From Mav: There’s a great thing about living in 2019. Access. We now live in a world where we can interact directly with out favorite artists, celebrities and other creators. We know more about their lives than ever. Sometimes it’s great. It also sucks, because we now live in a world where we know more about the lives of our favorite artists, celebrities and other creators than ever. And all too often the things we know about them… aren’t good.
In fact, all too often the things we learn about them are really really bad. Sometimes they’re downright awful. Deplorable even. In the last couple years with the #MeToo movement this has been really obvious… the (quite well deserved) take downs of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey come to mind, but also an unending list of others. On our Oscars episode, Hannah pointed out that she has a lot of problems with Bohemian Rhapsody that aren’t related to the film, but more because of Bryan Singer’s association with it. Katya has made similar comments about the recently deceased fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld. As I write this, the news is breaking about the indictment of R. Kelly on his LONG rumored statutory rape and sexual assault charges. And sure. This is a good thing. The question we’re wondering about this episode is… what do you do with all the content they produced before?
There’s an internet meme called milkshake duck. It says that if there’s duck drinking a milkshake, it will go viral. Everyone on the internet will fall in love with milkshake duck. Five minutes later, someone will discover that secretly milkshake duck had been a racist all along. Everyone will be outraged. And they should be.
But the question we want to ask on this episode is “what do we do about the milkshake ducks after we discover them?” It’s easy to say we no longer want to support this person. Especially in the cases where the person has committed a crime. Bill Cosby is in jail and I’m perfectly happy to say he deserves to rot there. But, ever since his scandal went hot, reruns of The Cosby Show have been pulled from the air. Can we really say the the artifact is without cultural value? That show did a lot of good in its time. As did Fat Albert… and no matter how I feel about him, I can’t pretend that Bill Cosby: Himself isn’t one of the greatest comedy specials of all time. Similarly, as a pro-wrestling scholar, I remember that when it was discovered that Chris Benoit murdered his entire family and then committed suicide, WWE all but wiped his memory from existence in their media. But does that change the fact that he was one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time? I’ve long felt that no matter what his gambling crimes, Pete Rose belongs in the baseball Hall of Fame. Is it different because Benoit was a murderer?
This is particularly a problem for people like us that study popular culture for a living. Bill Cosby is in jail and Benoit is dead… they’re not making new content. But what about Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein. I can’t just ignore Usual Suspects, American Beauty, and L.A. Confidential. Kevin Spacey might be a garbage human being, but he still starred in several of the most important films of all time. And I can’t do my job if I ignore them. Same thing goes for Weinstein who produced… you know… most of the movies ever. Or every massively problematic author in the literary canon (hint… it’s basically all of them).
From Wayne: So what do we do, as fans and consumers of pop culture, when we discover that the creator of something we love turns out to be problematic? “I love this guys books, music, comics, whatever… did you hear he’s a Nazi?”
I don’t want the episode to just be a listing of “here’s these terrible people and the terrible things they did.” I want to address the fan reaction to this. What do we do? At what point do we abandon something we have loved. Is the work compromised? That gets us back into the Death of the Author thing. Does it matter if they’re a Nazi if the work is still good?
One of the examples of this for me is Orson Scott Card. The Ender’s Game series is really good, and the second one, Speaker for the Dead, is all about learning genuine compassion for things that are, in this case literally, alien to you. But then he donates money to and supports anti-LGBT issues. Can I choose not to support him any longer but still love those books? I’m repulsed by everything Ted Nugent stands for these days, but that one album from 1977 and the concert I saw in 1978 were fucking amazing. I haven’t given him money since then, but I still kind of love the song “Stranglehold“. Is that okay?
What’s the breaking point?. Is there redemption for these creators if they walk back their behavior or beliefs? Frank Miller did some great comics, then lost his mind for awhile, but recently has taken responsibility for some of that and apologized. Is that enough, or do we not allow people to recant?