Is It Okay To Enjoy The Art Of (Allegedly) Awful People?

Earlier this week, Ronan Farrow wrote an essay in The Hollywood Reporter challenging the media to talk about the charges of sexual abuse that his sister, Dylan, has leveled against their father, Woody Allen. Farrow pointed out uneven handling of the story and the fact that Allen is rarely asked about the charges (charges that Allen has made it clear he won’t talk about). The reemergence of this case in the public eye — along with the Cosby accusations, and the long-simmering story of Roman Polanski’s sexual assault — brings up questions about how we relate to the people who make art in our society. The problem itself isn’t new, but it does deserve to be reevaluated as sensibilities shift and evolve.

The questions Farrow poses are important and deserve a place in our cultural conversation. So we asked three writers — Steve Bramucci, Vince Mancini, and Jenni Miller — to discuss the issue — not in hopes of finding a solution, but simply because thinking about these issues is a better alternative than staying blind to them.

 

Steve

I read about all of those Hollywood power players asking for leniency for Roman Polanski on Filmdrunk, and I remember it registering highly on my “this is f*cked up” meter. Because the guy drugged a 13-year-old and had forcible sex. He also had multiple accusers. So why is Whoopi Goldberg going to bat for him? How does he get Martin Scorsese in his corner after that? Is it because of all the time that’s passed? Is it some vague notion of a “different era”? Or is it connected to his immense creative talent?

Of the questions posed above, the one that seems scariest to me is the last one. Because it’s weird to think that talent makes us more forgiving of people when it comes to sexual assault. Artistic brilliance doesn’t magically balance out horrible behavior. They don’t operate on the same plane; there’s no causality between the two. I mean, the idea that artists and visionaries should be forgiven for eccentricity is timeworn, but how far does that extend? The Cosby Show was something I adored as a kid, but it hasn’t been in my purview as an adult, so I haven’t been forced to confront the issue, not really. But I think Ronan Farrow’s essay brings up interesting points about Woody Allen. He’s basically saying, “Please don’t work with this man, please don’t watch his movies.” If we’re willing to assume that Farrow’s allegations are true, I tend to agree with that line of thought.

We all have to draw lines in the sand. For me, if a person is generally bad (cursing, berating others, destroying hotel rooms), I can still enjoy their artistic output. I might not want to hang out with them, but I can enjoy their work. But when someone goes full-sinister (sexual assault, child abuse, murder), I don’t want to support the stuff they make. Besides, the information I have makes the work less enjoyable. Vicky Cristina Barcelona just doesn’t play like fun, pansexual romp anymore when I’ve got the entire Farrow/Allen backstory in my head.

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