I’ve been putting off writing this article for over a year now, mostly out of just not wanting to poke the bear. My general attitude about subjects to stay away from, is if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I’ve remained silent on this topic for a while, ignoring it, and just letting other people try and hash it out. Only, the issue hasn’t ignored me. The issue seems to continue to get bigger all the time, and has actually impacted my ability to simply talk about the things I love.
The very fact that I, and many that hold at least some of the same opinions as those I’m going to share with you below, have been so aggressively shamed over what we’re allowed to watch and what we’re not allowed to watch, I think is very telling of a deeper problem, the true root of the problem. Telling, because most of the negativity seems to be coming from the people that are spewing all the outrage, and not the thing that they’re claiming is so bad itself. In my gut, something just feels wrong about it all, unkind, and agenda-driven.
I have a deep love and appreciation for art in all its many forms: movies, TV, music, games, stand-up comedy, books, architecture, paintings, and everything else. It turns out, though I suppose there shouldn’t be much of a surprise here, that a lot of artists are kinda: weird, depressed, drug-addicted, alcoholic, and perverted. Some of them are straight-up bigots: racist, sexist, and homophobic. Some of them are so broken, they’ve actually murdered, raped, and molested people, whether only accused, or actually convicted.
Whether we’re talking about the Mona Lisa or the latest 100-million-dollar blockbuster like Guardians of the Galaxy, all of these works of art have now become “problematic,” the latest buzzword that’s going around, like a kind of sickness. Not because they’re overtly or even inherently evil, in any way, but because some aspect of the story, after targeted-scrutiny (the 6 degrees of confirmation bias and being put through the witch-hunt filter as I like to say), can be perceived as one of the -ists or -phobics or because of some scandal related to just one of the people involved in the making of the art, it’s essentially blacklisted from acceptable viewing by “good” people.
Some of the loudest voices in the mob are so extreme, that they’re trying to shame the rest of us by equating our love of art with supporting the given artist’s bad behavior. It’s become something of a cliché at this point, a sound bite, but separating the art from the artist really is a healthy way to enjoy art. “The mob” itself is an interesting beast, and it comes mostly in the form of social media. It’s more like a neutral force, than having any sort of moral compass. It can be used as a tool for good or as a weapon for evil; it doesn’t care; it just feeds on energy. The #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements for example, I think, have been able to use the mob for a lot of good.
However, with all this good, and perhaps this is always true for any big push to change society for the better, has come a lot of collateral damage and abuse of the mob for evil. The mob has become so volatile in its feeding frenzy, that it’s essentially become a malfunctioning RoboCop, ya know, where it’s indiscriminately killing the murderers and rapists, along with kids that are skateboarding in “No Skateboarding” zones, or spitting gum on the ground. The mob has lost all rationale in being able to react respectively, to measure the degrees of one’s actions.
And nefarious people are already using the mob to their advantage, pretending to be for a good and true cause, but actually with malicious intent. They’re not victims themselves of either prejudice or abuse, nor are they fighting for those that have suffered. Really, their goals are much more petty, often just for the purpose of getting someone fired either just for fun, or for a personal, political, or religious agenda.
Also, let’s not forget, that there’s always been a kind of mob, even before social media, in the form of the tabloids and paparazzi. This desire to knock celebrities down a peg or two, is nothing new. This new era of internet troll definitely detracts from the good work that actual activists, lawyers, politicians, and those that suffer from bigotry are doing. Although I’d say that the majority of the time, the mob is balanced toward good over evil, it still requires criticism and needs to be kept in check.
I think the most irresponsible use of the “current climate” (as it’s often called), is the incredibly low threshold for and irresponsible ease in which we label one-another as racist, sexist, or a homophobic. These drive-by labelers rarely explain their reasoning or are even asked to explain themselves. The mob just sort of picks it up and runs with it. This behavior has become so prevalent, that it’s entered the zeitgeist to the point where saying “That’s racist.” is a TV trope that comes out of nearly every comedy writers room.
Corporations have become so frightened of the mob, that they allow the mob’s indiscriminate force of lumping together someone who’s been accused of rape by multiple people with people who merely made rape jokes on Twitter to take precedent in their PR team’s damage control guidelines, and will fire people equally for the two very different scenarios. Even more dangerous, is that when someone comes under this scrutiny, whether they’re actually guilty or not, once the mob picks up their pitchforks and torches, it no longer matters.
According to the mob, this is now the factual reality, and this person and any work they’re involved with should now be redacted from the record, boycotted, and anyone who continues to look at their art, marked as sympathizers with whatever they’d been labeled as. This isn’t dangerously close to book-burning, this is the modern equivalent of it.
