Separating the Art from the Artist.

I desperately want to write a well thought out blog entry about the nature of creative works and contributions to society, versus the perceived evils and questionable perspectives of the individuals themselves. I don’t know if I will succeed here, because the issue itself starts to become a bit esoteric and subjective. But here goes…

I stumbled across a lot of discussion about Orson Scott Card and his apparent disapproval regarding pro-gay rights issues, which seems to blight the message boards on imdb relating to the upcoming film adaptation of Enders Game. People are calling for boycotts of the film, as if it’s going to show society that such beliefs should not be supported and that it has anything whatsoever to do with the film and its content. I can give numerous examples of this type of thing; this belief that every work by someone whose actions we disagree with should go unsupported and inherently disliked. Because it would somehow make us look like we’re shitty, inconsistent people who don’t stand up for what we believe in because we value entertainment over the deeper, more serious issues in our culture. That’s a totally separate article…

This approach to well-known figures runs the gamut from domestic abuse, to political and religious affiliation, to questionable sexual behavior, to full on genocide. We’re comfortable with disliking Chris Brown and his music due to the widely publicized domestic abuse issues surrounding himself and Rihanna. Conversely, we’re not as comfortable with the knowledge that John Lennon was a frequent wife abuser, because we have this iconic image in our heads of Free Love, the hippie movement, and the ideals underlying “Imagine.” Jumping to a clear extreme example for effect, we have a difficult time imagining ourselves looking at a painting by Hitler and considering it something of value or quality. It’s hard to imagine someone admitting that their favorite painter is Adolf Hitler.

Painting by Hitler
If you like this picture, it’s because you too desire to commit genocide.

It’s a weird feeling that comes from deep inside. It makes many of us sick to think that we like something that someone we absolutely despise likes. We’ve already decided in our minds that the person is despicable, so if we like something they’ve created we’ve surrendered and allowed them into our private happy place. If I say that this painting by Hitler is really nice, I am saying that Hitler and I had a few things in common. If I say that Hitler can paint buildings better than I can, I’m saying that Hitler was somehow better than me. If I bought a print and hung it on my wall in my living room, not only am I letting Hitler’s influence into my personal home, but I’m also somehow supporting everything he ever believed in by using my hard earned cash towards his name. And good god, if I say that I quite like architectural paintings that lack humans in them, maybe I’m capable of committing genocide! Oh no, what am I becoming!? How dare you, Hitler. And that one time that I shaved my moustache into a Hitler moustache for fun… maybe… maybe that’s who I want to be deep inside… …no… it’s already begun…

I think what it comes down to is that we fear that we are somehow betraying our own selves by associating any bit of our interests with those that we disagree with passionately. Like a gateway drug to becoming more like those people. It’s terribly easy to sit back and dissociate ourselves from other human beings, but at the end of the day, we’re all the same stuff. And it shouldn’t be so surprising that we, more often than not, have a lot in common. (And honestly, I don’t think a large percentage of people want to believe this.) But when someone does something we disagree with, we put up walls until we’ve built a fortress protecting our own interests.

Get out of my living room, Hitler!
Get out of my living room, Hitler!

There seems to be a general consensus though that we should not contribute to causes that we disagree with, despite the inevitability of breaking this same rule when we vote in the polls every election year. Most are able to sit back and say, “Well, we have these two choices, and if I don’t vote for Candidate One, then Candidate Two may win, and I disagree with less of Candidate One’s major platforms.” And we vote for Candidate One, because it suits our interests and often the perceived interests of most of the population, while deep inside we probably think, Well, I wish one of the candidates wouldn’t eat babies, but I suppose if they both do, I don’t have much of a choice, now do I?

And yes, there are people that (surprise!) don’t vote at all for that very reason. Because contributing any effort to supporting someone who eats babies is wholly wrong to them, even if the babies were grown without a soul or a brain at a baby farm, a method which Candidate One tends to use most often. But I mean, seriously, eating babies is pretty effed up. But it’s commonplace for candidates to eat babies, because they’re really just that hungry, and their thirst for babyflesh must be quenched.

I did not create this image, all credit goes to the original creator but Google Image search is failing me.
I did not create this image, all credit goes to the original creator but Google Image search is failing me. So much win to be had here.

I digress.

