Seeing in 4D. A woman gazes up at a film. She sees both the women who have experienced sexual harassment and are rising up out of this travesty and the men who have been accused. It is impossible for her to only see one side.
When I first heard about Louis C.K. one of my friends said he was “disappointed.” Disappointed that one his favorite comedians was a terrible person. Disappointed that now he can’t laugh at his stand-up or sit back as another episode of Louie is cued up. I had no idea what to say. My reaction leaned far more towards disgust than disappointment. Still, I couldn’t help but question my hypocrisy. I’d watched Manchester by the Sea a few weeks earlier and while Casey Affleck’s allegations were years ago and settled in court, the accusations are equally repugnant. Why was I was able to separate the sickening claims against Affleck from his indie masterpiece but couldn’t allow the same for Louis C.K.?
This question now rattles around my brain constantly and Affleck and C.K. aren’t the only offenders. Any look through pop culture shows more of the same stories from Chris Brown to Woody Allen and even our greatest legends like Hitchcock have more than skeletons in their closets. Yet, some still rock out to Fortune in ignorance, watch The Pianist with ease, and or like me, pay thirteen dollars to see Manchester by the Sea. As more men are added to the list of accused daily it begs the question, what do we do with their work?
Is it possible to distinguish the morally reprehensible artist from their art and should we even try?
I’ve yet to find a satisfying answer.
Some argue for total separation or as Seth Garben of Guff puts it. “The art is not committing a crime, the artist is,” and therefore it’s unjust to attach the actions of the creator to their creation. While that may seem adequate to many, allowing such a clear separation on top of the already inherent urge to forgive celebrities makes forgetting their transgressions that much easier. Even more, it allows these men to live on, both monetarily and historically, through their work. In response, others propose the opposite strategy: vote with your wallet and refuse to fund the accused. Yet, art is not created by one person. Weinstein produced Pulp Fiction, Spacey was the face of House of Cards, and R. Kelly wrote Ignition, but none of them were alone. When we boycott these works we forget and forsake the Uma Thurmans, Robin Wrights, and hundreds of innocent crew members behind the scenes. Even still, our application of any method is entirely imperfect as Christian Blauvelt of BBC highlights, “It doesn’t help that the ‘let’s separate the art from the artist’ policy can be so inconsistently applied – or that we only believe in that credo when we want to.“ Our reactions often depend on predisposed feelings towards the accused, evident in my own response to C.K and Affleck.
I later talked with my friend and discussed the C.K. situation again. As much as I would have liked to present a clear rule book, I honestly can’t tell him or anyone whether it’s ok to watch Louie again or keep their collection of Mad Men DVDs and I won’t judge if they do. Instead I’ll say three things: don’t forget, don’t censor, and don’t leave the silenced behind. Whatever you do decide to watch or listen to, know who’s behind it and who they truly are. Choose purposefully with information and context, not in ignorance, willful or not. Instead of boycotting the morally questionable starring men, support the active and outspoken leading women. Vote with your wallet by endorsing those who have been silenced and now have time to shine.
Most importantly of all, hope.
Hope for the continued exposure of these abusers, hope for new voices to come forward, and hope for a better future for the artistic industries. As much as this is a travesty, it’s also an opportunity. Ben Travers of IndieWire says it best, “The people who were silenced and thrown out and kept from working by these predators will be able to go forward and thrive.”
Now go watch Ladybird, Wonder Woman, or A Wrinkle in Time.