Living and Learning

What If Your Secret Could Get You Fired?

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.

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Scandal by Mohamed Hassan via pxhere

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.

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

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.

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Newspaper by Mohamed Hassan via Pixabay

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.

9 replies »

  1. Hmmm. I don’t think being pure is the standard needed. I feel differently about someone using cocaine, or stealing, than someone who perpetrates a crime against another person.
    I had a license to practice social work. There were some offenses that would get my license suspended and some that would get it permanently revoked. I was fine being held to a standard of conduct, 24/7. We had a Code of Ethics to guide us. Imagine if the entertainment industry had a code of ethics, and self-regulated, instead of being tried by the public and making decisions based on damage control.

    • Oh, good thoughts, Lorna! I’m hedging on the self-regulation, but with you on the code of ethics.

      Back in the days of the Hollywood star system, contracts with morals clauses just resulted in coverups and abuse. It’s not as though the entertainment industry has a professional governing body as with lawyers, social workers, doctors, etc.

      If I thought they would self-regulate effectively, I would agree, but as it is, I really don’t think they are capable of that.

  2. Anyone with a career is aware of the lines we may not cross and expect to keep our job/income whatever field it’s in. The artist is connected to the art in our minds, and I think what differentiates our tolerances is how we can relate to the crime. If we, or someone close to us, has ever used drugs, shoplifted, drove drunk etc and we see that someone is getting more than his or her share of punishment, we’re much more empathetic and shake our heads at the injustice. And, as you said so well, money is very relative and so I’m a little surprised that this Sega company would take such a stand when the situation with the artist would not in any way cause a lack of sales. I have many clients who are Vietnam veterans who’d take a beating before watching a Jane Fonda movie. For them, her “crime” was against them personally. Art brings out an emotional response and that visceral sensation has us deciding yea or nay.

    • The Sega company may have taken the position they did in order to conform to social expectations in Japan, but that wasn’t clear from the article I read.

      I had not heard that Jane Fonda had offended Vietnam vets so I had to Google it. It seems that what actually did or did not happen has become reinvented over time. Your clients’ continuing dislike of her adds another strand to this discussion of the connection between art and artist.

      If we find that the reason for our dislike of an artist is not entirely based iIn fact, can we change our change our perception of their art? Hmmm. More to think about. (https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/jane-fonda-pows/)

      • That’s a well-done article. My only reservation about it is that it kept calling it an Internet rumor, I heard the story in the early 80s way before there was an Internet. I believe it was created by Fonda haters but during the divisive Vietnam war and not so many years after.

  3. What a fascinating post — and what fascinating responses your other readers offered too! Lorna makes a wonderful distinction, which is also where I draw the line: Does the behavior harm others? There are cases in which the behavior is so egregious and so predatory that it can’t help but destroy the artist’s legacy. But using cocaine? Heck. I think you’d have a hard time these days finding an actor who *hasn’t* used cocaine. Still, Sega markets to kids, so I can understand why they’d take a hard line. It’s so relative and situational, isn’t it. By the way: My father STILL can’t stand Jane Fonda because of her “Hanoi Jane” stunt. Just as I suspect many people won’t be able to stand Michael Jackson now because of the revelations.

    • I was in England when Jane Fonda visited the troops in Vietnam, so I was unaware of all that furor. I can understand why people were upset by what they read.

      I’m wondering now if one of the deciding factors about whether or not we can enjoy the art of a criminal is time. Some of the art from decades or even hundreds of years ago is enjoyed despite the character of the artists. In fact, most of us have no idea about how the artists lived their lives. It was so long ago.

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