- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Blacklisting Tainted Artists

Oh, here we go. College professor Sandra Beasley is as wrong as wrong can be here: [1]

When you are a writer who learns a beloved author has a dark side, you experience waves of disillusionment. When you teach that author’s work, you feel an additional stab of concern: What about my syllabus?

Why on earth would you? She goes on to explain why she does that. Excerpts:

I was the student who lost her composure when the famed science-fiction author launched into homophobic vitriol. After the conversation was over, I looked at the hardback edition I had just bought, signed and jacketed in its beautiful cover, and dropped it in the corner of my dorm room. Now, 20 years and four books later, I’ve been adjacent to every range of author behavior. There’s a lot of generosity, and grace, and talent. There’s also more than a few nightmares: arrogant, vindictive or on the prowl.

You’d throw away a book you loved because you found out the writer is a jerk? I don’t get that at all. A friend of mine the other day — a hardcore leftie secularist — was visibly shocked and crestfallen when I told her that J.R.R. Tolkien was a Catholic, and that his Catholic faith informed The Lord of the Rings. She told me that I ruined it for her. That is something I do not understand. In fact, not only do I not understand it, I push back hard against it. If we start judging works of art by the character of the artists, where do we stop?

The Venn diagram of “artists” and “saints” has almost no intersection. I hate the off-the-rack Bohemianism holding that real artists are hedonists. Flannery O’Connor was no hedonist. Wallace Stevens sold insurance. Tom Wolfe, who just passed, dwelled among the acidheads in the 1960s, but he never went native — and his ability to observe closely but not be captured by those he observed was a key to his talent.

On the other hand, it’s equally childish to expect artists to be good people. If I started talking about the seamy private lives of accomplished artists and other creative types, we could be here all day, and exhaust ourselves. As I write this, I’m looking on my bookshelf at a collection of Truman Capote short stories. Capote was immensely talented — a talent he wasted on decadent living, and an early death. Nothing about his private life takes away from his artistic accomplishment. I wouldn’t have to cast my eyes over many titles on my bookshelves to find other authors about whom I could say the same thing. Or musicians.

Or filmmakers. Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite, a philanderer, and a hot mess. He is also a hell of a filmmaker (ever seen Apocalypto?) If Mel Gibson’s personal politics and opinions make it hard for you to watch a Mel Gibson movie, okay. But if you deny your students the opportunity to study a Mel Gibson movie because you find him personally objectionable, the sin is yours, not Mel Gibson’s.

Beasley goes on:

If your love of literature is grounded in erecting a wall between authors and their work, then you have your philosophy. I respect that. I’m a stickler for addressing “the speaker” of a poem, never the poet. But let’s say that it’s my student heading out the door to meet that poet — a jerk whose work I once adored without reservation. I will have an instinct to pull her aside, to say, Hey, just be aware. If there’s still space for that poet on my syllabus, there certainly needs to be space for that conversation, too.

Well, that makes sense. So look, don’t go have a drink with Junot Diaz (who has recently been accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct [2]) or Mel Gibson. But don’t cut them from the syllabus.

More Beasley:

To put someone on a syllabus is to privilege them with our attention. We’re saying, This is worth your time. Unless we actively complicate the conversation, our students will perceive that as a form of admiration.

I don’t know. That sounds to me like a secular version of the sort of thing one hears from a certain kind of Christian: that whether or not an artist is a Christian matters in how you view that artist and his work. Christians who actually appreciate art complain all the time about how third-rate most consciously Christian art is. I believe it’s important to police the line between artistic merit and the personal characteristics of the artist. Otherwise, you get shlock made by lovely people who believe all the right things.

One last bit from Beasley:

Are we inviting students into a tall tower from which the world is viewed at a distance? Or are we giving them a compass to navigate toward the horizon? We ask readers to analyze the impact of enjambments, and to differentiate third-person limited point of view from omniscience. So let’s trust them to incorporate nuanced, even troubling information about authors into their knowledge of the work.

Or choose other authors. To not allow dynamics of our era to inflect how we teach is to gird the argument that literature is a self-contained and impractical pursuit. If your principal hesitation is that you’ll struggle to come up with replacement authors while remaining inclusive, consider that the diversity you’ve congratulated yourself on is merely tokenism in disguise.

I have a better idea: why not choose authors based not on their biographies, but on the quality of their work? Crazy, right? I think it just might work. Beasley lists some other American Indian and Hispanic writers to substitute on syllabi from which professors have exiled Sherman Alexie and Junot Diaz for being pigs. How is that not tokenism?

Terry Teachout objects to the news that the Metropolitan Opera has decided not to rebroadcast performances conducted by James Levine [3], because he is a disgusting, abusive lecher. Here’s more info [4] on what the Metropolitan Opera has done:

Performances by former Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine [5] were withdrawn from the company’s Sirius XM satellite and online radio channel, representing a large percentage of the company’s history. Levine, the company’s leading force as music or artistic director from 1976-2016, was fired as music director emeritus on March 12 after an investigation found evidence of sexual abuse and harassment.

He conducted 2,552 performances from 1971 through Dec. 2, the day accounts first appeared in the New York Post and The New York Times of sexual misconduct dating to the 1960s. He was suspended by the company the following day pending the Met’s investigation.

The Met said the last Levine broadcast was a performance of John Harbison’s “The Great Gatsby” on Dec. 10. The company said Levine’s performances “will be reintroduced to the programming at an appropriate time.”

