Cancel Culture: The Art Against the Artist

The art versus the artist is a personal choice – and one worth re-examining

When you learn something devastating about a person attached to a movie, TV show, or song you love, where does that love go?

By Candice Frederick | Published on November 7, 2023

This story is part of our week-long series on cancel culture.
Read the other stories here.

Maybe this has happened to you before. You’re excited about a movie you saw and decide to post about it on social media. Something like: “OMG, [XYZ] is soooo good. It’s one of my all-time favorites.” And while you’re talking about it, someone sends you a detailed report about how shitty the director, actor, or other talent behind the project is as a person.

Most of the time it goes like this: “I used to love this movie too, but here’s what I found out [XYZ] did [insert shitty behavior here] and now I can’t even stand it.”

That’s a perfectly fair stance for someone to take. It often depends on whether the shitty person’s behavior triggers them, whether it conflicts with their own social or political beliefs, or how much empathy they have for the person directly affected by the shitty person. Whatever the reason, it is a personal choice and they have every right to feel that way.

But any expectation that someone else should feel the same way is a little worrisome and a lot troubling. Each of us has our own relationship with a work of art that we admire, but which may have little to do with the personality or behavior of a talent. Sometimes it really is just about the art.

That can be a harsh truth, especially in a culture that too often conflates a flawed or despicable character with the actual actor who portrays them. This has already broken down the wall between reality and fiction to the point where they are one and the same.

This is made even worse when so much of a celebrity’s personality is made available to us – with and without their permission – and we feel entitled to it in return.

This time they cheated on a spouse. The scrambled eggs they made for breakfast. Photos of their children. They decided to share the very problematic and politically incorrect post with the world. crimes they have committed.

This is the same celebrity culture that glorifies celebrities in strange ways. So when they mess up, and that happens a lot, a lot of people can’t even handle it. They feel betrayed and only then realize that the celebrity was human (or perhaps worse than most humans) all along.

Furthermore, we also demand some kind of justice or a proper dismantling of their celebrity once they commit the crime(s). It is both our way of taking a stand and demanding a sense of responsibility increasingly elusive what this responsibility seems to be like.

Should this benefit also extend to the person’s art? Well, again it depends on who you ask. It may depend on whether you have already seen and loved the movie, TV show, song, or other work of art. Because when you learn something devastating about a person who is interested in art, where does that love go?

We live in a time where things and people are either black or white, right or wrong. …We need to make it easier for ourselves to express and engage with thoughts and feelings around art that make us uncomfortable.

One could argue that your admiration immediately disappears when you hear the news. But that would then raise another question: Did you ever really like it when it was so easy to drop it?

Maybe this kind of love applies to some people, but not to all of us. Parting with art that we think is great also means giving up something that we enjoy engaging with, that we challenge, and that we enjoy looking at, sometimes on repeat. It requires a separation that we may or may not really want, but that we believe is right.

None of these things are easy. And to be fair, they imply a willingness that may not be there. That doesn’t mean we’re willing to compromise our social or political values ​​for a work of art involving a villain. It really just means that we are complicated people who can sometimes seem contradictory.

It also means we miss the opportunity to have a thoughtful discussion about these complicated feelings we have around this art. But the social culture is currently not structured in such a way that contemplative discourse can really flourish. We live in a time where things and people are either black or white, right or wrong.

The reality that there can be, and often are, multiple truths is not even considered.

However, let’s leave that aside for a moment. Suppose you can have equally strong feelings for both a song and the shitty person behind it. One can even be conflicted about it, even if both things continue to be true. But as uncomfortable as it may be to admit it, especially on these precarious social media streets, there should be no shame attached to it.

It just means we need to make it easier for ourselves to express and engage with thoughts and feelings around art that make us uncomfortable.

Like how enjoying a movie isn’t the same as enjoying the shitty person involved in it. For one thing, the production of a work of art involves many talented, generally unproblematic workers, far beyond the one problematic human being associated with it (or even some of them, for that matter).

Cutting the art would also mean cutting what all those other people put into it. And if disrupting the income that empowers said crappy person(s) is an important goal, how that affects the talent around them on a project is a worthwhile discussion.

Across Hollywood — and beyond — there is an ecosystem of shitty behavior all Industries – that has and should have given us plenty of reasons to reflect, to express our opinions and, as we have seen repeatedly, rightly to demand accountability. But the type of response one should have to art, in relation to the perpetrator involved, remains controversial.

Watch the entire Cancel Culture Unraveled series here.

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