Op Ed

Boycott Artists Who Behave Badly?

Should we swear off Weinstein films and Louis C.K.? Yes and no.

By - Nov 27th, 2017 05:19 pm

Harvey Weinstein. Photo by Bex Walton from London, England [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Harvey Weinstein. Photo by Bex Walton from London, England [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The headline in the People magazine I was speed-reading at Pick ‘n’ Save jumped out at me in all of its drippy inanity. “Ben Affleck Takes in Adorable Stray Puppy, Melts Hearts.” Affleck’s publicist is obviously eager to change the subject of  his client’s cravenness in the face of movie director Harvey Weinstein‘s infamy. Actress Rose McGowan says she told Affleck in 1997 that Weinstein had raped her, but Affleck didn’t get around to condemning the man who gave him his start until recently. He punked out on Rosie McGowan when he had a chance to stand up, so I just wouldn’t be able to stomach any more of him as the Caped Crusader. There will be others who feel as I do who will stay away because they don’t want to put money in Affleck’s pocket or appear to be endorsing him.

I was similarly affected when I read Mia Farrow‘s book about Woody Allen. I found her allegations of child molestation to be credible and haven’t seen a Woody Allen comedy since. Having that knowledge makes him unfunny to me. It’s not logical and it has had zero impact on Woody Allen’s career. What can I tell you? The heart knows what the heart knows.

But I’m not holding up my personal decision as a design for confronting the thorny issue of art and morality. There’s nothing wrong with gut level disapprobation, but the reality is that morality has a short shelf life. William Burroughs was a junkie who shot his wife in the head in the head fatally, but his Naked Lunch is still widely read; Caravaggio‘s was a murderer, but his sublime “Annunciation”  hangs in the Musee des Beaux Arts in Paris; Cellini was a sex offender, but his bronze statue of Perseus is appreciated by thousands each year.

And now we have a long list of those condemned of sexual harassment, from comedian Louis C.K. and to actors like Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman and Jeffrey Tambor (a former member of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater acting company, back in the 1970s). Should we boycott all of their work?

I submit that separating artists’ behavior from their work is a necessary evil and that indeed is what I try to do most of the time. I usually apprehend an artist’s work as a discrete thing that exists apart from his or her behavior. In other words, I approach a work of art as a morally value free creation. I can watch “I Love Lucy” even though Desi cheated on Lucy. I’m able to appreciate Wagner‘s Ring Cycle while acknowledging that he was a virulent anti-Semite. I can enjoy a Tony Bennett concert knowing what a degenerate coke head he was a long time ago.

But the revelation that Alfred Hitchcock was a sadistic sex predator is still relatively new to me. I’d have a hard time not bringing that knowledge to viewings of his work, so I personally will probably avoid Hitchcock movies. But maybe five or ten years down the road, who knows? Maybe I’ll be ready to see Rear Window again. And Vertigo. And North by Northwest. But never The Birds. Not after what he did to Tippi Hedren.

Michael Neville is a Milwaukee playwright.

7 thoughts on “Op Ed: Boycott Artists Who Behave Badly?”

  1. Tom bamberger says:

    Art is not usually made by what other good people think are good people.

    II am not so sure I am a better person than Woody Allen, Ben Afflect, Tony Bennett, or Louis C.K. . Harvey Weinstein is another story.

  2. Jeff Jordan says:

    Weinstein’s company enabled the production of many great “little ” films that no one else would touch. dozens of actors, directors, screenwriters, and others benefitted from his fitted from working with him. It’s now obvious, some women paid to big a price for associating with him.
    Let’s imagine that the CEO of General Motors committed the same kind of acts that Weinstein did. Are we to boycott the brand? thin of the pain brought to all of the employees, dealers and associated people because of the terrible actions of one. No, I don’t think so.

  3. jason troll says:

    We still have progressives proudly owning paintings by Adolf Hitler.

  4. John says:

    I am guilty of many things. I have been arrested, been to court and punished. I paid my dues for my mistakes does that mean I am a bad person for life? The crime was not sexual but it was a crime. It has cost me jobs because I had to put it on an application, should it have? When I was going through puberty looking at a Playboy was the most exciting thing I could do. When I started hanging out in bars I still gawked at women and thought of them as more of sexual objects than equals. I was wrong. I have changed to the best of my ability in part because of listening to women’s stories and not wanting to be “one of those men.” Weinstein committed rape and held women hostage in order for them to advance. He still needs to pay for his crimes and not being allowed to be able to repeat his crimes is not enough but I have pinched the butt of someone I knew in a bar thinking it was funny. Do I need to be a pariah for life? All people make mistakes; men and women. It’s what we do when we realize we were wrong. To apologize, make amends when possible and make changes in how we act and think is all we can do. There are degrees of crimes that should not be treated as equal. Al Franken was completely out of line but he did not commit rape. He seems wiling to face his mistakes and accept the consequences. We need to keep the discussion of harassment in the forefront of equality but not at the expense of punishing people for life.

  5. Virginia says:

    Boycotts are only one possible response to the exposure of all this bad behavior.

    More importantly, I hope to be able see more films written, directed and produced by women, and experience more other types of art created by women, including by those who have receded into obscurity despite their greatness. For example, I was delighted to see an outstanding film about artist Paula Becker, a hit of the recent Milwaukee Film Festival called “Paula.” Becker was extraordinarily original and prolific, despite male teachers telling her women can’t paint well. (Women have also been told for eons that they are not as funny as men.)

    Part of the tragedy of so many bad boys getting a pass for being bad boys is that they also in the process have directly or indirectly kept far too many women from fully participating in creative ventures (unless they played by those men’s “rules”).

    But there is hope on the horizon. For example, check out Greta Gerwig’s brilliant “Lady Bird” or anything by Amy Shumer–work every bit as great as that created by men named in this article…

    And here’s another thoughtful look at options for viewers/readers…


  6. John Casper says:

    jason troll, why do you “proudly” own “paintings by Adolph Hitler?”

  7. Virginia says:

    P.S. and kudos to Milwaukee’s Renaissance Theater for decades of cultivating and presenting great theater by and featuring women, as well as to other theaters for showcasing a wide range of diverse and thought-provoking work (including everything involving Marti Gobel!).

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