This is insane, and immoral! It’s a kind of blacklisting, except worse, because it goes back in time. James Levine certainly deserves public shaming for his behavior, and he deserved to be fired. But by what kind of Stalinist ethic does all the music produced under his baton become so tainted that no one can listen to it? What about all the musicians and singers who are on those recordings?

This has to stop. It has to. This moral panic.

UPDATE: Now look: [6]

Last week, Spotify flexed its new hate content policy by removing the music [7] of R. Kelly and XXXTentacion, two artists with a long history of sexual misconduct [8] and domestic abuse [9], from its playlists and algorithmic recommendations. Now, women’s advocacy group UltraViolet is urging the streaming giant to do the same with other artists accused of sexual abuse.

In an open letter [10], UltraViolet executive director Shaunna Thomas specifically calls out the likes of Chris Brown, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nelly, Eminem, Don Henley of The Eagles, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Tekashi 6ix9ine, and Ted Nugent, citing them as artists “who continue to profit from your promotion.”

“Every time a famous individual continues to be glorified despite allegations of abuse, we wrongly perpetuate silence by showing survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence that there will be no consequences for abuse,” she writes. “That has a cultural effect far beyond one individual artist.”

No. No, no, no. From what I know about R. Kelly, he is as scuzzy as they come. But banning his music from Spotify because of “hate”? You give these SJWs an inch, they’ll take a mile.

UPDATE: A couple of readers have pointed out this:

R. Kelly and XXXTentacion have not been ‘banned’ from Spotify. It’s just that they will no longer be included in playlists that Spotify curates/generates or in ‘radio’ stations that are dynamically created when you say ‘play more like this’ or such. If you want to listen to R. Kelly’s music on Spotify, it’s still there for you to listen to. It’s merely that his music won’t be fed to you by Spotify’s algorithms without you specifically ‘asking’ to hear it. That’s quite a difference from being ‘banned’ from the service altogether.

A fair point. I stand corrected.

100 Comments (Open | Close)

100 Comments To "Blacklisting Tainted Artists"

#1 Comment By Chris On May 16, 2018 @ 9:52 pm

We can value a “sinful” artist because we recognize that despite their lifestyle, they expressed important truths about being human in an effective or beautiful way.

She writes these artists off because of the ultimate individuality of intersectionality and identity politics. Under identity politics, there is nothing universally human.

Does this morality remind anyone else of growing up with the Moral Majority in the 1980’s?

#2 Comment By WorkingClass On May 16, 2018 @ 9:58 pm

Over a life time I have accumulated a number of favorite artists, entertainers,actors and sports figures. I have not known much about their politics or personal loves/lives because I simply have not been curious about any of that. But recently a number of my “favorites” have come forward to express their contempt and hatred for me. I confess. I can no longer enjoy their work.

But it does not occur to me to want them black listed. If something offends me it must be destroyed is a monstrous idea. Rod is right to speak against it.

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 16, 2018 @ 10:18 pm

“So, we can expect your ‘New Mennonite’ bete noirs to volunteer for the front lines in the next military adventure, just to stick it to John Howard Yoder?”

Nahh, they’re just like everyone else well off – content to let others sign up for the jobs in our all-mercenary military. Actively antiwar? Not much. A few folks from the “New Mennonite” church even signed up themselves, and no one found any problem with it. There’s the hope, now progressives control the weaponry, that it will be used to spread the good news of SJW anti-values worldwide. Just like in the good old days of colonialism, when Bibles and bullets went hand in hand to conquer a continent for elites, at the hands of missionaries and soldiers.

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 16, 2018 @ 10:26 pm

“I tend to cut artists, especially ones whose art I like, a lot of extra slack on their personal lives.”

And some folks behave badly towards others, hiding behind their supposedly being superior than regular folks, excusing themselves as more valuable human beings than those they mistreat.

It’s how De Sade got out of prison, even though he murdered people for the purpose of deviant sex.

#5 Comment By John On May 16, 2018 @ 10:44 pm

Gee I guess it really depends on the context. As a general rule I agree with Rod. These purists are no different from the fundamentalists holding a book burning of anything deemed blasphemous or immoral.

If you don’t like it, don’t read it, don’t watch it, don’t listen to it or don’t view it. However, most of us can separate the art from the artist and let’s face it, many of them are jerks for one reason or another. I had no problem reading “Lord of the Rings” and i’m No longer a Christian.

I can however, see why in some instances one should boycott a work of art. If the artist engaged in particularly agregiouscbehavior (murder, rape, aggravated sodomy, sexual assault, sexual molestation) than I would not want to buy anything that helps him or her make a profit.

I might not per see have a problem watching a movie that starred or featured Kevin Spacey but if I knew he would still be profiting off of my viewing habits I might reconsider.

#6 Comment By Tom On May 16, 2018 @ 10:44 pm

I would blacklist Junot Diaz for not being a great writer. Ever read “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”? It was chock full of profanity and vulgarity. I couldn’t imagine that such trash could win a Pulitzer, but I figured it all came down to the author’s ethnicity. Diversity is really important, after all. When I read the book, it was a few years ago in a Lit class my local community college was offering. For that class, we also had to read “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen. I remember the professor distinctly saying that Miss Austen would likely be spinning in her grave if she knew her novel was being taught alongside Diaz’ book.

#7 Comment By Jonah R. On May 16, 2018 @ 10:57 pm

Chris asked: “Does this morality remind anyone else of growing up with the Moral Majority in the 1980’s?”

