I’m not the type to know much about, or care much about, famous people. But I care very much about the things that some famous people make. I love to read. I love television and movies. And I need a stronger word than love to describe how I feel about music. Every once in a while, something about the personal life of an author, actor or musician will infiltrate my consciousness. It bothers me when it happens. It bothers me because it affects the way I feel about the products that these famous people make. I went years without listening to Michael Jackson’s music. It was only after he died that I felt comfortable listening to his songs again. Now, the dirty laundry of Hollywood is unavoidable. I’m still a little unclear why Harvey Weinstein is famous, but I know all about his history as a sexual predator. I actually know who Kevin Spacey is, but with the recent revelations, I wonder if I can ever watch The Usual Suspects again. I guess that’s the question. Can I, or should I, separate an artist from his* work?
I think I should be able to separate an artist from his work, but I can’t shake a certain feeling once I know of something bad that the artist has done. With Michael Jackson, whatever he did with those kids was inappropriate and downright creepy. But, that doesn’t change Billy Jean or ABC. Michael Jackson was only 11 when he recorded ABC. He was an abuse victim himself. But I just couldn’t listen. It made me feel creepy by extension when I did, no matter how I tried to rationalize it.
Of course, affecting my enjoyment of a work depends on the type of bad things the celebrity does. I don’t expect my celebrities to be perfect. I know there are plenty of adulterers, womanizers and sexists among the celebrities that I enjoy. I’m not OK with Mick’s behavior, but I can still enjoy the Rolling Stones. It’s really when the bad behavior turns to rape, abuse or something with children that it taints the artist’s works for me.
It’s lucky, in a way, that I’ve found the Woody Allen movies I’ve seen to be dull. It makes it easy to skip his work. But Louis C.K. had a recurring role in Parks & Recreation, and I love Parks & Recreation. Do I need to skip all of his episodes now? I know I don’t have to, but I probably will. Bill Cosby used to be one of the funniest comedians I’d ever seen. Nothing he can do now can make me laugh.
I feel bad saying this, but I think I may just need to wait for all these sexual predators to die. It worked with Michael Jackson. I listen to his music regularly now, and my band has even started covering Billy Jean. I’m pretty sure Picasso was a despicable person, but he was dead before I was even born, so I’ve never had any trouble enjoying his work.
It’s funny, but rationally I know that an artist’s death doesn’t affect his work, just like his personal shortcomings don’t affect his work. It doesn’t make sense that someone’s personal life would change my opinion of his public works. Nor does it make sense that their death would rehabilitate that same work. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive, but I can’t seem to help it
*I’m using his because all of these people that I know about are men.