Jan. 3

DoubleX: Celebrity is as celebrity does

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

When a male celebrity perpetrates violence against a woman -- for example, when Chris Brown assaulted Rihanna -- do his female fans have a responsibility to turn their backs on him? Can you love the performer and hate the person? Forgive and forget once his next project is released? Or is supporting an abusive celebrity's work akin to supporting his violent behavior?

Nina Rastogi: I think this is the flip side of "love the sinner, hate the sin" -- it's completely possible to love the art and hate the artist. (That's different, of course, from loving the art and excusing the artist, a la Roman Polanski.) At the same time, it's impossible to avoid having our experiences as viewers or listeners or readers colored by what we know about an artist's personal life. If you can't hear a Chris Brown song without cringing or getting enraged, by all means, stop listening to him. But I don't think there's anything hypocritical about buying a ticket to his concert and then spending the next morning, say, volunteering at a domestic abuse center.

Claire Gordon: I struggled with a similar question as a major Woody Allen fan, given his marriage to Mia Farrow's adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. In a lot of Woody's oeuvre he casts hot young leading ladies 30 years his junior as on-screen loves, which always seemed to me sexually unsavory and shameless - especially when the man hit 70. I still bought a Woody box set and watched it last holiday season. It was awesome. If we boycotted every artist who behaves unethically, our lives would be pretty desolate. The fundamental problem is that we live in a culture that normalizes violence to women; punishing individual perpetrators with a pocketbook protest seems more like self-punishment than effective political action.

Amanda Marcotte: If we couldn't separate the art from the artist, most of us wouldn't enjoy much art outside of Jane Austen's. Enjoying someone's art is no more endorsing every bad thing they've done than is working with someone whose politics you hate. That said, I understand why some feminists wish to make an exception for rape and domestic violence. Rapists rape and wife-beaters beat because they get public support even in the face of their crimes. We want to do a small part for creating actual shame for men who abuse women. But it seems to me that conflating the art and the artist is counterproductive. We'd do better to say that Chris Brown (or Roman Polanski) may make fine art, but they need to be doing so from prison.


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