I remember having an argument in high school with a few friends about where to draw the line when separating the art from the artist. At the time, the discussion centered around Kanye West, who had recently made his full plunge into Trump fandom.
The conversation ultimately went nowhere, but it has echoed in my memory from time to time because I still don’t have an answer. There is no universally correct place to draw the line.
Maybe this would be a simpler discussion if people themselves were simpler. If only we could neatly fit into boxes of good and bad, but everyone is human. Beyond that, rarely is art made only by one person. Should we boycott a movie because Kevin Spacey cameoed in it? Should we drop The Beatles because of John Lennon? Should we dismiss the Lakers’ historic greatness because of Kobe Bryant?
Is it better if the offender is dead and cannot profit off their image? I don’t know.
For other people, the line may be drawn with Tiger Woods or even John Mulaney, who announced his girlfriend’s pregnancy on “Late Night with Seth Meyers” only four months after his divorce. While I’m not claiming they have not done morally questionable things, the backlash far outweighs their actions in some cases.
I remember growing up vaguely aware of Tiger Woods’ infidelity, but coverage of it was so comprehensive and negative that it felt like he murdered someone. John Mulaney hasn’t even been confirmed to have done anything particularly objectionable, but his fanbase has been up in arms since May.
Again, I’m not suggesting that I approve of problematic behavior so long as it’s not as bad as others’. However, uniformly punishing celebrities and creators for messing up only serves to homogenize the public reaction to misdeeds, which in turn decreases the attention shown to the worst offenders.
When both events are covered similarly, it offers people an easy response to their own public controversy: complain about “cancel culture” and get Ben Shapiro or Tucker Carlson to defend them. This happens again and again and again.
I worry that our societally punitive tendencies only serve to push people to the right. It also reminds me of a phrase I once heard: the left punishes and the right recruits.
Perhaps that’s what drew Kanye in about Trump, who is a public mess himself.
But none of this would be a necessary conversation if only “good” people produced “good” art. It’s clear that is not the case.
I’ve seen people pull a full 180 describing the quality of someone’s work after learning that the creator is problematic. They try to intellectualize their newfound dislike for the work by picking apart the art itself, hoping to find previously unfound problems.
This is futile. There is absolutely nothing restricting a rapist from releasing the indie bop of the summer or a pedophile apologist from filming the most breathtaking movie you’ve ever seen.
However, it is up to you to decide whether you want to engage with these things. Nobody can force you to engage or not engage with art.
I don’t really have a clear recommendation or some universal rule. Morality is never easy, and every person reading this will draw their line in a different place.
Noah Moore (he/him) is a junior studying psychology, theatre and drama and international studies. He is a member of the Singing Hoosiers and serves in IU Student Government.