A few days back a question was put to me in the comments that I decided needed a full blog post to answer. The question was this:
“Yo Mouse. There’s something that’s been on my mind for a while regarding the whole #MeToo movement: should movies and TV shows with actors/directors/whatever who are guilty of sexual misconduct be (to borrow a quote from your Song of the South review) “sealed away, never to be seen by human eyes again”, or could they still be watched but without forgetting the actions of the people behind them?”
Before I answer I would like to introduce you to Sharpson’s law: Dogma is inherently immoral.
What I mean is, if you take any moral principal, no matter how universally agreed, and make it absolute, sooner or later it’s going to do harm.
Killing is wrong. Absolutely. No question. But is killing always wrong?
Give me a few minutes and I could probably come up with dozens if not hundreds of instances where killing would be morally justifiable. This is the problem with dogma. It creates moral laziness. It turns ascertaining right and wrong into a box ticking exercise, and if you fall into that mode of thinking sooner or later you’re going to tick the wrong box. All this is my extremely pretentious way of saying, there’s no simple “yes” or “no” answer to this one.
As a writer, I think that the notion that only good people can create good art, and therefore if someone is revealed to be a bad person their art is worthless is absurd on its face. It’s also an extremely Victorian attitude. As Oscar Wilde said “Books are neither moral or immoral, they are well written or badly written. That is all.”
But that does not mean that we should never consider morality when it comes to art. We should consider morality in everything we do, and especially in a capitalist economy where how you spend your money is, more and more, seen as a kind of imprimatur. The Weinsteins of this world operated and continue to operate because we loved the art they created too much to care about the sins they committed.
But this opens up another question:
Harvey Weinstein created Pulp Fiction. But so did literally hundreds of actors, cameramen, techies, publicists, the writer, the director and on and on and on. Should all their work be consigned to oblivion because one of their number was a scumbag? That hardly seems fair.
On the other hand, refusing to let these considerations change your viewing habits at all looks a lot like “I just don’t care”, and “I just don’t care” is not good enough anymore.
So, instead of giving a hard and fast answer as to whether or not to boycott art by made by awful people, I’ll just offer some suggestions.
1) If the offender in question is dead, it’s irrelevant. Yes, Wagner was a terrible Anti-Semite. But he’s been dust for decades and you refusing to listen to Ride of the Valkyries accomplishes nothing but inflating your own sense of moral superiority. Speaking of.
2) If you’ve decided to boycott a particular artist, all well and good, but don’t do it just for bragging rights because it’s not about you. And especially…
3) Don’t brag about boycotting art you were never going to patronise anyway. I’ll never watch The Apprentice or listen to Chris Brown, but even if Trump and Chris Brown were two of the nicest guys who ever lived you couldn’t make me with a gun to my head.
4) Don’t insult or belittle someone who continues to appreciate the work of an offender. Everyone has a right to enjoy whatever art they wish. Flip side:
5) Don’t insult or belittle someone who refuses to patronise the work of an offender. Everyone has a line in the sand and often it’s less a logical well thought out thing than an instinctive gut reaction. John Lasseter’s “Inappropriate Hugging” isn’t enough to get me to swear off Pixar, but I’m not going to watch that Gravity Falls episode with Louis C. K again. Does that make sense? Honestly, no. But that’s where my line is.
6) Just…just…just be nice. Jesus.
7) It is perfectly acceptable, and indeed laudable, to pirate the work of offenders so that they don’t see a red cent.
8) Feel free to separate the artist from the art. But “separate” is not the same as “forget”.
9) Last one. If you know that a piece of art was actually created by harming an innocent, then it’s no longer art, it’s snuff and should not be watched ( or at least not in unedited form). I’m specifically thinking of Last Tango in Paris but there’s almost certainly others.
Anyway, that’s my answer. I look forward to the reasoned and polite debate in the comments.