Yes! For all the grave flaws of the right, it’s the left at the moment who are trying to control what we can say or write and what music, books, or publications, entertainment, or information we can access. They won’t succeed, any more than their right-wing counterparts in the 1980s succeeded at keeping Mötley Crüe cassettes out of my Jolt-stained fingers, but the righteous finger-wagging is tiresome.

There’s also a new rhetorical tactic I’ve observed on social media: When a centrist or someone on the right expresses support for freedom of speech, people on the left will accuse them of arguing in bad faith or of being secretly partial to neo-Nazis or the alt-right. That too is growing tiresome.

#8 Comment By David J. White On May 16, 2018 @ 11:20 pm

“The same is true for NPR blacklisting “A Prairie Home Companion” because of Garrison Keillor’s acts.”

Maybe, maybe not. Keillor may own the copyrights to the show and not NPR.

But they did can his daily “Writer’s Almanac.”

#9 Comment By N. Sensustricto On May 16, 2018 @ 11:39 pm

“I have a better idea: why not choose authors based not on their biographies, but on the quality of their work?” Well, no, you can’t do that anymore. Whose quality? What is “quality?” Way way “elitist.” A mere cover for euro white male hetero christian racism/privilege/dominance, etcetcetc. But,it’s true, you do have to have a criterion of judgment, e.g., syllabus creation, and emotivism is it. Too bad.

#10 Comment By Nelson On May 17, 2018 @ 12:00 am

I basically agree with the thesis. Let good art live. Although I don’t really have a problem with an individual company blacklisting certain artists for behavior if they think it would make their brand stronger, but I would have a problem if every company did it and the work was therefore legally unavailable. Thankfully there are alternative methods for acquiring most music on the Internet. And also thankfully most librarians abhor banning books.

#11 Comment By grin without a cat On May 17, 2018 @ 1:19 am

You’d throw away a book you loved because you found out the writer is a jerk?

She did twenty years ago, when she was a college student. Are we going to hold everybody accountable for what they did in their youth?

I have a better idea: why not choose authors based not on their biographies, but on the quality of their work?

Beasly says, “OR choose other writers.” She doesn’t say, “You should choose other writers.” She said that in the past she has taught the works of both Alexie and Díaz, but she hasn’t said she would stop teaching them.

She’s teaching an MFA class for creative writers. Each student is assigned 8 to 10 books to read and annotate, the books being chosen for what they can teach about the craft. This is not the same thing as literary merit or importance.

For each book chosen, there are dozens or hundreds that are just as good that are rejected. In deciding between two books, is it wrong to prefer the one not written by proven to be a pig?

Beasley lists some other American Indian and Hispanic writers . . .How is that not tokenism?

When I was in high school, I took an English elective in Black poetry, which I seemed a good topic for a class. Black poetry is different from white poetry, because Black experience is different. The teacher was black, and most of the students were white.

#12 Comment By galanx On May 17, 2018 @ 2:25 am

“From a very early age, a conservative learns to separate the creator’s politics from his creation.”
Ah, yes. I remember conservatives disagreeing with the Dixie Chicks, but still supporting their music.

#13 Comment By galanx On May 17, 2018 @ 2:44 am

Beasley, immediately before:
“I may free up a square footage on my personal bookshelves in the coming months, but I am not kicking anyone out of the canon. I do not expect people to frame modernist poetry without citing the work of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, who demonstrably trafficked in anti-Semitic rhetoric. I am not arguing that every passing mention of an artist has to have an asterisk that leads to footnotes of their bad behavior. I’m just asking that we reckon with this reality: To put someone on a syllabus is to privilege them with our attention. We’re saying, This is worth your time. Unless we actively complicate the conversation, our students will perceive that as a form of admiration.”

I am a fan of Lewis and Tolkien; on a Tolkien website I ran across people who refused to read ‘Earthsea’ or ‘His Dark Materials’ because they were by non-Christian authors, and thus could only be examples of that dread “post-modernism”.
I note that Lewis was a fan of Olaf Stapledon. whom he violently disagreed with philosophically, and Tolkien wrote an admiring letter to Mary Renault, about her specifically pro-pagan anti-monotheist book ‘Bull From the Sea’.

#14 Comment By artsandcrafts On May 17, 2018 @ 3:26 am

Pogonip: I had thought someone else might have answered you about D. H. by now. I have seen veiled accusations about him online, linked to in political articles that were not about musicians. These allegations would probably date from the late 1970s.

Since I have your attention: a while back you posted a facetious comment about how to discourage viewing of pornography among young people. Either this site or my computer was not working right and I could not comment; but your comment was one of the funniest I have ever read here.

John Lennon: I really liked the early 1970s, political. “Sometime in New York City” John Lennon. But over the years, as more was written about his first marriage, of course it influenced my thinking about him. (And honestly, so many in that field, just to take rock music, have similar stories.)

#15 Comment By ludo On May 17, 2018 @ 7:22 am

Part of the reaction on the part of some his present critics stems from the fact that Mr. Diaz is suspected of preemptively and strategically using his recent revelation of having been himself an alleged victim of childhood sexual abuse to avoid, evade, and/or palliate misogynist and sexual harassment accusations he feared/suspected were heading his way.

Evidently then, he stands suspected of manipulating, exploitating, and thus cynically abusing the condition of personal sexual victimhood/victimity itself in order to outwit and outmanoeuvre the consequences–professional and ethico-moral–of such a cause´s campaign or reaction against him. And mind you, not through denial or negation of the accusations per se, but rather through their evasion in the guise, dimension, and/or simulation of an even greater level of personal victimhood vis a vis the kind that is alleged against him (i.e. his alleged condition of child sexual abuse victim).

