From Allen to Gibson: Separating artists actions from their works
Last semester, a discussion in my Shakespeare class took an unexpected turn. We left the world of 16th century England and veered into present-day Hollywood. As the professor recommended film renditions of “Hamlet,” he mentioned the excellent job Mel Gibson does in the title role. From the back of the room, maybe jokingly, perhaps seriously, one of my classmates piped up: “He’s also really good at being a racist!” A few people giggled, but professor Frederick Kiefer grew somber in the way that only literary scholars can.
“We all know what happened in Malibu,” he said, referencing Gibson’s arrest for drunk driving and his subsequent racist rant in 2006. “However,” he continued, “what you need to understand is that horrible people can make great art.”
The harsh reality is that this is true — vile, disgusting individuals can create wonderful things. How do we reconcile ourselves to the fact that terrible human beings can create art that improves the world, while they harm it as people? Should we even try to accept the contrast between the beauty of a person’s art and the profound ugliness of their soul?
It’s imperative that we carefully consider who we give our money to in an age when art and entertainment are not only pastimes but valuable money-making industries.
This decision is especially pertinent in light of Woody Allen’s recent situation. He’s been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for “Blue Jasmine,” but there’s a very dark tone to the golden glow.
According to former partner Mia Farrow and other family members, Allen molested his then-7-year-old daughter, Dylan, in 1993. Allen recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes, sparking the accusations of child abuse once again.
The appalling allegations may or may not be true, but Allen is not the first man with an impressive résumé to be haunted by rumors of a seedy personal life. Like Mel Gibson, it is entirely possible that Allen is a reprehensible person coincidentally capable of producing Oscar-worthy films.
The contrast between the creation and the creator’s character may be shocking, but we need to accept that this dichotomy exists. We struggle to do so, because we’re used to the facades that Hollywood feeds us of its members as glimmering and idealized. Since we turn to entertainment in order to escape from our own imperfect world, we wish to believe the illusion.
The suggestion that artists or performers are fake feels like a betrayal. We feel we know the people who join us in our homes via our TVs and iPods, so it’s hard to realize that they may be much different than they appear.
When we listen to “Imagine,” we want to be inspired by John Lennon — not plagued by thoughts of him as a bad father. As we laugh along to reruns of “The Cosby Show,” ignoring the recent sexual assault allegations surrounding Bill Cosby is simply easier.
But in order to promote a better world, we ultimately need to sacrifice some of our indulgent fantasies. We need to stop equating accomplished people only with their art, and start thinking about their other actions as well. Being able to write a beautiful movie or sing a lovely song is not synonymous with having good character. Great art does not mean pure heart.
We shouldn’t just cast off any artist or performer with a questionable past, but we need to think deeply about who we support with our attention and money. There are plenty of people, like Angelina Jolie, who manage to both do good for the world and the entertainment industry. We should remember to support the artists who don’t just make a change by moving us, but who make a positive change for the world with their personal actions.
— Brittany Rudolph is a sophomore studying English and art history. Follow her @DailyWildcat