It’s a question that’s been rumbling around both online and real life for a while, brought to the fore by #MeToo and various associated scandals of the rich and the famous — and the question is simple:
Is it possible to separate the art from the artist?
It’s one I’ve wrestled with a lot. Do I still want to read H.P. Lovecraft knowing he was a racist? Can I still enjoy American Beauty after what Kevin Spacey has done? Is Annie Hall still funny and charming when you consider the (very credible) allegations of child molestation that have dogged Woody Allen? And with the release of Leaving Neverland comes the gut-wrenching detail of the allegations against Michael Jackson. Do I still want to listen to Thriller? Should I?
The answer to that is as simple as the question:
No, I don’t. And no I shouldn’t.
Jackson, Allen, Spacey and countless others I could mention, have been built their careers on the backs of people — in awful cases, children — who they have hurt, damaged and destroyed. They have used their fame, wealth and power to shield themselves from the consequences of their actions.
Whether you believe the accusations against Jackson, it is a matter of record that he slept in the same bed with children for decades. And he was rich enough, surrounded with enablers and yes-men, with enough money to buy off any would-be complainers, that he got away with it. Just like Allen got away with it, despite the giant red flags of having married his ex-partner’s adopted daughter and making film after film after film featuring him (or in his later years a surrogate character) bedding much, much younger women.
There are more examples than I can name. They need not be listed here, but we can all reel off the names of abusers living or dead, who make — or have made — art we love, be they musicians, actors, directors or writers.
Where does that leave those of us that enjoy the art, but also believe the victims? For me, the choice is easy. Ignore the art. I can live a full and happy life without hearing a single note of Michael Jackson’s music. Nor do I need another Kevin Spacey performance, or another Woody Allen movie. There are other authors than Lovecraft.
There are artists out there doing brilliant work who are not abusing their power and abusing other people. Let’s listen to them, and enjoy their work, and consign the monsters to history.
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