[11]

The subtitle alone of the above article seems to anticipate and thereby preface his ensuing defense against the coming storm of allegations against him: ¨I never got any help, any kind of therapy. I never told anyone.¨ Detectable in such an underlying strategy, one might suspect, is a highly (literally) artful and astute (¨street¨-)survivalist mentality coupled with an air of desperation, panic, but also, to be sure, a continuing self-belief in the greatness/extraordinariness of his personal destiny (e.g. a la ¨Wondrous Life of [Junot Diaz]¨). What it does not communicate is anything remotely along the lines of strict historical accuracy in terms of account, far from it: think convenient subjective collage, half heartfelt Augustinian psychological analysis/confession (i.e. the textual frame and some of the substance), the other half being a calculated, self-serving escape from the intrinsically complex and indivisible phenomenon of personal and public shame. In short, a classic Hamletic performance. (But then really what exceedingly imaginative, well-read soul could hope to escape such a fate considering his/her own conflicted self-consciousness of his/her natural limitations and at the same time boundless, and therefore naturally irrational, ambitions to supersede such rationalistic/materialist/pragmatic beliefs? To wit, by daring–albeit subconsciously–to tempt risk/fate in pursuit of the supreme gratification that he/she is somehow indeed uniquely immune to the common consequences and ¨physics¨ of the general mass reality of the world–which would be the true ¨unreality¨–from that metaphysically supremely egoistic perspective. This last, at the very least, a not uncommon fate of male artists to be sure.)

#16 Comment By Autreck On May 17, 2018 @ 8:17 am

“Now, women’s advocacy group UltraViolet is urging the streaming giant to do the same with other artists accused of sexual abuse”

Well, that could be just about anyone these days, given that the bar has been raised so high.

#17 Comment By Edam On May 17, 2018 @ 8:21 am

I don’t know. Their must be a line, I recently watched FBI files: Killer abroad, about an austrian serial killer. He was sentenced to life in prison for murder, became a succesful writer in prison, got out because of a campaign by mostly leftist writers, journalist and politicians, and then became a international serial killer.

His writing was even taught at austrian schools. In this case I believe elements of his lack of conscience will be expressed in his writing. But anyway I don’t want to read a single line from someone who commited such heinious acts, unbelievable cruelty and indifference, including calling the husband of a woman murdered by him to taunt him. Never.

#18 Comment By Countme-a-Demon On May 17, 2018 @ 8:43 am

I agree wholeheartedly with this post and much of the commentary.

I don’t turn off the car radio when the Ronette’s “Be My Baby” plays because of Phil Spector’s unfortunate personal hobbies.

I am agnostic when it comes to faith, but I’ve read all of Tolkein and much of C.S. Lewis and will continue to do so.

Ditto for every artist and writer* whose works I treasure.

Nabokov is a stunning writer and I’ll continue to reread “Lolita” and the five other of his novels in which underaged “nymphs” are featured.

Where I differ is that this attitude toward banishment is the sole province of the Left.

I mean, c’mon!

Beatle records were fuel for bonfires … book burning … after Lennon made his much misunderstood remarks regarding Christ, and that was the least of banning of all manner of art and literature and science by “conservatives” throughout history.

I hate the fact that NPR won’t broadcast “Prairie Home Companion” any longer, but then I’m going to hate it when NPR has it’s funding by the Federal Government zeroed-out too by conservatives.

What of the “Piss Christ”, not a major work of art by any means, but do we remember the calls for banning the piece?

*We should be thankful that Adolph Hitler was a crappy artist. We’d be hearing from some of the loudmouths on the Right that not only was Stalin responsible for more genocidal murders that Hitler, but Stalin couldn’t paint a lick a either, so there!

Which brings me to a thought experiment. If Hitler as a young man had been accepted and gained some renown as a painter, and it could be somehow proved that acceptance might have forestalled the murderous monstrosity that he became, would the critics, salons, and galleries in Austria, with government help, have arranged to fake appreciation for his crappy art?

Here, buy that painting, because if you don’t, the guy is going to murder six million Jews and countless others.

#19 Comment By grumpy realist On May 17, 2018 @ 8:52 am

I suspect that after the “we must only have pure, clean, and wholesome artists around us” group discovers a) how boring the “art” is which is produced by such artists, and b) how few artists are going to be “acceptable” this shunning-of-the-tainted-ones will die a deserved death. The aesthetics of insipid beige, “Jesus loves me, this I know” sung by a grinning girl with braces off-key, and handfuls of wilted daisies are Just. Not. Attractive.

And now non-SJWs have another way to be non-politically correct! When you can now send a SJW into a hopping-mad rage by having a table-top book of, say, Picasso’s paintings I suspect, as Uncle Chuckie would say, it’s time to have some good fun.

P.S. Picasso had a wonderful dachshund named Lump, who shows up in many of his drawings and whom he was very fond of. That should be worth at least a few million years off SJW purgatory, no?

#20 Comment By Eliza On May 17, 2018 @ 9:21 am

Rod,

The issue with R Kelly is that he is a child rapist, and Spotify doesn’t want to give him their money. Come on, you want to object to THAT?

[NFR: I think R. Kelly should be under the jail. But I don’t know where we draw the line. What if Keith Richards shot and killed a man. He’d be a murderer. No Rolling Stones songs on Spotify, then? — RD]

#21 Comment By JonF On May 17, 2018 @ 9:28 am

Re: on a Tolkien website I ran across people who refused to read ‘Earthsea’ or ‘His Dark Materials’ because they were by non-Christian authors

And what about the fuss and furor in some circles (including unfortunately, the Bulgarian Orthodox church at one point) over the Harry Potter books because they extol “witchcraft”?

