No Quarter: Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Sex…
It’s the equal curse and blessing of our digital age; that previously unimaginable ability to share and disseminate information like nobody’s business, and put everybody’s business in the open for all to see. The tabloid newspapers, and sites like TMZ and Gawker, do a brisk trade in exposing the infidelities of sports personalities and stars of reality TV, feeding into the never ending “build ‘em up, smash ‘em down” cycle of popular culture. The cult of celebrity is real, and whether you choose to engage in it or not, you can’t ignore its power. But away from the web’s ambivalence and the sensationalism of the red top press, there exists a kind of celebrity separate from the common flock , held in higher regard, the thinking person’s pin-up. Let’s call them artists.
That artists are not necessarily good people is not really a surprise. The biographies of many of the great innovators and masters in all fields of artistic expression are filled with debauchery and ASBO-worthy behaviour, from bigotry, to addiction, to murder, and worse. But to deny the value of the art they produced is impossible, so those transgressions are put aside for the sake of preserving their work for later generations. And, if we’re talking about Caravaggio, for example, that’s easy. He’s long dead and gone, and so is that moral obligation to be shocked. All that’s left now is the art for us to study and revere, totally independently of the person or any criminal behaviour they may have committed.
But reverence for the person is nothing new either. Liszt generated a frenzy in his audiences comparable to the Beatles or Biebers, and is often cited as being the first celebrity back in the 19th century. So where does the difference lie? When it comes to the creators of the art we love, are we spreading muck just because our new toys let us, or is there a genuine need to expose the crimes of the supposedly unassailable, and see real social justice done? Would we rather stay in the dark?
How to reconcile love for a piece of art with the possibly horrific actions of its author is a debate that recently has been unavoidable, although for some it’s apparently simple. In many media discussions of the resurfaced allegations surrounding Woody Allen, people referred to the novelist Lionel Shriver and her assertion that Allen the man is unimportant; his work is separate from his personal life, and his actions won’t taint her affinity for it. While many would see that as correct, to many others it’s irresponsible and does a great disservice to those really affected. When similar incidents keep occurring, eventually so will the apportioning of blame and the most readily available target is always the most visible, the creator and performer. Sadly, similar incidents do keep happening, with actor James Franco the latest to be embroiled in a scandal involving a much younger girl, and experiencing an inevitable backlash from his fans, who, for what it’s worth, are not solely comprised of the kind of 17 year olds he would meet on the internet.
Still, the idea that boycotting a film, or song, or exhibition could change someone for the better or force them to confess to a crime is a noble one, but pretty farfetched in reality. It’s easy to see why many advocacy groups would choose to do so; however, it leads to a kind of negative reinforcement which can have the same deifying effect on a person’s psyche as putting them on a pedestal. Until the media stops canonising and condemning artists, we’ll never be able to objectively view their creations without them being coloured, positively or negatively, by thoughts of their personal lives. Only by letting our favourite artists be human first can we create an environment where admission of personal guilt doesn’t signify the end of a career, but is the first step to curing the ills of society it helps to illustrate. No amount of witch hunting or blind eye turning does any good, but who knows, compassion might. After all, artists are people too; let’s make them behave like it.