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On bad people and good art

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.

Wizards (1977)

Ah Bakshi, the man they couldn’t tame.

I’ve reviewed two of Ralph Bakshi’s movies now, and even though my feelings on them were, oh let’s just go with “mixed” I have to say I have been looking forward to this one quite a bit. Why? Well, partially it’s because the animation reviews tend to be more fun to write, and also because, even if I don’t think they’re necessarily good films, they’re always a hell of a trip and fascinating to watch and talk about. Look, the guy walked into mainstream animation and just started throwing petrol bombs and I’ve always said I’ll take fascinatingly bad over dully competent any day.

And yet, the more I read up on Wizards (Papa Bear Bakshi’s third feature) the more anxious I got. Wizards is Ralph Bakshi’s most popular movie, and the one that, by Bakshi’s own admission, no one gave him shit over and genuinely seemed to like. This is the movie that even the squares seem to dig.

“You sold out, man.”

“Fuck you, man.”

Could that work? Could Ralph Bakshi actually make a standard, mainstream animated film? Or would his movie lose that inherent grungy Bak-shit insane quality that’s really the only thing that makes his output interesting? What happens when Ralph Bakshi shaves and puts on some damn pants? Let’s take a look.

(more…)

Day 5

So today was my reading and the reason I delayed posting this is that I’m still a little overwhelmed.

It went well. It…went really well.

It started a little rocky because that long wordy first scene that I was worried drags a bit? Well, it drags a bit. But Scene 2 kicked everything into high gear and it just motored from there. I was really happy with how it was going.

Then it ended and after the applause the three judges (sorry, sorry mentors) got up to give their feedback.

And they were crying.

As Ms Mouse said later when I told here “That could be very good or very bad”. It was good crying, not “what have you done to theatre?” crying but as I found out later, the play touched a nerve with this American audience that I didn’t anticipate.

The ending of the play is sad, to be sure. Nikolai South agrees to be framed in exchange for the freedom of Lily, an artificial intelligence whom he has come to love. He spends almost thirty years in prison and is tortured and psychologically broken, losing his sight and his mental faculties.

Finally a revolution sweeps the old order away and he is reunited with Lily, but he is so damaged by his ordeal he can scarcely even remember her. So not cheery stuff but that wasn’t what elicited such a strong reaction from the audience.

There’s a character called Nadia, comic relief in some respects, a very young functionary in the new government. She’s overwhelmed, emotional, overworked and swinging wildly between extremes of joy and grief.

She’s the first character in the play who’s not living with the perpetual fear of death. And you know that if this nation is now being run by people like her it’ll be all right. The last lines of the play are Lily and her husband looking out over a post revolutionary landscape.

HUSBAND: It’s a wreck. It’s a wreck run by children.

LILY: Yes. Let’s see what they build.

Sonetimes people read things into your work that you never thought of or expected. For these Americans, this story of young people finally taking control and casting down an old brutal order…

Well, it hit pretty hard.

It was humbling to see. And I can never repay them.

I was also roped in last minute to narrate Tom Barna’s Past, Present, Future, a post apocalyptic retelling of the nativity. Rehearsal’s today, reafing tomorrow.

Tonight’s production was Sycorax, a one woman show about the mother of Caliban. Before the show started we were informed to our shock that Demene Hall, who plays Sycorax, had had collapsed in rehearsal and had to be evacuated out of Alaska for medical treatment. Instead, the play was read by its author, Y York, and dedicated to Demene.

Day 4

Today I saw a bald eagle and it was so goddamned majestic I almost puked.

Today was also the first rehearsal of my own play The Caspian Sea which I only now realise I haven’t told you anything about. It’s about…no, you know what? I’m tired, let me just get a programme.

This is a play I’ve been working on, on and off, for six years. It’s a dense, wordy thing with a shit ton of world-building and I’ve never really been sure to what extent it works. Guess that’s why I’m here. Kim Estes, who was meant to play the main part of Nikolai South, was unfortunately delayed so instead his part will be played by Mark Robokoff, a wonderful actor from Anchorage. I really lucked out with this cast. They’re all incredibly talented and more importantly, great humans. I think we’re in good shape.

After that was my second monologue workshop, this time with Frank Collison. Frank’s a fantastic actor who’s appeared in Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman and Twin Peaks but he’s also married to Laura so he didn’t change anything about my monologue because Laura already has it how she wants it and Frank Collison is no fool.

Today I attended my first playreading where I wasn’t also acting and got to enjoy Arthur Jolly’s The Lady Demands Satisfaction which is a farce that is so funny the Joker could weaponise it.

This evening’s play was Spikes by Schatzie Schafers which is about the Enron scandal and how it destroyed the lives of ordinary Californians in retaliation for their state’s pricing policies. It’s an excellent piece but enraging and bleak as hell.

I heard someone behind me saying “I sure hope there are some comedies coming up.”

Amen brother.

Day 3

So after two days of glorious sunshine Alaska said “Hope you enjoyed that. NOW DROWN.”

It rained pretty much nonstop. Fortunately, I’m Irish and this is my natural enviroment. Today was my one to one Monologue workshop with Laura Gardener and it was amazing. By the end of it my monologue had gone through a complete change of tone, accent, delivery but it felt like a conpletely natural evolution.

