Public figures exist in a sort of paradoxical state between hyper-analysis and infallibility. A socially conscious or “politically correct” mentality has become dominant in mass media. The general public is quick to jump on scandal and deem celebrities or content as “problematic.” Yet, the other side of this issue is that the art and its creator become two separate entities in the minds of the consumer, while the artist and their legacy go unscathed. How can this be?
Chris Brown is a perfect example of this double standard. Brown’s talent as an artist is undeniable, yet his career took a massive nose dive after domestic violence incidents between him and his then partner, Rihanna, became public. However, nearly a decade later, Brown’s music is still popular with those who grew up with it and are very aware of Brown’s dark past. If we are to separate art from the artist, where should that line be drawn? Should the distinction even be made?
This ostracizing behavior was displayed during last year’s Academy Awards during Casey Affleck’s acceptance speech. Affleck has a history of inappropriate conduct amongst his female peers and has had several sexual harassment accusations levied against him. Brie Larson, the presenter for his award, protested his achievement by refusing to congratulate the actor during his speech. This led to a firestorm of debate online questioning whether Affleck should be praised despite his shady past.
I love Affleck’s work and think he’s an incredibly talented actor. However, I don’t feel comfortable supporting him as an artist, even if these are just allegations of misconduct. I don’t see a viable way to balance my appreciation for his work knowing what I do about his personal life.
A more personal example is an extremely controversial artist that has been growing in popularity over the last year: XXXTentacion. XXXTentacion’s career has been defined by its controversial nature. Recently, the 19-year-old was arrested and charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant victim. Yet, I still find myself listening to his music on a consistent basis, my primary consolation being that as a SoundCloud-based artist, he’s not directly seeing any revenue from my listening.
Almost every conversation I have with people about XXXTentacion begins the same way: “He’s a terrible person, but his music’s still good.” I refuse to pay for his music or buy his concert tickets, and I always make sure to indicate I’m a fan of his music, but not a fan of him. Please, hold your applause. I know, I’m a true hero and am very #brave.
I know that me not paying to watch “Manchester by the Sea” isn’t going to put a massive dent into Mr. Affleck’s income. I know that my “wokeness” regarding XXXTentacion’s terrible behavior isn’t going to single-handedly kill his momentum as an up-and-coming name in hip-hop. However, my minor protests make me feel better. I feel like I’m doing my part by distinguishing things I like and things I don’t tolerate from my public personalities. Therein lies the alarming element of separating art from the artist: “If I feel comfortable with how I support artists, then I’m okay and this is a non-issue.”
This double standard obscures the issue in question. It is the mental equivalent of just moving a rug over a spill on the floor. Sure, you can’t see it anymore but the mess is still there. I pirated a copy of “Gone Baby Gone” out of spite to Casey Affleck, so what? It doesn’t un-harass those people he has hurt. I’m still going to talk about how good the film was to my friends, who may watch it and continue to grow Affleck’s fan base. Casey Affleck will continue to be an Academy Award Winning Actor, despite how disapproving the public is of his behavior. The same principle applies to listening to XXXTentacion or Chris Brown. If you, a consumer, are going to separate art from
If a consumer is going to separate the art from the artist in their mind, they have to recognize that supporting their work still supports them as people.