Separating the Art from the Artist

When R&B singer/music festival toilet Chris Brown recently decided to claim Rihanna’s vagina as his property (I believe his eloquent words were “THAT IS MY PUSSY!”), it was par for the course that is the Pebble Beach of douchebaggery. Sure, Brown previously expressed words that sounded like regret about beating Ri-Ri, but you can’t linger on that maturity and retrospective shit when there are pussies to claim!

Stars like Brown and Justin “I’ll beat the fuck out of you!” Bieber are visible in the public eye for their music as well as their public outbursts. They are considered role models to millions, and their every move is as carefully scrutinized as their lyrics. Celebrities engaging in horrendous behavior is nothing new; I’m sure that Jesus handled a camel or two while drunk back in his day. While “they’re just like us” in the sense that humans do stupid things without millions of dollars and PR people bankrolling and explaining their idiocy, they also produce art (movies, music, television–hell, anything creative) that is expected to be purchased.

 

This begs the question: can you justify spending your hard-earned money on something created by a dickbag? As Depeche Mode once said, “people are people” in reference to humanity being the same despite their differences (though the lyrics strangely read like a plea to Chris Brown to stop being an ass), so it is hypocritical to expect more from the more visible members of society because they make more money and have better clothes and skin. But there’s more to it.

Financing their work is an indirect (or direct, if they have Kickstarter drives or products to buy right from them) way of validating their behavior. That hotel room that Charlie Sheen trashed while vacationing with ex-wife Denise Richards? Paid by contracts for his performances that came from TV ratings from “viewers like you.” Or when Lindsay Lohan wrecked her Porsche and may have had alcohol on her breath? Probably paid for with royalties from Herbie: Fully Loaded. (Heh–“loaded.”) And Amanda Bynes seemed hellbent on ruining her What a Girl Wants goodwill and paycheck by being a colossal dirt bag–hit-and-run and turbans, oh my!

What’s especially troubling is that for all of the bad examples stars display, whether it is getting into fistfights like it’s their job or letting proven car-wreckers borrow their automobiles with predictable results, their cult-like fans (Team Breezy and Beliebers, respectively) are there to excuse their acts and aggressively challenge those that raise arguments about the stars’ social faux pas. These fanatics have wrapped their identities around their appreciation for the artist’s creative works to the point that they cannot separate the entertainment from reality.

Lindsay Lohan, about to yell at and/or vomit on someone.
Lindsay Lohan, about to yell at and/or vomit on someone.

I know that I have had trouble with this at times. Growing up in the ’90s gave me good examples of dickishness and bizarre behavior to parse–whether it was the oafish drunk/drug binges and interviews of Oasis’ Gallagher brothers, Michael Jackson’s fall from grace, and Eddie Murphy picking up a transvestite–and debating whether I could excuse their deeds in exchange for their entertainment. In my high school days, I defended the idiotic, racist rants of Chicago shock jock Mancow Muller because I identified with his anti-establishment personality as a part of my brief teenage rebellion with common sense. And when I was younger, grade-school me got in an argument with my friend Taneisha because she said that the King of Pop looked like a girl, and I misheard of her as saying he was gay. (Funny end to that story: when she explained what she really said, I was all “okay, I can see that.”)

I know that it’s too much to demand perfection from artists because they are human–unlike many Beliebers and Breezy-ites–and I won’t call Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong misunderstood because he smashed up a stage before going to rehab. But acts that can (and do harm) people, like racism, violence against another person, and drunk driving will lead me to reconsider or stop purchasing their art. It’s not a perfect contract of conditions, but neither is anyone involved.

Going back to the Chris Brown example, it seems implausible that the shy character nicknamed “Baby” in the movie This Christmas is the same person that could beat a woman or dress like a terrorist for Halloween, but that’s why they call it acting.

And for me, the harsh light of reality made paying for a false image that much more despicable.

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52 thoughts on “Separating the Art from the Artist

  1. the worst thing is that people forgive his actions because he can dance and sing. I wouldn’t waste a cent on anyone who acts like that. No excuse for that kind of action. Your talent doesn’t excuse your behavior and you shouldn’t have a platform for it.

    Great article

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  2. I like that you posed this this as an issue for debate, and I think your solution to the problem was thoughtful–thoughtful enough that you did not really need that “Jesus handled a few camels while drunk” bit.

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  3. I’m always on the fence about this particular issue. I really hate it when people call out stars for being bad people because they ignored, or got annoyed at some fans or paparazzi. I think not being able to walk down the street without being pestered must be a bit of an annoyance, so I can see why they get annoyed or flat out walk past – I think they get too much hate for that. (Even Biever got too much hate for ‘trying’ to start that fight)

    On the other end, however, they get let off way to easy for the really bad things they do. Sure, everybody thinks Chris Brown is an asshole, but he’s still making millions from us, with almost no backlash whatsoever. People may deny it, but celebrities really can act with impunity. Great article, lot of truth to it.

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    1. Thanks for the kudos. I agree that it’s a tricky issue because people have high expectations for celebrities–wanting autographs and attention is an issue as much as the destructive behaviors. So the needs from the people come because of the millions being paid to them, but their deification is a product, and that is just as troubling.

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  4. Two points.

    1. Kirk Douglas correctly pointed out that even the most renowned artists are susceptible to human foibles. In describing director Stanley Kubrick, he said “Some people are talented. Some people are shits. Stanley is a talented shit.”

    2. Maybe the rich and famous are different from the rest of us, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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  5. http://www.dlmchale.com writes: Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. I enjoyed reading your post and will spend some additional time on your blog in the hopes of experiencing some more of your talented and “authentic” voice. Thank you for sharing this with all of us. It was fabulous!