I feel like it’s good to support things that promote positive change, ideals, and values. I think though that it’s a flawed approach to life, particularly when it comes to the representatives and figureheads of cultural expression. While we can often pick and choose who and what to support at face value, most of the time there seems to be an inevitability tied with the charisma required to be a public figure. There always seems to be some sort of compromise that the public figure has undertaken at some point, or something as simple as the microscope being so finely focused on every possible action he undertakes. It seems to be though, that the type of person that it takes to be a public figure, is also the same type of person that it takes to be particularly audacious in expression. But sometimes the dangerous things are not at all related to the things we could actually like about him.

It’s probably a really difficult life in popular culture for the all-or-nothing people out there. The people that must agree with everything someone does in order to like a part of it. But people are not meant to be movements, though public figures definitely have that air about them. Surely we all remember feeling like Paris Hilton was some sort of cultural movement, but we shouldn’t have. I feel like those all-or-nothing people would better apply those approaches to actual movements and belief systems. Going back to the Hitler example, he was the leader of a movement but he wasn’t the movement itself. I think most of us can agree that the movement was deleterious on an incomprehensible scale. And sure, it took up a large majority of his persona and probable time, but that doesn’t mean he never did anything humanly redeemable whatsoever in the meantime.

Even that last sentence was challenging to type. It’s like I’m defending Hitler!! What is happening right now!?!?

As another more down-to-earth example, I had a hard time being Catholic when I was younger, because when I read The Bible I realized that it didn’t seem like anyone else around me actually read The Bible cover to cover and believed everything in it. When I would ask about various things to people in the religion, most people said things like “Oh, well, that’s part is just a story, it’s a moral lesson but not something that actually happened” or “Well, we don’t believe that, exactly…” And here I am looking at this passage about how we shouldn’t be eating pork, or how we should treat women, and I’m thinking, Wait a second, people can just choose to believe whatever they want? Why bother calling this Catholicism at all? To me, it’s everything or nothing. And eventually I became an agnostic, and then an atheist once I finally realized I was hanging onto weird favorite beliefs that I could no longer support. In that specific way, I am an all-or-nothing person. But in most other ways, I am not.

Scumbag God Sandwiches
Also stolen, because I’m a lawless atheist monster.

For most public figures, they’re generally known for a specific thing that they are good at. That thing may be polarizing due to personal likes and dislikes. For example, you may or may not like Tom Cruise as an actor, but that’s up to you. His acting in films doesn’t make him a bad or a good person. If they do a secondary thing, or they’re not specifically exalted by their beliefs as a vehicle and then later express a conflicting opinion, I don’t think it really has anything to do with their work as a whole. Following up on the Tom Cruise example, the fact that he is a well-known Scientologist with occasional erratic behavior has very little to do with his acting and film career. I’m still allowed to like his movies. I don’t even have to like all of them. That’s up to my personal taste.

I think another thing that should be mentioned here is the idea of the role model. Like I said before, I think we’ve made a mistake in establishing that public figures can be complete role models. It goes back to what I said about how public figures tend to be a certain type of person. In a similar way that most bosses tend to be a certain type of person. …*cough*… To call a public figure a role model is completely foolish. Public figures can’t all be Michael Jordans. Right, Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong? Really though, people are people who make decisions that are their own. We can’t hold public figures up to role model standards, because there’s always the possibility that the throne will eventually be tarnished, and some kid out there will think that the person that they were looking up to was somehow just bullshit all along. It’s not that simple. People aren’t that simple.

[insert clever Keanu Reeves meme here. …Shh, I love him.]

One more thing related to that role model thing, it also often creates unintended consequences. Back to the Chris Brown example, I remember when the pictures of Rihanna originally got posted online, there was a weird buzz around the internet. A lot of Chris Brown fans actually supported what he had done, and some female fans even said things like “He’s so hot, I’d let him hit me!” This is the opposite side of the idolatry and role-model complex… It’s … weird. And I don’t think it’s healthy. Adopting a public figure’s vices because you are a fan of their unrelated work— To me this is far more dangerous than publicly admitting that you like Hitler’s paintings, or watching and enjoying a movie by a person whose ideology is different than yours.

A work should stand alone and not adopt its artist. Public figures are not movements, nor should they be idols or role models. They are flawed individuals, and we are a lot like them in many ways, but we should not try to be them or fear becoming them as if their entire personas are mandatory and infectious as a result of liking their work.

There’s a lot of amazing work in the world, and with further scrutiny of the background of everything that can be experienced, one can find dark shadows and uncomfortable echoes that need not be inhabited. Life is like this, and it’s terrifyingly beautiful if we are willing to live for what we love while intelligently filtering out the distracting blights.

Oh, and I still think Paula Deen didn’t deserve the shitstorm that rained on her this past year, y’all.

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