What do you do when your heroes fail you? This is a question that most people have been forced to think about pretty often recently. Our heroes in the media and entertainment industries have been dropping like flies, and for good reason. Powerful and well-known male actors, producers and musicians have all been facing accusations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment. The sheer quantity and nature of these accusations suggests that powerful men have been using their positions to abuse and harass women for decades. Most would laugh at the idea that these revelations should come as a surprise, but the truth is that it is easy to forget sexism and misogyny can still thrive in an industry dominated by liberal ideology. The dilemma this creates for media consumers and fans of certain individuals is how to enjoy or respect the creative works of objectively awful human beings. Separating the art from the artist certainly works to an extent, but what do you do when the art is inextricably linked to the personal life of the artist?
The truth is that separating your appreciation for works of art from your feelings toward the artist is a very real and important concept. However, there are plenty of situations in which it is not only right but necessary to reject an artist’s work based on their personal actions and views. For example, the allegations that Louis C.K. behaved in a sexually perverse manner toward female colleagues fundamentally corrupts a large amount of his creative work. If you go back and watch his work, from stand-up performances to talk show interviews, C.K. used masturbation and sexual perversion as common touchstones for his comedy. These jokes that were first received as painfully candid and darkly humorous are now seen for what they actually were: a creepy attempt by a comedian to normalize and destigmatize his own perverse desires. In C.K.’s case, his art is an extension of himself, and his own crimes must be taken into account when considering his artistic works.
However, other recent revelations require a different response. In cases such as the Harvey Weinstein accusations, the unacceptable and disgusting behavior of an important executive should not ruin the reputations of important films that his company helped produce. In other words, Pulp Fiction’s position as a classic and revered piece of American cinema should remain unchanged, while the Weinstein Company should crumble. The relationship between a film and a film company executive is not an intimately personal one, and it isn’t unreasonable to separate the film from the executive responsible for its production.
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, Nov. 27 print edition. Email Jan Alex at [email protected]