Sega has stopped selling a video game because one of the voice actors has been arrested for cocaine use. Normally I would not care about this or even know about it, except that my oldest son pointed out that the distinction between an artist and their art has become erased. It seems clear to him that is wrong. My son wants the work to stand on its own merits regardless of the character or crimes of the work’s creator.
This comes a week after I deleted all the R. Kelly tracks from my music collection. I would have deleted the Michael Jackson tracks too, but I don’t own any. My purpose in doing this was, firstly, because I can no longer disassociate in my mind those musicians from their sexual abuses of children. I can’t hear the music without thinking of it. Secondly, I did not want to be a part of a system that allows these artists and/or their estates to profit from their art. Otherwise, it seems to me, they would indirectly benefit from crimes.
We can all think of great artists and creatives from the past whose work we admire but whose character leaves something to be desired. Caravaggio killed a man in a knife fight; Benvenuto Cellini killed two people; Banksy’s graffiti has always been against the law; Picasso kept some items that a friend had stolen from the Louvre; Lindsay Lohan has a reputation for theft; Johnny Depp is accused of physical and emotional abuse of his former wife; Mark Wahlberg pleaded guilty to assault after blinding a man in one eye, and the list goes on.
On the other hand, we also know of some criminal creatives who have doomed their own works to the trash heap. Most recently, Jussie Smollett has upended the show Empire by staging a phony homophobic and racist assault, and Kevin Spacey was replaced in the final season of House of Cards because of his sexual misconduct.
The question becomes, then, why do we allow some people’s works to continue to be valued after their crimes and others we don’t? Is the difference in the creative works themselves, the creative person, or the crimes? We seem to be quite fickle in either forgiving or condemning these people, and it isn’t always clear why we do either. When should we allow their work to be valued after we have cast legal and/or social judgment on their crimes? There is no universally applied principle. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t.
My guess is that whoever controls the distribution or publication of the creative work has to make a decision and it probably depends on money. If the continued availability of the work will make money, we continue to be able to enjoy it. If it is likely to doom the purveyors of that work to irredeemable ignominy and hence costs, then it is likely to be buried.
Sega will probably release that video game after a suitable period of time for reflection. There is too much money involved for them not to. I suspect they are paying penance by bowing to social mores and acknowledging the crime, but they are not actually giving up much in the long term.
Even so, it suggests that each creative person’s life has to be pure in order to protect the industry. That is asking too much of anyone in an era when there are no longer any secrets.