Art Made by A**holes


What would you do if you spent an hour in an art gallery, found an exhibition of work that astounded you, moved you, made you laugh and cry and think so hard that you were exhausted and elated by the time you’d seen all the pieces … and a week later you found out that the artist was a chauvinist jerk, or a misogynist, or guilty of sexual harassment? Can you still admire the man’s work? Or has everything he’s done as an artist become so tainted that it’s no longer worthy of a spot in the gallery?

Can you still enjoy a Harvey Weinstein film? A Woody Allen film? The work of Dustin Hoffman? Kevin Spacey? Bill Cosby?

It’s weird, isn’t it? The curtain gets pulled back and people we may have thought highly of turn out to be assholes. Or worse. Maybe they’re assaulters. Rapists.

Still, there’s this body of work out there: movies we love, television shows we love, albums we love, books we love. Has it all become shit in light of the moral failures of these men (let’s face it, it’s mostly men doing the harassing)? Does it depend on how great the failure is? Is there a scale?

While I would never, never, never attempt to in ANY way excuse these moral failings/crimes, I think there are issues here worth exploring before we simply relegate all of these creative works to the entertainment trash bin of history.

It almost seems a given that men who are driven to seek fame have intense power issues. And once they achieve it, once the adulation starts to puff up their egos, rises them to “rock star” status, is it really a surprise that they abuse their celebrity? Especially if they start getting treated like little gods who can do no wrong. Power corrupts, as we know.

Even folks we might be tempted to valorize can fall mightily. Right, Bill Clinton? JFK? MLK? Here’s your power and … whoops, you abused it. Whaddaya know? It takes a strong man indeed to react with restraint, remain faithful to his wife, when he has scores of young, beautiful women falling at his feet. (In Weinstein’s case–and others’ who are guilty of assholery–they weren’t “falling at his feet,” but rather they were vulnerable in the shadow of his perceived power.) The onus of responsible, moral choice remains on the man, clearly, but I don’t think it’s a great shock that the area of sex and sexual attraction is an Achilles heel for most men. Kingdoms, literally, have fallen.

Was it a mistake for us to have supposed these beloved (by many) figures were particularly good, decent, moral men? It seems pretty safe to assume that a fair amount of the art we enjoy is being made by assholes of varying degrees … but, in many cases, we just don’t know it. No doubt, there are authors of great works of literature written long ago who we will never know were abusive jackoffs.

We now live in an age where it’s getting harder and harder to have secrets. Hell, ya can’t even run a stoplight at 3 a.m. without some damn camera taking your picture. Phones with cameras are everywhere. News spreads Twitter-fast. And, while men still have way too much institutional power, the voices of women are, more and more, being heard, respected, and believed. Men can’t just dismiss women as “hysterical” and get away with a wink and a nod. These are all good things (except the red-light cameras) for most of us, but not so good for men who believe they ought to be able to behave badly and never be held to account.

The #MeToo movement is a hopeful sign of our times.

We’re likely at a cultural turning point. More and more diversity (of race, gender, and sexual orientation) in our world means ever-more diversity in our businesses, politics, and art. Sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism … these ideas have been falling out of favor in the wider world for decades and this will probably only accelerate. The kinds of values and attitudes that helped “create” men who thought they could touch any woman or girl they wanted because of their status as an actor or director or artist or politician are ever-diminishing. This, too, is all to the good. As it should be.

But we still have the creative legacies of many fucked-up men; quite an archive of art made by assholes that’s unlikely to disappear in its entirety any time soon.

Films are not singular efforts. Weinstein may be an unforgivable monster, but if writers and actors and directors have made something memorable that happens to bear his name … do we refuse to watch it? Do we never watch “Rain Man,” or “Kramer vs Kramer,” or “The Graduate” again?

Tell me, where’s the line for you? How bad can a man behave and yet you are still able to admire the body of work he leaves behind? Is there a way in which you would feel comfortable separating the jerk from his work?

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