All that said, again, I can’t emphasize enough, there is a lot of good that’s taking place. And to be honest, this is a very complicated subject, and it’s not all or nothing. This issue has become massive and continues to grow, and there are some very nuanced aspects of it to navigate here. I can’t claim that I fully understand these issues; I can only analyze the bits that I do think I’ve got a handle on. I think only a team of: anthropologists, psychologists, and professors of society and culture, could really do the subject justice. I’m still learning, so please do comment below with any academic articles and even other opinion pieces that you think are worthwhile in trying to navigate this subject.
As of right now, I can really only offer my opinions based on my own anecdotes and worldview. One of which is that I’m not a fan of boycotting, in any form, for any cause. I feel like there is a lot of hypocrisy in it. Hollywood is probably the most notable industry that’s come under fire, and that’s where I have the most experience and interest in understanding this problem. As I said, it’s no mystery that artists are high on the weirdo scale, and Hollywood just happens to have a high concentration of artists. In other words, I don’t think it’s necessarily something in the water.
While most of this stuff has apparently been an open secret for industry insiders pretty much all along, for the rest of the world, we’re seeing revelation after revelation after revelation of people being outed for sexual harassment, rape, and even molesting children. Of course it’s disgusting, of course something needs to be done about it, and of course no one’s going to defend any of this behavior. Still, I’m not going to revise history, and for example, to say that I was never a fan of Michael Jackson, or that I’ll never listen to his music again.
If you decide that you no longer want to listen to him, or that James L. Brooks‘ decision to retroactively delete an episode of The Simpsons from history (essentially to censor our ability to see it as much as possible), just because Michael Jackson made a guest appearance on the episode, is okay, that’s fine; that’s your right.
However, if you feel you have the right to extend and project those thoughts onto me and others that can still enjoy Michael Jackson, and even go as far as to attack us, or try and censor our right to enjoy that art, I’m definitely going to call bullshit. Once you begin boycotting art, where does it end? That was a rhetorical question, because it doesn’t.
I’d go as far as to say that it’s impossible for art to come out of the “Hollywood system” without being tainted in some way, by some scumbag, and regardless of the best intentions and most careful consideration from filmmakers, it’s impossible to produce a piece of art that under special scrutiny, isn’t going to be found to be offensive, to someone, somehow. I won’t even be able to breach this topic and discuss it openly without offending someone, I’m sure.
Only speaking of the scandals that we’re actually aware of, here’s one of the most comprehensive lists and another one here of people that have been accused of sexual misconduct in the past couple years, over 200 names. The list of movies, TV shows, and music albums that have been worked on by these folk, is surely in the thousands (or tens of thousands), enough that each and every one of us likely has some favorites that would land on that list, that we’d no longer be allowed to watch, if that’s the stance you’re going to take.
I won’t take on the daunting task of trying to list ever possible piece of art that would now be off limits in this new art blacklist, but I’ll list some major movie examples. If you’re going to take a stand that art made by people who are undesirable in society should not be enjoyed, you can no longer watch any of the following without risking being a hypocrite:
- The Burning
- Dust Devil
- Pulp Fiction
- Jane Eyre
- The Crow: City of Angels
- Scream (trilogy)
- Cop Land
- Good Will Hunting
- Jackie Brown
- The Prophecy II
- Halloween H20
- The Faculty
- The Cider House Rules
- Scary Movie
- Hellraiser: Inferno
- Dracula 2000
- The Others
- Lord of the Rings (trilogy)
- Halloween: Resurrection
- Gangs of New York
- Kill Bill
- Sin City
- The Brothers Grimm
- Halloween (remake)
- The Mist
- Halloween II (2009)
- The Fighter
- Django Unchained
- Big Eyes
- The Hateful Eight
- 47 Metres Down
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Dazed and Confused
- Pearl Harbor
- Gone Girl
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
- Suicide Squad
- Justice League
- Wall Street
- The Doors
- Natural Born Killers
- The Usual Suspects
- L.A. Confidential
- American Beauty
- Horrible Bosses
- Baby Driver
- The Graduate
- Midnight Cowboy
- Straw Dogs
- All the President’s Men
- Marathon Man
- Kramer vs. Kramer
- Rain Man
- Dick Tracy
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind
- Stand by Me
- What About Bob?
- Jeepers Creepers (trilogy)
- The Return of the Living Dead
- Apt Pupil
- X2: X-Men United
- X-Men: Days of Future Past
- X-Men: Apocalypse
- Bohemian Rhapsody
- The Fearless Vampire Killers
- Rosemary’s Baby
- The Ninth Gate
- The Pianist
Fuuuuuuuuck me, I only just barely started to scratch the surface, and have already wiped out about half of all Americana. I don’t know about you, but I love just about every single movie on that list, and I’m not about to stop watching any of them to try and make some kind of showy stand against evil. Suggestion: let’s continue taking down all the sleazy people that deserve to be taken down, but not pretend like any piece of art they were involved in somehow represents their disgusting behavior now, and should be disavowed.
