Do an Artists Transgressions Ruin Their Art?

I saw this morning that Dustin Hoffman has been accused of some pretty ugly things. Yesterday, I skimmed an article about Marion Zimmer Bradley. Over the past several months we’ve seen on some levels the implosion of our pop culture as a lot of ugly truth has come to light. I want to be careful here, because while I’m generally swayed by the individual accounts, my look at history suggests that a large group of angry people rarely yields justice.

What does all this mean? Should we never again watch a movie that was made under the Miramax label, because in so doing we support Harvey Weinstein? Should Netflix deep-six House of Cards because of Kevin Spacey’s horrible behavior offscreen?

In fairness, I should probably note, I’ve never seen an episode of House of Cards nor have I ever watched the Graduate (as a film buff can I confess that on the internet?). I’ve never read any of Bradley’s books. I still think Shakespear in Love is a great movie, no matter what happened offscreen when they made it.

This cognitive dissonance isn’t new for me. I’ve long known that Bing Crosby was probably a terrible person, but that has had very little to do with my appreciation of his incredible voice or my enjoyment of films like White Christmas or Holiday Inn. I think Frank Sinatra was an incredible musician, and I love listening to his work. That doesn’t excuse all of his affairs.

I think there’s value in separating the work of an artist from their conduct. In truth, no matter what they’ve done, or how terribly they’ve behaved, it has no real bearing on the aesthetic or cultural or moral value of their creation. Their dark character may well cause them to create things which have a poor moral character, or are of little cultural value. But that isn’t always the case.

That said, I don’t have any problem with punishing bad behavior. If we can’t see justice done in the courts, why not at the box office? I certainly would not support Netflix continuing to employ Kevin Spacey as though nothing happened. I’m perfectly fine with boycotting any future Weinstein productions… but I’m leery of trying to excise what has already come.

What do you think? How should we handle artists credibly accused of bad behavior? And how do we decide which accusations are credible and what behavior is bad?




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