#22 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 17, 2018 @ 9:47 am

I suspect that after the “we must only have pure, clean, and wholesome artists around us” group discovers a) how boring the “art” is which is produced by such artists, and b) how few artists are going to be “acceptable” this shunning-of-the-tainted-ones will die a deserved death.

If we are very lucky, we will at the same time get off our cultural addiction to admiring the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Yes, they made great art. No, I don’t need to live the sordid dark side of their private lives.

Like I said about Bill Cosby, the good he did is real, and he should be honored for it. None of it is a get out of jail free card for the evil he did.

There’s the hope, now progressives control the weaponry, that it will be used to spread the good news of SJW anti-values worldwide.

Sure. So even if they don’t volunteer to serve on the front lines, having, like Dick Cheney and a host of others, “better things to do,” they will get a reputation as oppressive imperialist warmongers. I don’t have to resort to any law of merited impossibility to say, its possible, its likely, and they darn well will deserve it.

#23 Comment By Kenziegirl On May 17, 2018 @ 10:23 am

Everyone comparing these types of incidents to the Christian right protesting against blasphemous content is missing a major point. Yes, the Christian right made a great cry and hue over works like The Last Temptation of Christ. But it was almost never *effective* – the mainstream culture just belittled it and was like “Yeah right, you need to grow a thicker skin.” In today’s cultural climate, these new types of protests and calls to ban and delist artistic content are highly likely to succeed, at least in the short term. There is likely more censorship coming and it poses a great conflict with artistic freedom of expression and the public’s right to enjoy whatever art we wish.

#24 Comment By mrscracker On May 17, 2018 @ 10:27 am

Sometimes I think it’s better just to enjoy the art or music & not look too closely at the artist. It can spoil it a little for me.

But on the other hand, some lives are so much more interesting than you’d first imagine & if you don’t dig a little deeper, you’d never learn about the artist’s challenges or what may have influenced them. And there’s often as much tragedy as hedonism.

An example is the late musician, Jimmy Arnold. They really should make a movie about his life. If this link works, here’s a telling of his tragic story & excerpts of his amazing music:

“A conversation with award-winning country music writer Eddie Dean, author of “Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times” with Dr. Ralph Stanley, and “Kentucky Traveler: My Life in Music” with Ricky Skaggs.

Eddie tells us about the life and times of the virtuosic bluegrass/old time musician and tragic genius Jimmy Arnold, best known for his civil war concept album “Southern Soul.”

The title of Eddie’s 1993 in-depth feature article on Jimmy Arnold for the Washington City Paper is titled “Lost Soul.”

[12]

#25 Comment By David J. White On May 17, 2018 @ 10:32 am

I do not expect people to frame modernist poetry without citing the work of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, who demonstrably trafficked in anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Similarly, one of the most important films in the early history of cinema, at least for film technique, is D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. (The Civil War battle scenes are stunning, esp. when you consider that, when the movie was made, the Civil War was as recent in history as the Vietnam War is for us. There were still lots of living Civil War veterans.)

***

I can however, see why in some instances one should boycott a work of art. If the artist engaged in particularly agregiouscbehavior (murder, rape, aggravated sodomy, sexual assault, sexual molestation) than I would not want to buy anything that helps him or her make a profit.

I guess Caravaggio get a pass because he’s been in public domain for some time. 😉

#26 Comment By David J. White On May 17, 2018 @ 10:35 am

It’s interesting how we’ve come 180 degrees from the kind of literary criticism considered cutting edge in the last century, where the focus was on the text itself and the “accidents” of the author’s life were considered irrelevant.

Of course, that itself was a reaction against a previous school of literary criticism that relied heavily on the real or purported biography of the author to interpret the texts. I guess this is cyclical.

#27 Comment By SusanMcN On May 17, 2018 @ 10:48 am

I think it comes down to how we view art these days as something to be bought or consumed. When you wrote your love letter to Brooks Brothers yesterday, I had to admit that I felt the same positive way about the company (stolid, secure, quality, etc.) right up until I learned last year that they made their original fortune by making slavewear (ie sturdy clothing for slaves) in this country. I love my no-iron crisp white shirts but I’m not sure I can stomach buying another one.

I used to marvel that people (white people) would want to have their weddings at plantations. The buildings and grounds are beautiful, to be sure, but it just seems so distasteful to me. Like getting married at the 9/11 memorial. Celebrating a new life together at the site where so much pain, torture, and inhumanity occurred is odd to me.

My kids were singing I Believe I Can Fly the other day and I was shocked. I asked them where they learned that song. Apparently it was on a kid video on a coding site. I let them know that I really didn’t care for the song because the guy who sings it hurts kids.

So on a visceral level, I understand why a prof feels conflicted about putting known abusers on her syllabus. But a syllabus is for education–not for personal collection. You aren’t consuming a syllabus the way you do a Brooks Brothers shirt or even an album of music bought for pleasure. I would hope we don’t eschew learning from the great works of our culture, but I also think there’s nothing wrong with letting your students know the context of the creator.

