When bad guys do good things

He’s probably a bastard, but can’t I still love his art?

Posted by Scott Harrell on Thu, Jan 16, 2014 at 4:30 PM

LIFER: Woody Allen in Take the Money and Run.
  • LIFER: Woody Allen in Take the Money and Run.
At last Sunday’s Golden Globes, filmmaker Woody Allen was given the Cecil B. DeMille Award — the Globes’ version of a lifetime achievement honor. Allen was not present to accept his award. In the ceremony’s “comparatively edgy alternative to the Oscars” tradition, several folks who should know took the opportunity to publicly reference, you know, the whole affair-with-his-19-year-old-not-really-stepdaughter thing that arose during the auteur’s very public split from Mia Farrow.

In its own “we simply must have an opinion on absolutely everything” tradition, the Internet immediately erupted, bringing into play the allegations of child molestation that came out at the same time. And since then, lots of people have been asking if it should be acceptable to like Woody Allen.

This latest uproar dovetails nicely with the burgeoning concept of “Internet outrage,” and the perception that social media has put an unprecedented amount of direct influence into the hands of the public. The Web has undoubtedly helped kneecap less iconic careers, and almost single-handedly kept alive the as-yet unsuccessful crusade to banish R. Kelly to the arid, shapeless sands of history.

(For those of you who don’t know, R&B titan Kelly spent the first decade of the aughts dogged by public accusations of statutory rape. In 2008, the singer was acquitted of 14 charges related to producing child pornography.)

But the whole Now We Have A Digital Voice thing is really just the newest wrinkle in a public discussion that’s been going on at least since actor Robert Mitchum was arrested in 1948 for the then-scandalous crime of marijuana possession:

Is it OK to appreciate the creative output of people that we’re pretty sure have done horrible things?

Hunter S. Thompson reputedly beat his wives. Suge Knight is widely believed to be a facilitator of murder as well as rap stardom, if not a killer himself. Michael Jackson spent his entire adult career ducking molestation rumors. Roman Polanski pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful sex with a minor (the minor in question being a 13-year-old girl who was allegedly drugged and sodomized), then fled the country to avoid being sent to prison.

All of these people have given great art to the world — should we accept their gifts?

We know not all of the men and women throughout history who contributed great things — not just art, but also philosophy, science, you name it — were paragons of moral virtue. When it comes to contemporary culture, however, the debate seems much more personal, and immediate. Is buying a copy of R. Kelly’s R. a vote in favor of pissing on 15-year-olds? Is watching Rosemary’s Baby an endorsement of pederasty?

You might as well ask how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It’s a personal issue, not a public one, and I’ll give you an example. I believe that, should I patronize Chick-fil-A, I would be helping forces that oppose basic human equality, so I don’t patronize Chick-fil-A. On the other hand, I don’t believe that, by buying a copy of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, I would be helping forces that approve of knocking one’s partner around. For me, Fear & Loathing stands apart from an agenda, or an issue, or even its creator.

But that’s just me. And maybe I’m making arbitrary justifications, in order to enjoy something created by a dickhead. It’s up to you to decide what you like, and what you’re endorsing, and whether or not you’re endorsing anything at all. When I listen to Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, I’m endorsing the rhythm, not the controversy.

I still get weirded out every time I get the urge to put on Rosemary’s Baby, though.

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