Joss Whedon and separating the art from the artist

So recently there was an article written by Joss Whedon’s ex-wife about his infidelities, emotional abuse, and the performative nature of his so-called “feminism”. It put the internet in a frenzy, with people who were fans of his aghast and swearing off his work, and others trying to – if not defend him – at least downplay his transgressions. And coming off the heels of that revelation are rumors about Louis CK and his own peccadilloes (in this case forcing up-and-coming female comics to watch him masturbate), which is making fans question their devotion to him as well.

Anyway, I’m not writing this article to talk about the particulars of the rumors and accusations of these two (though I’m personally on the side of the victims in both cases), but rather the effect it has on consuming their art. And Whedon and CK are far from the first artists to spark this particular conversation, as the recent accusations of Bill Cosby’s multiple instances of sexual misconduct, Mel Gibson’s ghastly racist tirades, or even Roman Polanski and Woody Allen’s famous molestation cases – among many, many others – can attest to. So the question becomes: is it okay to watch and consume art of artists who are awful human beings? And if so, does someone thus become complicit of their behavior by buying and patronizing their art? And, furthermore, does it taint any other artist who has or will collaborate with them?

So, first off, I want to say upfront that anyone can come up with any number of reasons not to watch, listen, or otherwise consume art. That decision is ultimately up to the individual. I mean, I know people who don’t watch Tom Cruise movies because of his attachments to Scientology, or Paul Rudd films because they make them feel ugly and insecure. Hell, I myself haven’t watched any recent Roman Polanski films for that very reason – knowing full well I’m missing out on some great films. But the thing is, that is a personal choice – I don’t begrudge others who wanted to see critically-acclaimed films like GHOST WRITER or even THE PIANIST.

But how can that be? How can I say an artist is morally reprehensible, and not stop people from consuming and patronizing their work, thus letting them continue unabated? Well, for one, it takes more than just a director, or actor, or really any one person to make a film or television series. So even if Allen, Polanski, or Whedon are assholes behind the scenes, does that mean we should not watch the hard work of the cinematographers, actors, set designers, etc. that worked on the film as well? Or are they all complicit in their actions?  I mean, look at it this way: most of us have worked some kind of menial job with an asshole manager, many of whom also probably sexually harassed employees or embezzled money or any number of heinous shit. Are we then complicit in their actions because we needed a job and they happened to be the boss?

More importantly, there’s the famous motto “separate the art from the artist”. Trust me, it’s easier said than done (i.e. my own personal aversion to Roman Polanski). Thing is, most people – especially those in positions of power – tend to abuse it. It’s human nature. This is not to justify their actions, but rather to illustrate that so many of our great artists were actually pieces of shit behind the scenes. I mean, you can get high and mighty about the recent revelation about Whedon’s behavior, but just look back at Alfred Hitchcock’s treatment of Tippi Hedren, or really any of the actresses he worked with and either obsessed over or sexually-harassed. Does that make PSYCHO, REAR WINDOW, or NORTH BY NORTHWEST any less of classics? No, of course not. But that also shouldn’t alleviate or condone his actions.

So where does that leave us? Do we keep shrugging our shoulders and admit that people suck and just enjoy the work they make? Or should there be some sort of accountability? Well, of course there needs to be accountability! As in, the individual artist should face the consequences of his actions, according to the law – whether it be settlements, imprisonment, or worse. However, that does not mean it has to taint their work. Meaning, we can still enjoy FIREFLY and THE AVENGERS, or Louis CK specials, as well as CHINATOWN, ROAD WARRIOR, ANNIE HALL, and THE COSBY’S – even if some of their creators end up behind bars. Because at the end of the day, these things are bigger than just one person. And, furthermore, even assholes can be right about stuff, or say things that are profound and life-affirming. Remember, Confucius was a raging misogynist and Gandhi was reportedly super racist.

Now, look, I’m not saying you have to consume art from people who are pieces of shit. Just that you don’t have to feel bad if you do – because oftentimes we’re not privy or even aware of the artist’s behavior until way after the fact anyway. Furthermore, the problem isn’t that we watch movies made by bad people. No, it’s that we as a society often don’t punish individual artists for their actions, no matter how heinous. Hell, oftentimes we even celebrate it! Not only that, but we then victim blame, deflect, and even get defensive over artists we admire. Because we conflate the art with the artist, and while that’s a hard thing to separate, it’s not impossible. We have to accept our heroes might be bastards and motherfuckers who deserve to be punished, while also accepting that their work might be deep, profound, and world-changing. Those can be mutually exclusive. Once we realize that, we might be better off. Hopefully.

I mean, if nothing else, the revelation has definitely made me way less willing to defend DOLLHOUSE, that’s for sure.  

Extra Tidbit: Yes, the Joss Whedon's WONDER WOMAN script was that bad. And it wasn't even the misogyny (which wasn't great), but rather the revelation that she always had the invisible jet, and just decided to only use it in the third act for no real reason. Ugh.
Source: JoBlo.com



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