Art After Assault
When we find out our idols have hurt others, it hurts. Recently, a plethora of influential people have come under fire due to the #MeToo movement. With accusations of sexual assault becoming commonplace within the entertainment industry, support for accused artists has been dwindling. From comedian Louis CK’s animated series The Cops getting canceled, to actor Kevin Spacey being fired from the hit television series House of Cards, entertainers with allegations of sexual violence against them not only lose support for the art that they are creating but the art they have created. But are masterful works of art any less masterful after the artist has committed a crime? Is it wrong to patronize a person’s art if they have committed such a heinous act? Can we continue to support one’s art after they have been accused of sexual assault?
When I found out that Melanie Martinez had been accused of raping someone, I was horrified. I regularly listened to her music and was a huge fan. I saw videos online of angry fans burning her debut album along with other merchandise the singer had produced. Hesitantly, because the evidence against her was compelling, I decided I had to distance myself from her music. I didn’t feel right supporting someone who had done such a terrible thing. Although this decision was initially a simple one, recently I have begun to question if boycotting Martinez is the right thing to do.
I love art and am against almost all censorship of it. Although boycotting Martinez could show my support for victims of assault, in doing so, I would be stifling Martinez’s ability to create music. Many enjoy listening to her songs, but more importantly, some people were able to identify with them. To punish Martinez, her fans also must be punished, and that seems wrong to me. For example, if we were to stop Picasso, a known abuser of women, from creating art, he would never have created the visual masterpieces adored around the world by millions. We wouldn’t have solely punished Picasso by preventing him from making art, but prevented the world from enjoying his art. People today are discussing taking down Picasso’s work, which to me and many others, is ludicrous. Because art is subjective, is it fair to continue to patronize one assaulter’s artwork because it is recognized as masterful by the masses while boycotting another less famous artist who committed assault?
When people boycott artists, many seem to forget about the team they have behind them. Actors, for example, have agents, managers, stylists, and many other people that work for them, who sometimes have nothing to do with an actor’s alleged assault. Because these people rely on said actor, punishing the artist threatens their team’s livelihoods. The people on the teams may have families that depend on them, and those family members have nothing to do with the artist themselves.
In addition to an actor’s team, entire casts and crews may be negatively affected due to the public condemnation and or boycotting of an actor. This has become more evident recently, as Jeffrey Tambor, lead of Amazon’s Emmy winning show Transparent, has been fired due to his alleged sexual assault of multiple different women. Without the star of the show, the future of Transparent is dubious. If the show is canceled, Amazon’s decision to terminate Tambor’s contract not only affects him and his team, but anyone working on the show. This means that members of the show’s cast and crew will be out of a job, and punished for a crime they had no involvement in.
The issue of supporting artists after sexual assault is complex, but so is sexual assault itself. Some cases, like those of Louis CK, are black and white; CK admitted to the vile acts he committed, conceding that, due to his influence, he had power over the women he assaulted, and that he “wielded that power irresponsibly.” Other cases, like that of comedian Aziz Ansari, are more difficult to prosecute. “We went out to dinner, and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual,” said Ansari in a response to accusations of sexual assault. A writer for the New York Times went so far as to write an article proclaiming Ansari’s innocence, stating that the only thing he is guilty of is not being a mind reader.
While it could be argued that supporting artists accused of sexual assault normalizes the crime, it is important to remember that, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, somewhere between two to ten percent of sexual assault allegations are false. If there is even a hint of doubt that someone is guilty, we should not assume culpability. This is not to say that we should call the victim a liar or ignore their claims, as doing so could cause further psychological damage, but should allow law enforcement to conduct an unbiased investigation. Withholding judgment before there is definitive proof is even more important with public figures, because, as discussed prior in this article, when celebrities are punished, so are the people on their teams, along with team member’s families.
As a male, I can never truly understand how a female experiences sexual assault. I cannot fully realize the extent to which sexual violence affects women. Nevertheless, not as a male or female, but as a person, I can try my best to sympathize. Despite this, I believe when it is proven an artist committed sexual assault, it is not fair to say we shouldn’t support them. However, it is also not fair to say that we should always support them. Though not every case of sexual violence makes it difficult to discern to the guilty from the innocent, many times the extent of the crime committed is debatable. People search for black and white answers. It’s instinctual; life is easier when it’s simple. Unfortunately, issues like sexual assault can be nuanced, and nuanced issues call for nuanced answers. Personally, after examining the issue of sexual assault in tandem with all the repercussions punishing artists for past crimes have, I lean towards separating the art from the artist. However, because of the complexity of this issue, there are certainly no right or wrong answers. I am not claiming I will never boycott an artist, but that I tend to support their art despite what they have done in the past. Our responsibility as patrons of the arts and activists against sexual assault is to come to a decision informed by facts and our morals.