EDITORIAL: The Artist vs. Their Art

In the weeks following The New York Times’ story on Harvey Weinstein’s pattern of sexual harassment and assault in early October, as more and more people have come forward to accuse prominent pop culture figures of misconduct or abuse,  with a frustratingly complex question: Is it possible to separate as artist from their work? And even if it is, should we?

In addition to Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey and comedian Louis C.K. are among the highest profile of those alleged to have used their power as celebrities to harass, assault, and get away with it. Weinstein has been accused of sexually assaulting or harassing 75 or more women over the course of his 37-year career in Hollywood. Spacey is accused of sexually assaulting at least 13 young men, between ages 14 to 30 from 1983 to 2017, all of whom remained silent until actor Anthony Rapp came forward with his story on October 29. Louie C.K. had long been rumored to have masturbated in front of colleagues without their consent, but these allegations did not receive major media attention until after the popularization of #metoo, a movement that Weinstein’s scandal helped to catalyze.

This all begs the question, is “Pulp Fiction,” a Weinstein produced film, or “House of Cards,” a TV series in which Spacey stars, off limits now? We have seen such a rejection recently; you will not find a rerun of the Cosby Show anywhere on television due to Bill Cosby being accused of multiple accounts of rape. On the other hand, many thousands of people listen to Michael Jackson, despite accusations of sexual assault of a minor and the child pornography found in Jackson’s house after his overdose in 2009.

More specifically, whether or not an artist’s actions should affect our consumption of their products is applicable to our community. A minority of our curricula at Tam was created by controversial, or even deplorable people.

For example, many English classes at Tam and MVMS require students to read “Lord of the Flies.” This is not a necessarily controversial decision in itself, as “Lord of the Flies” is a classic work of literature and explores many themes pertinent to the “coming of age” period that many young adults experience. So, should it be important that William Golding, the author of Lord of the Flies, privately admitted to the rape of a young girl in 1930? Do Golding’s disgusting acts negate his work, which has been used to educate millions of students?

Take another example. Most girls at Tam own at least one piece of clothing from Urban Outfitters. The owners of the store have been accused on multiple occasions of being racist, sexist, and homophobic. Shirts in their stores have read “Eat Less” and “New Mexico, cleaner than regular Mexico.” In general, both boys and girls have not turned against Urban Outfitters, despite the inflammatory messages pushed by some of their products.

Nonetheless, many Tam News staff members argue that art must be separated from the artist. If a scientist makes a progressive discovery, of course you would never disregard their work due to a crime they committed. However, others contend that to support the work of a person or organization you disagree with, is to support the person themselves.

In grappling with this dilemma we realized that it is a personal choice to consume a product by someone who you disagree with morally, and not something that can be labeled inherently right or wrong. As consumers we have incredible power and by spending money on products made by certain organizations or people we are also giving them the ability to wield their influence however they see fit. The Tam News staff agrees that as consumers we all have a responsibility to understand what we are intentionally or unintentionally supporting based on what we buy.  It’s important to remember the power that we hold as consumers; Weinstein, Spacey, and C.K. have lost contracts and standing following accusations against them not because of corporate moral outrage but rather because of pressure from the public.

We collectively ask you, the reader, to take a moment to reflect on this issue, to get informed about what your money is supporting and where you stand on this morally. Would you feel wrong watching “House of Cards” or “Louie?” How about listening to “Thriller”? If you feel passionately about this topic, please feel free to write a letter to the editor.