Thomas Newman’s American Beauty score landed in my mailbox this week. Showing the LP to a young colleague at work – who was born only a couple of years prior to its release – I felt a pang of shame mentioning Kevin Spacey’s name in the cast. I loved this film when it came out, but now it feels illicit, like I have to justify liking it. It got me thinking about this climate we’ve found ourselves living in.
Kevin Spacey. Bill Cosby. Rolf Harris. Michael Jackson. Woody Allen. There are others. The list seems to be endless. Formerly loved and respected musicians, artists, and actors, shrouded in a cloud of disgust. Some found guilty in a court of law, some in the court of social media. It doesn’t matter anymore with respect to how the general public think about them. Guilt and perception are intertwined.
Hang around on social media for a while and you will encounter three types of people. The liberals among us will say that you have to separate the art from the artist. At the other end of the spectrum, people will feel that the art is forever tainted by the crime of the artist. And in the middle will be the fence-sitters who either don’t care, or will agree with the last person who spoke.
For me, I have to separate the art from the artist. I just have to. I just can’t live without American Beauty. Or Thriller. Or Manhattan. Or Chinatown. Or the genius of Bill Cosby’s early stand-up. Think what you think, but I just have to.
If you do take the hard stance against the art for the crimes of the artist, then where do you draw the line? If we take Spacey as an example, do you distance yourself from all of his films? And if so, what about the directors of those films, or the studios that released them? Do you stand outside movie theatres and protest every time Sam Mendes directs a film, and set fire to billboards every time Dreamworks Pictures advertise their latest release?
One extreme example is the work of Welsh rock band Lostprophets. Their singer was jailed in 2013 for a string of truly horrible offences. Justice was served. But I’ve always felt sorry for the other members of his band, who had worked hard to get to that stage in their careers. The same goes for those in the periphery of the band – the technicians, record company people, and anybody else who had contributed to their success. All of their hard work is now swept under the carpet. The other band members have moved on and formed another band, yet the level of success they reached in Lostprophets has eluded them. It doesn’t seem fair.
Will I look back on this blog post in ten or twenty years’ time and see its naivety, or will I applaud myself for being able to overlook a piece of art for what has tainted it in real life? I don’t know.
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