Distinguishing the difference of the creation and the creator.
Over winter break, Daniel Desario took my heart and crushed it into nothing. His boyish looks, his slicked black hair and oh, that smile. As much as I would like to believe Daniel is an actual person, he’s not. He’s James Franco’s character from the TV show “Freaks and Geeks.” Of course, this isn’t the first time I was exposed to Franco and his charm. I sat through “127 Hours” when I could barely look at the screen, cringed through “Spring Breakers” and couldn’t stop laughing during “This Is The End.” But when news broke a couple weeks ago that James Franco had tried persuading a 17-year-old girl to have sex with him, I wasn’t laughing.
James Franco is an artist, and his art is his acting. I always considered him a fantastic actor, and each of his movies as works of art. But now, I don’t think I can watch them the same way.
So then, what separates art from the artist?
What separates a writer from his work? A musician from her music? A sculptor from his sculpture?
It’s an impossible question. And with it, comes a slew of other questions. When does the artist cross a line? What defines such a line? At what point does that line become impossible to un-cross?
I can only attempt to answer these questions. We, as a society, can only attempt to answer them. The matter is nestled in a deeply gray area, with more and more complications arising each time I try to come to a conclusion. I can’t just say, Oh, art will always stand on its own, or, No, an artist and their work are too entwined to be separate. No one can. There’s no all-encompassing way to decide how to separate an artist from their art is; each case is unique.
A few weeks ago, I was browsing Tumblr, and my digital dashboard was looking pretty typical. Space kittens, “Skins” quotes and gifs of flying pizzas. Scrolling past all of these essentially pointless posts, one in particular caught my eye: a text post about a YouTuber named Alex Day. My favorite YouTuber. The guy I’d idolized for years was being accused of sexual abuse.
For almost three years I’d been watching Alex’s sometimes-weekly, sometimes-monthly vlogs and music videos. I bought his singles, his latest album. I felt like I knew him. He made me laugh when I was having a bad day, and his music made me feel understood. Now, he makes me sick.
I didn’t want to believe he did those things. I’d known he had some issues, but nobody is perfect. This shouldn’t come as a shock; we’ve all been hearing this since pre-school. Everyone is complicated. Yet, what is defined as an imperfection is having a bad dye job or having a crooked nose. It isn’t sexual abuse. It isn’t rape, and it isn’t molestation.
A couple of months ago an open letter was written; it was Dylan Farrow’s personal account of how director Woody Allen molested her when she was seven. She claimed that there were numerous times when he would touch her. She said that she hated it. She talked about how now, every time she hears his name she feels nauseous.
Innocent until proven guilty. That’s what we’re supposed to believe. The debate over Allen’s innocence has been in the media for over 20 years, and although the case has been taken to court, Allen has yet to be convicted of a single crime. As far as the law is concerned, he’s innocent. Recently, he even won a Golden Globes Lifetime Achievement award for his work.
Farrow has been standing in the middle of this fire for three-fourths of her life. She grew up during the trial, she matured through it. A little girl in the middle of a media warzone. Abused or not, she is still a victim.
So who are we supposed to side with? A supposed victim, or a supposedly-innocent award-winning director?
Allen has made more than 20 movies, all of them acclaimed. His movies have won Oscar after Oscar, award after award. Farrow begins and ends her letter with a question: “What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?” Mine used to be “Midnight in Paris.” Now I’m not so sure.
With both Alex Day and Woody Allen, I can’t know what really happened. I wasn’t in those bedrooms or in those girls’ heads. All I know is my gut feeling, and it says that something is wrong here.
Deciding how and when to separate an artist from their art is, ultimately, only possible on a case-by-case basis. Child molestation and sexual abuse are inexcusable, but what about spousal abuse? Gender objectification? Frank Sinatra and Kanye West are both guilty, respectively. But does that stop me from singing “Runaway” under my breath?
The most we can do is consider the situation from every side. We have to consider every viewpoint and stance before we can make our own personal decisions. Deciding how to make a distinction between an artist and their art is both a matter of the head and of the heart. We have to trust how we feel, but also consider the facts. It’s all that we can do.
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