There seemed to have been little time between when the accusations began as a trickle to when they became a full on deluge. Seemingly overnight we went from women coming forward against Harvey Weinstein and producer William Bensussen, a.k.a. The Gaslamp Killer to dozens of people. Men and women alike, coming forward, speaking out against the rampant sexual violence that seems to be ubiquitous in the entertainment industry. Numerous
well-known actors, directors, musicians and producers have come under fire recently for their behaviors, and while it is heartening to see the courage in the victims coming forward to testify, it is utterly dismaying to see the sheer number of people who have suffered at the hands of the privileged and powerful of the industry (and not just in the entertainment industry - it's trickling down everywhere).
It is also equally disturbing to see some of the responses among the general public to these accusations. Certainly there has been a communal spirit of support for those affected, but there also seems to be an almost equal amount of animosity and vitriol directed toward the victims and survivors that have come forward. At their worst, these comments are dripping with vile and misogynistic statements that I could not possibly put into print, while at the best, there is a common rhetoric that I am reading far too often. It usually goes something like this.
"I know what he did is bad, but I still really like his music."
"I'm not defending his actions in any way, but his films were so good, it's not a problem if I enjoy them but criticize him."
"Can't I support the art, but condemn the artist?"
Comments such as these point to an internal moral struggle that many of us have faced or will face in the wake of and continuation of these accusations. For many, myself included, these artists and their works are very dear and personal to us. It is understandably difficult to confront the idea of disowning something that meant so much to us overnight.
Yet "supporting the art, but not the artist" is a cheap way of absolving ourselves of any responsibility. It is a get-out-of-jail-free card to excuse us from participating in a conversation which is long overdue in this country. And while it would be a nice, neat-and-clean affair to separate the art from the artist and focus on the artist as the accused, the fact of the matter is that art and the process of creating art does not exist independently from the actions of the artist in their personal life. We must recognize that sexual violence, abuse, and manipulation are not just things that happen away from the world of art and entertainment, but are the tools by which artists establish and control their power.
Harvey Weinstein wielded so much influence not only through his cultural and financial power, but in the power he gained by controlling and manipulating women, using fear and violence as the reins. Dr. Luke used sexual and emotional abuse against Kesha to keep her under his management, and thus making money for him. In 2016, Kesha claimed
that he offered to release her from her contract if she recanted her rape accusations. Claudio Palmieri, a.k.a. Ethan Kath from Crystal Castles, exploited Alice Glass for his own monetary gain as well as credit as an artist. In her account
of her time in the group, Glass claims that Palmieri used physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as tools to keep her from leaving Crystal Castles.
In all of these instances we cannot separate the art from the artist because the two are so intrinsically intertwined. Much of Crystal Castles catalogue was recorded with Alice Glass' arm twisted behind her back. Dr. Luke's success as a producer came not from his own skills or accomplishments, but from the exploitation of another artist. When we condemn the artist but support the work, we are passively condoning an abusive and dishonest power structure. If we criticize the artist and say we don't support them as a person, yet continue to support their material financially, then our critiques are hollow and meaningless. Supporting only the art still supports the artist.
Supporting the art but not the artist is also a tacit way of telling victims that we don't truly believe them. I can think of no bigger metaphorical middle finger to a victim than telling them you believe them, then turning around and buying tickets to see a show performed by the person that abused them.
I don't say any of this in an effort to make anyone feel bad. As I've stated, it can be emotionally shocking to come to find that a favorite artist is a bad person. Yet while it is easy enough to say that none of us would condone such abusive actions, in this case actions must speak louder than words. If any of us truly wish to see the undoing of the systemic toxic and exploitative power structures in our society and entertainment culture, then we must unequivocally disavow abusers and their work.