#28 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 17, 2018 @ 10:54 am

“I may free up a square footage on my personal bookshelves in the coming months, but I am not kicking anyone out of the canon. I do not expect people to frame modernist poetry without citing the work of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, who demonstrably trafficked in anti-Semitic rhetoric. I am not arguing that every passing mention of an artist has to have an asterisk that leads to footnotes of their bad behavior. I’m just asking that we reckon with this reality: To put someone on a syllabus is to privilege them with our attention.

This is actually less dumb than I expected from Rod’s initial presentation of the Beasley affair, and in fact it isn’t dumb at all.

The socialist Prime Minister of Tanzania, back in the 1960s, was asked about his trade policy vis/a/vis apartheid South Africa, and he said something like, “If I needed shoes and SA was the only place to get them, I’d do without shoes. But if I needed rice and SA was the only place to get it, I’d go to South Africa.” I think something of the kind is going on here. Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot are, whatever you think of their politics, great artists with really deep insights into the human condition. Woody Allen might or might not be a good artist, but he isn’t a great one in the same sense. You miss out on a whole lot by not reading Pound or Eliot, you can live a perfectly artistically fulfilled life without ever seeing a Woody Allen movie (I haven’t, and I don’t consider that I’m missing out). There’s a good argument for not treating them the same (even if you consider Eliot a bad guy, which I don’t, really).

Also, of course, there’s the fact that Pound and Eliot’s ‘crime’ here was to hold opinions that are out of step with modern liberal values: Woody Allen (probably) committed a sexual crime against a minor, and certainly overstepped the incest boundary (morally if not legally), which makes the issue a whole different order of magnitude.

#29 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 17, 2018 @ 11:00 am

[NFR: I’m a writer, but not really an artist. Still, I’ve come to appreciate why artists have such messy lives. It’s very hard to turn all that sensitivity off. I think a lot of writers drink and do drugs because they just want to turn off their thoughts.

I think this is true of people in ‘intellectual’ professions in general, not just artists. Academics and scientists, in my experience, drink a lot, so do lawyers and doctors (the doctors mix it up with pills as well). And probably, where the laws are lax enough, do a fair amount of drugs: there’s a famous story about how the inventor of the modern day PCR reaction came up with the idea on an acid trip, though I guess he was a scientist but not technically an academic at the time.

#30 Comment By mrscracker On May 17, 2018 @ 11:03 am

David J. White says:

“Similarly, one of the most important films in the early history of cinema, at least for film technique, is D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. ”
***********

I read a biography of D.W. Griffith years ago & it described how distressed he felt at being depicted as a racist following Birth of a Nation.

Per Lillian Gish, in a scene from a later, lost film: “The Greatest Thing” Griffith had a white soldier kissing a dying black soldier on the lips, pretending to be his mother.(Or it could have been the other way around, it’s been a awhile since I read the book.)

#31 Comment By Nicholas Sandoukas On May 17, 2018 @ 11:18 am

Hello everyone. In response to this article I would like to say that there must and should be in some instances where the artist does something so Grievous it makes it difficult if not impossible to enjoy the work itself. For an example I will give an example of an art form that many might not consider an art but for those who are fans of the genre it most definitely is. That genre is professional wrestling. What these talented athletes do in the ring and also in their performances as personalities, is an art. One of the all-time greats was a man named Chris Benoit. His best matches even today are one of the all-time greatest matches in the history of the business. But it’s very hard for me to watch his matches today. The reason for that for those of you who do not know, is because Chris Benoit ended up killing his wife his kid and then himself. I find a difficult now to enjoy a match in which the artist involved is a murderer. Now I don’t know if in film or in literature if there is an equivalent of a murderer who produced beautiful literature or art but if there were I would perfectly understand if a person would find it difficult to enjoy that work because of the of how Grievous the sin of the author. There are in my opinion crime so Grievous that even the work of the individual cannot be divorced from the individual.

#32 Comment By Steven On May 17, 2018 @ 11:23 am

R. Kelly and XXXTentacion have not been ‘banned’ from Spotify. It’s just that they will no longer be included in playlists that Spotify curates/generates or in ‘radio’ stations that are dynamically created when you say ‘play more like this’ or such. If you want to listen to R. Kelly’s music on Spotify, it’s still there for you to listen to. It’s merely that his music won’t be fed to you by Spotify’s algorithms without you specifically ‘asking’ to hear it. That’s quite a difference from being ‘banned’ from the service altogether.

#33 Comment By mrscracker On May 17, 2018 @ 12:16 pm

SusanMcN says:
” When you wrote your love letter to Brooks Brothers yesterday, I had to admit that I felt the same positive way about the company (stolid, secure, quality, etc.) right up until I learned last year that they made their original fortune by making slavewear (ie sturdy clothing for slaves) in this country. I love my no-iron crisp white shirts but I’m not sure I can stomach buying another one.”
**************
I don’t have a list handy, but I would guess the names of US & British manufacturers & cotton mill owners with similar histories would be quite lengthy.

#34 Comment By davido On May 17, 2018 @ 12:18 pm

The story is told that a woman once approached the famous writer James Joyce and said: “Oh, Mr Joyce, I must kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses.” Joyce replied: “I wouldn’t, Madam; it’s done a lot of other things also!”

#35 Comment By ludo On May 17, 2018 @ 2:37 pm

Apologies for the garbled way the second part of my comment ended up, I meant to say something like this:

newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/16/the-silence-the-legacy-of-childhood-trauma

The subtitle alone of the above article seems to anticipate and preface Diaz´s ensuing defense against the coming storm of allegations against him: ¨I never got any help, any kind of therapy. I never told anyone.¨ Detectable in such an underlying strategy is a highly artful and astute survivalist mentality coupled with an air of desperation, but also a continuing self-belief in the extraordinariness of his personal destiny. What it does not communicate is anything remotely along the lines of strict historical accuracy, far from it: think convenient subjective collage, half heartfelt Augustinian psychoanalysis/confession, half calculated escape from the intrinsically complex and indivisible phenomenon of personal/public shame. A classic Hamletic performance.

