The Daily Gamecock

Column: Should we separate the art from the artist?

Lucas Hedges and Casey Affleck during the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Lucas Hedges and Casey Affleck during the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Over the weekend, I finally sat down to watch “Manchester by the Sea,” an Oscar-nominated film that I’d heard nothing but great things about, and I loved it. The somber tone, beautiful camera work and excellent script all beautifully supplemented what was arguably the most impressive part of the film: Casey Affleck’s incredible acting.

This is a breakout performance if I’ve ever seen one. It seems as if Casey Affleck is working his way out of his brother’s (Ben Affleck) shadow and into the realm of other star actors of the day. His performance was moving and exceptional, yet the entire time I watched him there was something else in the back of my mind.

Affleck was accused of sexual misconduct back in 2010 by two women who worked with him on the film, “I’m Still Here.” The women accused him of multiple acts including climbing into bed with one of them without consent, violently grabbing the other, verbally harassing them and telling a crew member to expose his genitals to one of them. The allegations were settled out of court in 2010 but Affleck has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Obviously we don’t know what really happened in this situation, and I’m not trying to insinuate that I have any inclination either way. However, regardless of whether it’s true or not, it is still mental baggage that I carried with me as I went to watch the film. When I see Affleck on the screen, no matter how moved I am by his performance, the shadow of these allegations are ever-present somewhere in the back of my mind.

So this begs the question: Should an artist’s past have any impact on you experiencing their art? Should Affleck’s potentially unsavory past matter to me as I watch “Manchester by the Sea?”

My immediate response is to say no, it shouldn’t. A good film is a good film, independent of what those involved may or may not have done in their personal lives. If I hadn’t known about Affleck’s scandal before I saw “Manchester” I wouldn’t have thought about anything other than how much I enjoyed it and I probably wouldn’t be typing this right now.

There are countless examples throughout history of excellent artists committing not-so-excellent acts. It is well documented that Charles Dickens was unfaithful to his wife and unloving to his children to the point where his daughter said, “Nothing could surpass the misery and unhappiness of our home.” J.D. Salinger dated a 14-year old girl when he was 30. 

If we shunned a piece of art every time one of the artists behind it did something wrong, we likely wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything. Most books, music, films, games and every other type of art are made by many different teams of people, people with their own flaws and likely many with dark pasts. The obvious answer seems to be that we should evaluate the art on its own, independent of its creators, which is what I try to do.

But, while I believe in this in principle, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Growing up, I was always a fairly big fan of the rock band Lostprophets. They, in addition to bands like Yellowcard, Silverstein, My Chemical Romance and Escape the Fate really cemented my awkward and angsty teenage identity that I clung so hard to. However, while I’ll still listen to all of these bands either for nostalgic purposes or because I think they are legitimately good, (“Ocean Avenue” is one of my favorite albums, come at me) I can’t listen to Lostprophets anymore.

In 2014, Ian Watkins, the lead singer of Lostprophets was sentenced to 35 years jail for committing sex offenses on children. Watkins pleaded guilty to “three counts of sexual assault involving children and six involving taking, making or possessing indecent images of children and one of possessing an extreme pornographic image involving a sex act on an animal,” according to a report from the BBC

While I try to practice what I preach about judging an artist’s art separate from their art, I simply can’t bring myself to listen to Lostprophets, and, without exaggeration, I haven’t listened to a single song since this story broke.

So is the answer that we should separate the art from the artist unless they commit a truly heinous act? Well I encounter another problem here seeing as I still listen to the metal band As I Lay Dying even though their lead singer tried to hire a hitman to kill his wife. Also, it might not be art, but I often see Mike Tyson on TV and never once think about the fact that he was convicted for raping an 18-year old girl.

So does that mean I think attempted murder and rape aren’t serious and important issues? I certainly don’t think it means that. I think what it means is that this is a complicated issue and one that doesn’t have the simple answer we would like for it to have. 

Overall, I stand by the fact that we should enjoy the things we enjoy regardless of who made them, but that doesn’t mean that we have to turn a blind eye to serious problems. My belief is that it’s fine to enjoy a work of art as long as we don’t let our enjoyment of that art cloud our judgement of what the artist has done. We need to understand that the character we see on the screen isn’t the same as the one who plays them, and allowing ourselves to think that way can lead us to allow vile acts to go without consequence, and because of that it’s easy for it to simply happen again.