Separating The Artist From The Art: The (De-)Glorification of Celebs With Bad Behavior

In today’s society more than ever, is it possible to enjoy art and performances from celebrities, athletes and artists that have checkered pasts?

The idea of rock and movie stars behaving poorly is certainly not a new one. As long as recorded video and journalism have been around, there have been hundreds of examples of celebrities acting out, falling on hard times, or even committing crimes. Some of the most well-known celebrities have had their mug shots plastered around the internet while outlets like TMZ make careers of getting the inside “scoop” on scandal. If you’re a younger person, you may not understand the power that tabloid magazines like the National Enquirer or GLOBE had back in the day.

Regardless of the medium in which we ingest the information, the fact remains: people are generally fascinated with celebrities and love a good train wreck. Stars fall from Hollywood quicker than they do the night sky and we’re just sitting and waiting to see the show.

The question to debate here is thus: regardless of the infamous act(s) by a famous individual, can you still separate the artist from the art?

John Campea has brought this topic up from time to time in the past and more recently and this question really is something to delve into. Because you may be a fan of someone’s work, does that negate the severity of the act of that person? While there will certainly be a good amount of differing opinion on this topic, it’s fair to bring up some examples and try to weigh things against each other.

For example, John Campea used the example of Kevin Spacey regarding his sexual assault issues and if he could still watch his films despite the fact. While his answer isn’t relevant here, though I respect his opinion; it’s certainly interesting to think about and there many other similar situations that could be substituted.

As a fan of all types of rock music, I had been a fan of the band Lostprophets. Years into my fandom, a story broke regarding the lead singer and a child, and while I don’t want to go into details here, the information regarding the case will make you sick. With this new knowledge, I erased the band from my music library and refuse to listen to their music even to this day. Although only one band member is guilty, the rest of the band also falls into the mess. It may be a different story if it were say: a guitarist or drummer, (which is an entirely new argument on its own) but because it was the lead singer, it really cemented my decision. I couldn’t bear the thought of hearing a wretched human-being sing songs that I really enjoyed any longer.

There are always two sides to every coin, and to present myself as fully transparent (hopefully this honesty doesn’t come back to bite me) I’ll give an example of the converse side. We all remember Mel Gibson’s infamous recording of his DUI arrest where he spouted sexist and anti-Semitic remarks to police officers. While it was a really awful thing to have done, I can still appreciate his work as both an actor and director and think he’s extremely talented. Do I think he’s a great person? Probably not if he had those kinds of thoughts in his head, but the severity of his act wasn’t on the same level of pedophilia, rape, murder or sexual assault. It doesn’t make it acceptable by any means, but it still is commonplace in the world today.

If I were a person that was deeply offended by Mel Gibson’s ravings, I wouldn’t want to see him appearing in films and wouldn’t want him to continue getting work as a director. But because it didn’t impact me they way it would have for people of different genders or religions, I don’t weigh it as heavily as a another person may. There’s no right or wrong, in my opinion, because different factors and experiences shape the way people react to different things. This very factor weighs heavily into the original question at hand regarding the separation of the artist and the art, and by all logic and reasoning, truly can’t have one single answer.

Whether it’s Charles Manson selling his prison paintings or Chris Brown fans buying his music while knowing he’s a woman beater, at its core, the thought of truly separating the artist from the art SHOULD be a simple one. Without knowing the origin of one of Manson’s paintings, a person may genuinely like the piece. The addition of the knowledge of the origin would be the reason that person wouldn’t want to enjoy it any longer. This situation is certainly more difficult in visual media, however. A person may be able to get over a fact depending on whether they enjoy an artist’s music because they’re only hearing it, but seeing the same person’s face may sway things in the other direction.

The simplicity in its uncertainty is what’s truly both beautiful and paradoxical regarding this question. The art of subjectivity may seem lost on most people today with the prevalence of internet trolls and keyboard warriors, but truly being subjective on the matter will lead to one simple conclusion: some people can and some people can’t or won’t. It all comes back to the individual’s prior experiences with the act in question.  There will be sympathizers and people who can move on, but there is truly no quantifiable way to find the correct answer because there are those different “levels” of these behaviors as mentioned previously.

Taking your own political, religious or social views out of the mix, it’s hard to argue against the rash of news stories that have been coming out since the #MeToo movement started (assuming each individual case is founded) and how it’s impacted the Hollywood scene. Knowing that actors, directors, producers and executives will no longer be getting away with their wrongdoings is a win for all of mankind. But can you just stop enjoying their works?

So you’re now left to give your take on the issue. Can you yourself separate the artist from the art while having the prior knowledge? Does it come on a case by case situation? Or do you swear off all people who have these incidents happen? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

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