But then what exceedingly imaginative/well-read soul could hope to escape such a fate in light of their own likely conflicted self-consciousness of both their rationalistic limitations and at the same time boundless ambition to supersede just such rationalistic strictures? By daring–albeit half consciously–to tempt fate in the pursuit of the supreme gratification that is fortune´s ¨affirmation¨ of one´s immunity to the common ¨physics¨ of the general reality of the world–thus making of it the true ¨unreality¨–Daedalus alas only confirms the supreme psychological egoism of his perspective. An all too common fate of male artists in any case.

#36 Comment By JonF On May 17, 2018 @ 3:05 pm

Re: In today’s cultural climate, these new types of protests and calls to ban and delist artistic content are highly likely to succeed, at least in the short term.

In the short term there may well be a dent in sales but that doesn’t seem to last. I have no idea what the numbers are, but Orson Scott Card’s books are still on sales down at Barnes & Noble and you can certainly find them on Amazon too, despite the fact that he is bitterly criticized for homophobia. Perhaps books and music, though, are less vulnerable than performance art since the former have a sort of independence from their creator, while in the latter case it’s very easy to blacklist actors and musicians. You can read the “Ender” books without giving Card himself much thought– you can’t see Kevin Spacey or Bill Cosby in a TV show or movie and not think of them.

#37 Comment By Eliza On May 17, 2018 @ 4:29 pm

Rod, you raise good questions. And I don’t think there IS a solid answer.

But the factor you are failing to bring in here is that patronizing an artists work gives them money, directly. If you call up a song on Spotify, or buy an authors book, you are giving them pay for that product. In Kelly’s case that means literally providing him with the means of avoiding penalty for his crimes. Rob Kelly the clerk at Walmart would be in prison. r Kelly the rapper is able to pay his way out of it.

So there are a series of calculations to consider. It’s a lot easier with deceased artists. I can say “Fitzgerald was a terrible husband and probably stole a lot of his work from his wife. Diamond as big as the Ritz is still beautiful work.”

If living, the question is “Is my money furthering their crimes? Are they using fame to avoid penalties? Or are they just jerks? Did they do something terrible in the past, but do time and come back and make even better art for it?”

And then there are artists that I will freely admit I can’t see clearly. I can’t enjoy Wagner. I can intellectually appreciate his musical genius and his contribution to art and everything about how, say, movie scores are written today. He is an important artist and I wouldn’t say nobody should listen to him. But I personally can’t enjoy any of his work because it was part and parcel of a political agenda I find repulsive, and moreover, that agenda is deeply embedded in the work. It is programmatic, part of every piece he wrote, and it was in turn used to further the rise of profound evil in his own lifetime and beyond. But that’s an emotional reaction of mine.

So in short, you want to completely separate the artist from his work. I don’t believe that’s possible in either a moral or practical sense. I don’t think there ARE hard and fast rules, exactly, but I think suggesting that people shoud keep paying R Kelly because there’s a slippery slope out there somewhere is irresponsible as well.

#38 Comment By SusanMcN On May 17, 2018 @ 5:18 pm

mrscracker says:
SusanMcN says:
” When you wrote your love letter to Brooks Brothers yesterday, I had to admit that I felt the same positive way about the company (stolid, secure, quality, etc.) right up until I learned last year that they made their original fortune by making slavewear (ie sturdy clothing for slaves) in this country. I love my no-iron crisp white shirts but I’m not sure I can stomach buying another one.”
**************
I don’t have a list handy, but I would guess the names of US & British manufacturers & cotton mill owners with similar histories would be quite lengthy.

*************
A fair point. But Brooks Brothers makes particular marketing point of how traditional and steeped in American history they are. Exhibit A: [13]

It doesn’t seem admirable to trade on your heritage and then hand wave your participation in the darker side of American history as well. That said, this is MY issue. I’m not planning on leading a boycott. Acknowledging the deep roots of slavery in our current culture is a particular sore spot for me so it is the place where I draw my own line.

#39 Comment By TR On May 17, 2018 @ 6:42 pm

Pedant’s point: It’s not NPR that is responsible for Prairie Home Companion being unavailable. It’s owned by a different entity. But I doubt if NPR would behave any better.

Mrs Cracker: D. W. Griffith made another great film, Intolerance, to atone for Birth of a Nation (a favorite of President Wilson).

Griffith’s sensibility was that of a Victorian sentimentalist. He is remembered and cherished by film historians not for the melodrama but for the cinematic techniques. Students watching his films laugh at all the “wrong” parts. They they settle down and see how he got his point across. Same for the Nazi filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl. In other words they both are geniuses of technique, not moral vision.

#40 Comment By Good Reason On May 17, 2018 @ 8:53 pm

Matthew 7:16-18 is pertinent: “do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs from thistles? . . . A corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit . . . a corrupt tree [cannot] bring forth good fruit.”

I think this saying of Christ’s suggests that it does matter what or who brought forth the fruit you intend to consume. Of course, deciding to forego a piece of art for this reason should be a personal decision, not one made for you by others, for we are here on this earth to learn to judge righteously for ourselves.