After that was The Insurance Play’s reading.

Play readings are a weird experience. You’re reading from a script that’s in front of you on a music stand (a drama stand?) but you’re trying to act and make eye contact with the other actors while not losing your place in the middle of a dramatic monologue. It’s tricky.

As I already said, the play is a belter and I think we did it justice.

Every evening there is a full staged production of a play and tonight’s was “You are the Blood” by Ashley Rose Wellman (who wrote my monologue) which may well be the best play I’ve seen in years. It’s about the daughter of a serial killer who makes friends with the woman who wants to marry her still incarcerated father. It’s hilarious, and chilling and heartbreaking and perfect and I was watching it like this:

Gracia, signore.

Day 2

Alaska has changed me.

I have become someone who gets up at 6 AM.

WILLINGLY.

I can only hope that any further changes will be less drastic, like turning into a wolf and feeding on the flesh of the living.

Speaking of breakfast.

Bob and Diane just got added to my will.

Today’s schedule:

So as well as having mt play read I’m also reading for another playwright. I’ve been cast in Tamar Shai Bokvadze’s The Insurance Play as Ryan, a man who buys a cancer patient’s life insurance policy so that he gets paid out when she dies and then realises she ain’t dying quick enough. It’s an awesone part to play, a genuinely nice guy who slowly transforms into a complete monster.

Today was our first rehearsal and it all went swimmingly.

I’m also performing a monologue from Ashley Wellman’s “Living Creatures” playing a character who’s essentially death, telling a woman why she can’t take her dead child back to the world of the living. So I’m attending a monologue workshop run by actors Laura Gardner and Frank Collison, who are terrifying in the way that all incredibly talented people are. So I’m sitting there watching incredibly talented actors perform their monologues word perfectly and becoming more and aware that I’m a massive imposter and I do not have this thing learned off. Not close.

Finally I got up and stage and did the best I could. After a pause Laura looked at me and said gently.

“Now, you know you’re going to have to be word perfect on the night, right?”

“Yes. Sorry.”

“Okay. But that’s a really good start.”

And exhale…

Day 1

I arrived in Valdez (pronounced “Valdeez” not…um…”Valdez”) on Saturday morning and was met by Dawson Moore, the organiser of the conference who very kindly gave me a lift to my B and B.

I’m staying in “A Place on Coho”, which caused some trouble with customs.

“Where will you be staying, sir?”

“A Place on Coho.”

“And what is the place called?”

“A Place on…look, let me just give you the PO Box number.”

It’s a beautiful place run by Bob and Diane Gibb. Bob met me at the door and patiently explained that my room wasn’t ready yet because, you know, it was SEVEN AM.

I apologised to Bob, explaining that I had become dislocated from the space time continuum and that time no longer held any meaning for me.

I also told him I could phase through walls if he would like to see?

Bob very kindly asked me to come back in a few hours (better man than me) so I decided to explore Valdez.

Valdez is like Helena Bonham Carter, beautiful and weird.

It has a different feel from anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s incredibly quiet. It’s amazing to stand in the middle of a town of three thousand people and still be able to hear waterfalls in the distance. In Dublin everything is clustered closely together but here there is just so much SPACE. The roads are huge, the cars are all big four wheeled drives and there are no traffic lights. I assume the thinking is that because the roads are so wide and you can see for miles in all directions, if you get hit by a car you deserved it. Then there are the rabbits.

They are everywhere and I suspect they are secretly running this town.

I’ve learned that this is actually the second Valdez, the first having been devastated by a massive tsunami in the sixties and rebuilt by the Army Corps of engineers on a safer location. For this reason a lot of the civic buildings like the government offices and the high school (GO HUSKIES!) are rather utilitarian prefabs. But the houses are all incredibly unique, with no two looking alike.

It really looks and feels like nowhere else.

I got good and lost, contemplated going on a nature trail, saw the sign instructing me what to do if I encountered a bear, decided walks are lame anyeay, demolished a steak breakfast at The Fat Mermaid and returned to the B and B where my bed was now ready and waiting.

I am not too proud to admit I wept.

I was supposed to register for the conference and maybe see a show but instead I slept twenty hours.

Whaddya gonna do?

Flight 4: Achorage to Valdez

Look at this thing.

That’s the kind of plane you expect to be flown by a wisecracking mercenary with a heart of gold who only accepts payment in treasure maps.

Length: 40 minutes.

Food eaten: Nowt.

Movies watched: No seriously, look at this thing.

Movies? I’m lucky this thing had SEATS.

Mouse almost fucked up by: Caloo calay! Mouse actually flew like an adult this time!

Dawn was breaking as we flew into Valdez and I actually got to see Alaska up close. It’s like flying to Olympus.

God damn.

Flight 3: Chicago to Anchorage

Length: Five and a half hours.

Movies watched: None! No movies! What are we, animals? (Rhetorical question).

Mouse almost fucked up by: Collecting only one of the two boarding passes needed.

Fun fact: I am now nine goddamn hours out of sync with time and I think I cam phase through walls.

This was my favourite flight so far, we were so high you could see the curvature of the earth and I couldn’t even tell if the surface below was land sea or cloud. Then we came down low enough to see the mountains.

This is going to be a good trip.