**Trigger warnings** At what point does an artist’s behaviour affect your level of enjoyment for their body of work? Can you like an artist who does terrible things in real life? And if not, what’s the threshold before you go “nah, I’m not gonna listen to them/watch their films any more”.
There’s a whole litany of awful artists out there that we can cherry pick from. Chris Brown beat Rihanna then continued to be an asshole. Ian Watkins from LostProphets turned out to be an horrific paedophile. Mel Gibson suddenly decided to bite the hand that controls the media when he slagged off Jews, then said to his partner (at the time), and I quote:
“Shut the fuck up! You should just fucking smile, and blow me! ‘Cause I deserve it!”
Mel’s career went to purgatory. Ian Watkins ended up in prison, but Chris Brown went on to considerable commercial success (and then more repetitive asshole behaviour). So clearly there is some sort of threshold that was not met with Chris Brown. If one wanted to focus on the gender politics, one could make the case that Chris’ misdemeanours were against women and so consequently more easily forgiveable since we have a power imbalance in society that quite clearly favours men over women.
Obviously you’d argue that Mel Gibson also transgressed against women with his comments, when he said (and I quote again):
“You look like a fucking pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of niggers, it will be your fault” (bonus points for not just using the n-word, but for using the collective pro-noun “pack”, further demeaning black people to animal status).
And I think that the racism that Mel used was probably what got him more into trouble. The anti-semitic rant, the use of “niggers”. Ian Watkins committed crimes against children, which is just about the hardest crime to come back from. I don’t care if you’re Mother Theresa, paedophilia is the point of no return. But Chris Brown beating a woman was not only rewarded for his music later on down the track, but got back together with Rihanna as well. What sort of message does this send? That it’s ok to hit a woman, and be a misogynistic prick, but don’t insult Jews or be racist or fuck children?
This is most clearly illustrated (in a weird way) by the Hangover films. When they were filming the sequel, Mel Gibson was going to play a tattoo artist, but the core cast – Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms – they refused to work with Mel, taking a principled stand against Mel’s awful ways. Which is lovely, except for the major role that Mike Tyson played in the first film despite being a convicted rapist.
We gave Sean Penn multiple Oscars even though he spent time in prison for assaulting Madonna. Roman Polanski was given an Oscar in absentia even though an underage rape charge hangs over him, the NFL is littered with players committing domestic violence and still being able to play. Charlie Sheen was an hilarious jokester! Because: winning!
So what is the threshold? Because clearly hitting women is acceptable. In fact we deify John Lennon and think he’s one of the greatest musicians of all time, and that he was a hero of peace and tranquillity: actually, wife abuser.
There seem to be funny things that turn us off artists, for instance many people lose an interest in a band if it turns out they’re Christian Rock. Religion by stealth seems to be a worse transgression than domestic violence. American television personality and chef Paula Deen had it revealed that she had used racial slurs in the past, her career was over. Being a publicly bat shit scientologist did it in for Tom Cruise; everyone knew he was a scientologist, but he kept it under wraps until that infamous Katie Holmes relationship. Jennifer Grey lost an entire career because of a nose job.
And what happens if you “accidentally” listen to a LostProphets song and really like it, you turn to your friend and you say “wow this song is really good, who’s it by?” and they say “Oh this is a LostProphets song, their lead singer is in prison for child rape”. Does that suddenly make you a bad person for having liked the music before knowing who it was by? Are you now duty-bound to hate the body of work because Ian Watkins is such an asshole?
It’s a hard threshold to set, because quite often we don’t control our emotional responses to art. “Oh that Picasso painting is just incredible, he was the father of cubism”.
“Yes but did you know that Picasso was pretty much a sociopath who would beat women and fuck with them emotionally?”
“Oh well now the painting is ugly”.
Doesn’t seem to be how it works.