers even in trash dumps. I like to sniff those flowers too. Guess I’d still buy Harry Potter.
I think that it is easier to make this decision on movies or music that the creator has died. Part of that is that we can recognize where society has changed, and that while people can change, they are a product of society at the time. It came out that Bing Crosby was horribly abusive to his children, but I can still enjoy movies that he made. Holiday Inn is one of my favorite old movies, but the scene where Bing and Marjorie Reynolds sing a song in blackface is just yikes. However, in 1942 when the movie was released, blackface was not controversial.
I also think that the quality of the film/book/music makes a difference. I enjoy a good dumb action movie as much as the next person. But if it turned out that the star was a bad person, I wouldn’t miss any particular action movie too much. On the other hand, if a truly great movie like The Godfather, Dances With Wolves, or Forrest Gump had the same issue with one of the actors, I would have a harder time giving up watching it ever again.
A man privileged to be a university professor asked his class—I forgot what geographical region it was—about if they had lived in the U.S. pre-civil war, then what would be their position on racially based slavery. By his report, the young idealistic students all say they would be abolitionists. I was not told what happens next: whether he had the heart to tell them about statistics, or remind them of the peer pressure they had just escaped in high school.
In the present decade, of course, by “bad people” we are talking of those who go against their current society: You and me.
I have an impression the prof stayed silent, forgiving his students because he understood them. I think we all like to kid ourselves, me included. Every person of spirit wants to ride a white horse.