#41 Comment By Mia On May 17, 2018 @ 9:02 pm

“I hate the off-the-rack Bohemianism holding that real artists are hedonists. Flannery O’Connor was no hedonist. Wallace Stevens sold insurance. Tom Wolfe, who just passed, dwelled among the acidheads in the 1960s, but he never went native.”

Sometimes I think the figures in the arts community who fit this stereotype of hedonist whose talent only comes out when they are drunk/doing drugs/doing immoral things are the ones the powers that be prefer to elevate and emphasize, while artists who don’t fit that stereotype are kept out of view. I think the point is to try to equate genius with bad living generally, when it really doesn’t have to be that way at all. Talent is quite a separate issue from morality altogether, which bursts some peoples’ bubbles. They want the excuse to go all in with the bad behavior.

I actually know someone in the local arts community who said she couldn’t do her art unless she was drunk, which says to me that maybe she’s not really as talented as she thinks she is.

#42 Comment By Jonah R. On May 17, 2018 @ 9:24 pm

“If you call up a song on Spotify, or buy an authors book, you are giving them pay for that product. In Kelly’s case that means literally providing him with the means of avoiding penalty for his crimes. Rob Kelly the clerk at Walmart would be in prison. r Kelly the rapper is able to pay his way out of it.”

Eliza, I take your point about not wanting to enrich artists who are bad people, but I think Spotify and other streaming-music services are a bad example. According to the Digital Music News, as of this year, Spotify pays artists only $0.00397 per stream. Amazon’s streaming music service pays $0.0074 per stream. The highest-paying streaming music service, Microsoft’s Groove, pays $0.02730 per play. R Kelly would have to get 10 million songs played in a year just to earn $40,000.

That’s why I think we should be wary of what Spotify is doing here: not only are they making a decision we should make for ourselves, they’re also virtue-signaling on the cheap. Lowering the status of R Kelly and musicians like him costs Spotify nothing but pennies…but look at all the free PR they get.

#43 Comment By Mia On May 17, 2018 @ 9:25 pm

“I would blacklist Junot Diaz for not being a great writer. Ever read “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”? It was chock full of profanity and vulgarity. I couldn’t imagine that such trash could win a Pulitzer, but I figured it all came down to the author’s ethnicity.”

“High literary” works are like art films in that they usually prefer them depressing, morally questionable and vulgar. I guess you weren’t a lit major, right? I was, decades ago, and I was so shocked by some of the content, that I did start to question why these works were on the list of “greats”. How about poetry describing a man and his mother torturing and murdering his wife from the 1800s? I had a really hard time with those pervasive themes of driving women to suicide or playing nasty mind games with them, rape as a young woman. There is something to the idea that some of the works were probably only published because the authors were among the few who had money and connections, which trumps talent at every turn. The modern arts scene is far more democratic than previous centuries.

#44 Comment By Mia On May 17, 2018 @ 9:37 pm

“I might not per see have a problem watching a movie that starred or featured Kevin Spacey but if I knew he would still be profiting off of my viewing habits I might reconsider.”

If Kevin Spacey worked at a gas station, would you avoid going to that station because your money would be used for his salary?

#45 Comment By Cfountain72 On May 17, 2018 @ 10:56 pm

Notice: “Every time a famous individual continues to be glorified despite allegations of abuse,…” All it takes are ‘allegations’ to be blacklisted. Guilt or innocence be damned…

#46 Comment By mrscracker On May 18, 2018 @ 9:46 am

TR,
Thank you for reminding me about D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance.” That’s right.
I’m probably a bit of a Victorian sentimentalist myself, but I love his films. He was innovative in technique but his story lines were old fashioned even in the day the films were made. I like his little rural romances better than the bigger productions.

#47 Comment By David J. White On May 18, 2018 @ 5:19 pm

If Kevin Spacey worked at a gas station, would you avoid going to that station because your money would be used for his salary?

The owner of a popular local BBQ place was arrested a few months ago by the police in a series of sting operations in which they have been trying to reduce prostitution by targeting customers. Now I’m hesitant to patronize his restaurant — which I like — for fear that by doing so I will be paying for his hookers.

#48 Comment By David J. White On May 18, 2018 @ 5:23 pm

Mrs Cracker: D. W. Griffith made another great film, Intolerance, to atone for Birth of a Nation (a favorite of President Wilson).

Interesting. I’d always understood that Intolerance was intended as a protest against the perceived intolerance of the critics of Birth of a Nation — in other words, as a defense of BOAN, not an “atonement” for it.

And yes, Intolerance is a great movie. I think the Babylon set from Intolerance was one of the studio props burned to created the fire in the “burning of Atlanta” scene from Gone with the Wind.

#49 Comment By mrscracker On May 18, 2018 @ 7:29 pm

David J.White,

I took a look at Lillian Gish’s autobiography and I think she agreed with you about Griffith’s reasons for making”Intolerance.”

It doesn’t seem to have been a success financially and the timing of its release, right before our involvement in WWI, wasn’t ideal.

She also said that Griffith was distressed at having agreed to make propaganda films for the French and British during WWI.

#50 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 19, 2018 @ 10:07 pm

Now I’m hesitant to patronize his restaurant — which I like — for fear that by doing so I will be paying for his hookers.

I don’t think I’d worry about that, as long as the restaurant itself wasn’t a center for, or front for, prostitution. I’m paying for the barbecue. If he takes his salary or his net profits and pays for the services of prostitutes, he can go to jail or pay a fine. If he raises prices at his restaurant to pay his fines, he’ll go out of business.