artistic license

What do we do about the art created by people who have done things we don't like?

30th September 2018

We’ve all been there; we’re really into an artist’s work, whether it be music, movies, sports or something else, and then we realise that said star is a shitty person. A really shitty person, like R Kelly or Harvey Weinstein shitty.

What do you do? Do you continue following that person, effectively condoning their actions? Or do you stop following them altogether, no matter how much you enjoy their artistry?

People often say: “I’m supporting the art, not the artist.” But, is that really possible?

The short answer is, obviously, no.

No matter how you may feel in your heart of hearts about a person, they benefit financially and, thus, socially, from you purchasing their content. At the same time, it’s not your fault that they’re a horrible person, so why should you miss out on something you enjoy because of their wrongdoing?

The ability to mentally separate an artist from their art depends on what that art is and how visible the artist is in it. It’s a lot easier to fake cognitive dissonance when watching a movie produced by the Weinstein Company, due to the fact that Harvey Weinstein is nowhere to be seen or mentioned — the company has since been rebranded as Lantern Entertainment — than it is to listen to R Kelly’s Bump n’ Grind.

Earlier this year, Spotify decided to drop Kelly and the late XXXTentacoin from playlists, but you can still listen to their music if you search for them.

Spotify is making the public statement that it doesn’t endorse abusers but privately it still supports them to some extent

Even big companies don’t know where to stand on the issue of bad people who make good art. Like potentially many of us, Spotify is making the public statement that it doesn’t endorse abusers but privately it still supports them to some extent. Seems a little half-hearted and disingenuous. Weinstein was fired by Lantern, but plenty of big Hollywood stars get away with things like abuse and violent racism or homophobia, facing very few repercussions.

Is it okay to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, starring alleged domestic abuser Johnny Depp, considering hundreds of other people also worked hard on it?

What about people who are not alleged criminals but just a bit shady? Last week it was revealed that 31-year-old Drake texts 14-year-old Millie Bobbie Brown advice about boys and sends her “I miss you” texts — not absolutely bonafide creepy, but he has reportedly dated teenagers. If you don’t agree with this behaviour, should you really listen to his music?

Athletes who play for a team seem to get lighter punishments

Athletes tend to be forgiven the most quickly. The NFL’s domestic abuse policy states that for a first domestic violence incident, the player will receive a six-game ban. A second incident and this ban becomes lifetime — except, of course, that the former player can appeal this lifetime ban after just one year.

The policy was put in place after TMZ published a video of Baltimore Ravens running back Rice Ray punching his then-fiancee, in an elevator, and then dragging her unconscious body out of it. Rice was, initially, given a two-game ban (yes, we’re absolutely fucking serious), before backlash forced the Ravens to fire him and the NFL to suspend him, indefinitely. Rice would end up successfully appealing the suspension, arguing that he was suspended twice for the same offence. However, he hasn’t played on a team since.

Weinstein’s old company is now called Lantern 📸 Thomas Hawk

Athletes who play for a team seem to get lighter punishments, due to fanbases being passionate and wanting the team to win, at all costs — even if that cost is a man who beat a woman into unconsciousness being able to carry on with his life as if literally nothing has happened — because it’s about the team, not the individual.

The UFC also showed leniency to its star, Jon Jones. The forced UFC Light Heavyweight Champion ran a red light and crashed his car into two other vehicles — one of which had a pregnant woman inside it — and then fled the scene, coming back later only to retrieve the cash that was in his car and then flee again. Jones was stripped of his title and suspended, but reinstated six months later.

“I’m supporting the art, not the artist” is an excuse to continue to enjoy the work of problematic people.

We can all be better at putting our foot down

If we don’t make a stand, nobody is going to do it for us. The whole reason we’re in the position of being able to decide is that promoters and managers don’t want to take albums off the shelves, recast roles in blockbuster movies and drop star players from a roster. They’ll do that when we kick off. Only then will they understand that things like assault and rape are not minor misdemeanours in someone’s private life. They’re destructive, life-altering crimes.

Yes, it’s hard, but we can all be better at putting our foot down and choosing to celebrate the work of good people, rather than those who rip through other peoples’ lives and still manage to be celebrated and successful.

The good news is that the gatekeepers of art — the sporting organisations and movie and music producers who make decisions on who gets hired, published and promoted — don’t want to lose money. If every time we choose not to buy the art of problematic people it takes a few quid out of their pocket, they’ll soon get the message.

30th September 2018