FIB Roundtable: Can You Separate Art From the Artist?

When future historians identify the definitive moments of 2017/18, they will no doubt land on #MeToo and Time’s Up. The movements brought to us through our social media feeds and the glossy pages of celebrity magazines have spurred a reckoning for public figures and artists accused of misconduct. Can we continue to enjoy Woody Allen’s films or sing along to R Kelly’s “Ignition,” in light of allegations of abuse? The argument of whether we can or should separate art from the artist is an elusive one.

The FIB editorial team tackled the question for this week’s FIB Roundtable, read our conversation as it unfurled below.

American sitcom Roseanne staring Roseanne Barr. Image credit: ABC

Do we have a responsibility to distance ourselves from art whose creators have been accused of misconduct, or does great art stand alone?

Charlie: As far as those who have been convicted of rape are concerned, if we didn’t have a responsibility in the past, we definitely do now. With all the progress that’s been made in the last year, finally giving victims a platform to voice their experiences, it would be backward of us to not take action by boycotting those artist’s work. It’s not enough just to say “your voice matters,” as consumers, we have to hold those perpetrators accountable.

V: I agree, I’ve had this conversation so many times with a friend of mine who is still a die-hard fan of Chris Brown and Kanye. She’s willing to separate the art from the artist and justifies it to herself because she doesn’t pay for anything they produce. Which is a similar stance to what I take, I still listen to Sticky Fingers and watch House of Cards, but I refuse to pay for their work. Supporting them financially is where I draw the line, because it’s providing them with more means to abuse their platform.

Izzy: What does your friend think of Kanye coming out and saying he’s had mental problems – where does she stand on that?

V: I don’t think she pays much attention to him as a person now, it’s more that his music revolutionised the industry and she’s willing to get behind that, despite his offensive Twitter rampages.

Izzy: The thing about Kanye is that he’s always been a dick, it’s not like this is a new revelation and we must now boycott his music.

Imogen: Yeah, but he recently said slavery was a choice, that’s taking it to a whole new level.

Photo credit: Clint Brewer / Splash News

Charlie: But there’s a big difference between being accused of rape and just being a dick and having a controversial opinion. I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to conflate the importance of #MeToo and the Weinstein scandal with Kanye’s inflated ego. But I do think Kanye has a huge platform and what he’s saying – especially about race relations – is really harmful.

V: Sure, they’re not the same category, but the idea is there. By buying Kanye’s albums and going to his concerts, consumers are endorsing his opinions and further enabling him to say potentially damaging things.

Charlie: Yeah, I agree. In a way, it says “ok, I’m fine with that behaviour.” And that’s the issue here. It’s probably not helpful to play jury over who’s a “good person” and who’s not, but when artists are saying and doing harmful things, which Kanye potentially is, that’s when it becomes important to distance yourself from the art.

V: Agreed. But the issue is – people don’t. Take Roman Polanski. He was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl and fled to France. Yet he continues to produce and direct films that have won awards (Academy Award for Best Director for The Pianist in 2002 and Best Director for The Ghost Writer (2010)). In Hollywood, it’s so much harder to separate what these men do in their personal lives and what they provide as art because they are so well-respected.

Charlie: But being at the forefront of our media, what message does that send out? If we are endorsing people who rape and putting them on our front covers, awarding them with the most prestigious accolades – I can’t really get my head around that.

Imogen: Boycotting the work of celebs accused of misconduct is a really good place to start, because they can be held as an example of how we should deal with these scenes in real life.

Izzy: Yeah absolutely, if we allow that sort of behaviour to go unpunished on a media/Hollywood level, where everyone is watching, men will continue to grope and say disgusting things every weekend at a bar in Newtown.

V: Why do you think actors still participate in the productions of Woody Allen etc?

Charlie: I have an issue with celebs who choose to participate in his films because, unlike people with run-of-the-mill jobs, celebs have money and therefore have a choice to turn down working with artists accused of misconduct. Kate Winslet had the choice to turn down working with Woody on Wonder Wheel, because she has all the choice in the world by virtue of being Kate Winslet. So I think that the backlash she received was fair enough.

Izzy: I think the only way we can stop continuing to give known rapists a platform is by boycotting their art, talking about it and calling people out, like Kate.

Kate Winslet in Woody Allen’s ‘Wonder Wheel’ (YouTube screenshot)

V: So why hasn’t it happened yet?

Imogen: I think as far as the big corporate companies are concerned, they’re basically just not willing to lose out on the money.

Charlie: That’s the other thing, we need to hold big companies like Netflix accountable. Ultimately, they are the ones who make this art readily available to the average consumer. If they took a stand, it wouldn’t be available. But I think you’re right, for them, it’s a case of monetary value over ethics and responsibility.

V: Did you see pretty recently, they rebooted Roseanne, but then cancelled it after the main star went on that crazy racist rant.

Izzy: Yeah, they took immediate action, which was great to see.

Charlie: Hopefully we’re coming into a time where more of that is going to happen, because like we said before, social media is making it impossible for any of this stuff to be hidden. Millennials, I reckon, are more conscious than past generations and I think we basically just won’t put up with this shit for much longer. I think if Roseanne wasn’t canned, there would have been a ton of backlash. Hopefully we’re past the age of blindly supporting sexual offenders and racists and moving forward will shun companies like Netflix who don’t act on misconduct.

Imogen: But what about the average consumer, do you think they just don’t care?

V: Well… For example, I still watch the Wes Anderson movies with Bill Murry, because I love Wes Anderson. And I still watch Michael Fassbender in X-Men, despite the abuse allegations, because I love X-Men. And I put money towards both of those things. I can’t really justify it more than: I like the franchise more than I dislike the person. Plus when it comes to Fassbender, those are allegations, not proven convictions. But that’s a whole new difficult realm as well because they have a lot of money, which can shush anything up.

Imogen: Maybe the point is that they shouldn’t be allowed to continue to produce art that people love and respect, but that the old stuff is kind of hard to just stop enjoying.

Issy: When it comes to movies, you also have to think of the hundreds, or even thousands, of other actors, crew members, producers, etc that went into putting a movie together. Should one person be able to discredit the efforts of everyone?

Imogen: No doubt, we’ll continue to have these conversations as people feel more empowered to come forward and social media continues to provide a platform to do that…