Recorded history shows that Leonardo da Vinci may have been a pedophile. Should we burn the Mona Lisa?
And what about forgiveness? Is that a subject that even gets a seat at the table of this debate?
If we really, really want to start to move forward in society, and have healthy discussion about race, sex, and sexuality, we’re going to have to be uncomfortably honest about the fact that everything’s on a scale, and we’re all at least just a little bit racist, sexist, ageist, classist, whateverist. Now, before anyone freaks out to proclaim from the rooftops (or the comments section) “I’m not a racist!,” please understand what I’m saying.
We’re animals; some of this stuff is just built-in, and we need to work on overcoming it. A woman might feel uncomfortable walking into a room full of only men. A black guy might feel uncomfortable walking into a room full of only white women, etc. Some of us are so awkward about avoiding the appearance of prejudice, that we actually cause tension. It’s natural, we’re only human, we do notice the differences about each other, and we need to think on this and take a deep breath.
My personal experience, so that you can kind of get a better understanding of my perspective, was a somewhat strange one. I grew up with a ton of diversity (something I thought was normal), of different sexes, cultures, races, incomes, different religious backgrounds, etc. Since I treated everyone equally, beyond the binary judgment of whether I thought they were fun to play with or not, I thought that’s simply how it was for everyone. My whole life, I’ve never been a joiner or follower, and always had an eclectic group of friends. Jocks, goths, loners, whatever, I didn’t care.
With the minor exception of feeling inferior myself, compared to other people, for being treated differently my entire life for being weird, I remained pretty innocent and ignorant for most of my childhood. I do recall a few moments that gave me a bad feeling in my stomach, but that I did not understand was prejudice at the time. I recall not liking the way that it felt when church-going kids were mean to the non-church-going kids, like there was something wrong with them. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t like it.
Also, and I’m ashamed to say, while I was usually the one being teased, I found myself at times bullying and teasing others, which of course is an example of my own self being prejudice. Again, not understanding what that really meant, I’d find myself feeling remorse. I don’t mean to ever excuse this kind of behavior, but to a certain extent, this is part of learning for children, to learn right from wrong, and about empathy, by pushing those boundaries.
It probably wasn’t until I was 15 or so, that I started to really understand the big picture. I almost had to be taught just how ugly the world was, and how people look down on others for what I thought were trivial attributes. I was pretty confused. It’s almost like one day, someone started taking your crayons away, because these crayons go here, and these one’s go there. And you’re thinking “That’s stupid. Who made up those rules?” It stigmatized me.
While I can greatly empathize with the pain of being treated badly, not because you’d done anything wrong, but just because you’re different, I can only try and walk a mile in other people’s shoes. I can’t ever fully understand the experience of another sex or gender, of other races, or of other kinds of sexuality. I just want to be a good and kind person, but maybe I’m too stupid, maybe we’re all too stupid, and all there is, is struggling to be as comfortable as possible until we die?
But, talking helps. I needed to try and get this stuff out. We’re so nervous about saying the wrong thing these days, that most of us just shut up, and that’s not ever going to help anything. While I have issues with “being politically correct,” I’ve actually adopted many PC terms, not so much out of fear of getting in trouble, but of hurting other people’s feelings, which is something I’ve always been tuned into, even as a child.
Putting that aside, I actually believe that comedians can and should joke about anything, anything, without getting in trouble with the mob. And when I say anything, I really mean anything: race, sex, sexuality, murder, suicide, rape, incest, bestiality, politics, religion, school shootings, terrorism, you name it. If you were still with me up to this point, I may have lost a good chunk of you now. I know it seems strange, but I think it’s important, therapeutic even, to be able to laugh about anything, even the darkest things in our reality. Why? For the simple fact that they exist. I think shining a light in the dark is healthy. Comedy is a kind of cathartic exposure therapy, if you will.
When comedians talk about this stuff, they’re not condoning or supporting these evils in any way (just how us horror fans aren’t condoning actual violence), they’re just overturning the rocks, to see what monsters are lurking underneath. That’s their job; that’s the whole point. I understand that some people get angry, and some topics are just too difficult for them, and they turn to the mob to get what they see as justice, but the only honest one, the kind one in the equation, was the comedian who said the thing that upset them. I think healers and healing and kindness in general come in all sorts of strange packages, that we may not fully understand at first.
I think that’s it. I think I managed to say everything I felt I needed to say on this topic. If you think my views are flawed, that I failed to understand something fundamental, maybe you can help fill in some of the gaps in the comments below for me?
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