Part and parcel

A pop musician or movie star gets arrested for driving under the influence and being in possession of an illegal controlled substance. When he or she is sentenced to nothing more than some hours of community service, there may be a bit of an outcry from the public, but thousands still attend the concerts, buy the music, see the movies.

If questioned, the fans might claim that you have to separate the art from the artist. They’re more likely to simply say, “Yeah, but I love the music/movie.” But it’s the same argument. Things that an artist does in their real life has nothing to do with the quality of product itself. Just as it would be inappropriate to claim that a painting is less than worthy of appreciation because the artist happens to be a member of a race other than the majority, a particular piece of art should stand upon its own merits, alone.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t argue that the celebrity doesn’t deserve special treatment before the law. We can compare the punishment given to the celebrity to those typically given to non-celebrities charged with the same crime. We can point out that this prominent person was given a punishment at the very lowest end of the first-offenders sentencing range, even though this is their fifth or sixth or twentieth run-in with the law over substance abuse issues.

We can demand that the special treatment stop. Yes, maybe that movie we’ve been waiting for will have to be delayed (or more likely, made with a different actor), but crimes and irresponsible actions should have consequences, and sometimes those consequences impact people other than the perpetrator.

The aforementioned situation is pretty clear, and not likely to draw a lot of argument on the principles.

It gets less black and white if the actor, musician, or artist is arrested for assault, or worse. How much that changes our perception of his or her work depends upon the nature of the crimes and the nature of their work. It may become difficult to listen to a singer crooning love songs when you know he has been convicted multiple times of domestic abuse against multiple partners, for instance.

Painting is an infinitely minute part of my personality.—Salvador Dali

So far our hypotheticals have been about what an artist does during aspects of their lives that would otherwise be private. What happens when it happens on the stage? Say, for instance, that you’re a C- or D-list singer-songwriter who, early in your career, made statements indicating you were lesbian, and for a couple of decades your fanbase has been predominately lesbian, and you’ve continued to cater to that fanbase even though in your private life you’ve married a conservation fundamentalist Christian man and joined an evangelical church.

And then one night, on stage in a city that most of the world equates with gay people, in between songs you start going on a long, screaming rant about how gay marriage is going to destroy the world, how decriminalizing abortion is the signal of the collapse of civilization, and screaming at the audience members who start walking out that “God hates fags!

I don’t think anybody would argue that other venues you were scheduled to appear at are within their rights to cancel your shows. Politics aside, no one wants to deal with all those angry customers.

Issuing statements afterward that it was meant to be ironic (yet another assault on that poor, abused, misunderstood word), or taken out of context, afterward isn’t going to undo the damage. Particularly with the full video available on the internet and it is quite clear the the context is only hate, hate, more hate, and crazy.

And you can insist you have freedom of speech all you want. Freedom of speech means that you can say what you want without intrference from the government. It doesn’t mean freedom from people being so offended that they choose to stop listening to and buying your music. It doesn’t mean freedom from being criticized. It doesn’t mean freedom from being seen to be a hateful hypocrit whose career is based almost entirely on milking an ambiguous statement that you might be a member of a group of people you despise. Nor does it mean freedom from being labeled a self-loathing closet case in addition to the hypocrit charge.

Assaulting your audience and essentially admitting that you’ve been scamming them for years is another case where things are pretty black and white. There is no reason to separate the art from the artist, because the art is an inherent part of the crime the artist committed.

While I think that Ms Shocked’s tirade was deplorable and revealed that she is a reprehensible, malicious, vulgar louse deserving of our scorn, that wasn’t her biggest crime.

The most awful thing she has done is to produce all that disingenuous music. It is a sin to be a hateful bigot. It is a bigger sin to intentionally produce crap that you don’t believe and call in art.

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