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  6. I think it comes down to the values of the viewer/listener. I value humanity in folks, no matter who they are. Even myself, so any cringe worthy stuff will always give me pause. I just want something higher for mankind, even out of the dirty gritty.

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  7. I must admit to boiling with fury on the inside when people I know-especially young girls- lavish fan girls admiration on pop stars who are so publicly abusive, belittling or disrespectful towards women. Engage brain sisters-he’s an arse and he doesn’t deserve your money or admiration! Bahh! I’m off again…
    Great post,
    Gwen

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  8. As the iceberg there being far more unseen than seen when it
    comes to individuals / those in the media showbiz having had
    on as off love relationships through lives / it not like they have
    just meet / they have spent great time effort in material realm
    thus have become accomplished in their art to various degree.

    In the process of human development unto the ultimate of the
    goal of spiritual development / the world a stage all be actors.

    All are at varying stages of spiritual development / as while in
    world entertainment is a needed distraction unto breaking the
    boredom of committing suicide where seeing no purpose unto
    life rather than the pain suffering combined in moments of joy.

    In time all will come to that in the realization that their spiritual
    development is but paramount humanity will start make great
    leaps as bounds in that direction / at present the groundwork
    is being prepared where true purpose of life made very clear.

    The public having always allowed the actors the entertainers
    discretion thus allow at time their acts of appalling behaviour
    such wrongs simply accepted as be forgiven time in time out.

    I will write a further comment soon how ALL /actors as being
    entertainers included can further their spiritual development.

    Is it important that there be further spiritual developmen ???.

    The answers YES / climate change brings a very destructive
    result on the planet / in time the planet but unable to sustain
    human lfe / thus for a period humanity faces getting evicted.

    However such not the end of the story / the planet will heal
    itself as once mor be abled in sustaining the human frame
    thus humanity will return /such being the power of creation.

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  9. Maybe one day we (humans ) will learn that what we admire in others can be created in our own lives and that way recognized that we are all equal and capable to do and be as great as we want >…. Just my thought 🙂
    Than for this beautiful Post

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  10. Thanks for sharing this. What first came to my mind was about the political actions of artists and whether people support the art when they don’t agree with the politics. The Dixie Chicks and the aftermath of the comments in London in 2003 come to mind. Natalie Maines has a new album coming out, 10 years later, but much of what is being discussed is about 2003.

    It’s also interesting to note that what we know of artists and celebrities is much our 21st century world. Much of the shenanigans and actions wouldn’t have been known to us before. It makes me think of an English teacher in high school and one in college. One thought it helped us to know more about the writer, to understand the context and the person behind the art. The other thought knowing anything about the artist or writer only clouded our perceptions of the art.

    Thanks for making me think and congrats on being “Freshly Pressed.”

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    1. Thanks for the kudos and insights. I remember the fervor over the Dixie Chicks incident, and that amount of press wouldn’t have been possible years prior. Much of what we know now about celebrities past would have been a nightmare for them back then.

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  11. While I have my own personal poor choices, one thing I’ve never been able to stomach is a ridiculous artist. For some reason bad behavior = unacceptable art to me. Although the transvestite thing with Eddie Murphy, not my business…

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  12. It’s not just the likes of Lohan, Brown and the Gallagher brothers who get a free pass as a result of their art.

    Roman Polanski is still a feted film director in spite of a conviction for child sex offences. Caravaggio is widely revered as a precursor to the baroque movement in spite of killing a man in a brawl (and a further history of violence). If we forgive these men for the their behaviour then why not Brown, Lohan et al?

    We ought not make a distinction between high and low art on this matter and we certainly should not ask near-total strangers (who happen to be famous) to be role models for our children. That is just setting ourselves up for a fall.

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  13. I enjoyed reading this post, because I recently wrote and thought about writers being separate from the work they produce. It’s a really tough call to appreciate artistry on its own merits when we know so much about the creators. And in the history of humans, it is a relatively new phenomenon to often know more about musicians, writers or artists than about their body of work. I don’t want to fund someone’s bad behavior, but appreciation of great music (not that the artists you reference fall into that category), writing and art, when not viewed through moneymaking lenses, looks quite different. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

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  14. Fantastic Article! This is something that I have discussed many times-especially when it comes to Chris Brown. As a survivor of Domestic Violence there is nothing that would compel me to support him in any way. Just because you are famous or have money does not excuse bad behavior. It sickens me that these people use their celebrity as an excuse to do whatever they want….

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  15. I will stick to your example of Chris Brown, atlhough I never listened to his music and altought there are plenty other musicians/actors/celebrities following his pattern. I feel as tho me playing his song even once, non the less purchasing his merchandise is me supporting violence, me saying Look, a guy that beats women is on TV let’s sway to his words, and this is just plain wrong. Music should be an art of uplifting and sharing compassion for pain, not a glorification of it, sadly we live in a world where musicians are even encouraged to indulge in this behaviour, because money and cruel mongering image buy people, especially young ones.

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  16. What a lame example artists set for our youth. Middle schooler’s are treating young girls like bitches, hoes, things you would hear about in a Rick Ross or 2chainz song/video. They don’t realize it’s a persona. Then guys who make poppy lame music that isn’t violent or misogynistic like Beiber, are out here acting like a thug all of a sudden. Ridiculous.

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  17. I hate the fact that people think they can get away with fucked up shit because there celebrities! I agree this sux. I dont buy or listen to chris brown music since that senseless beating and neither Riri’s because she took him back. Lindsay sux anyways all shes got is her train wreck lifestyle that has people talking. Good work love this bolg!

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      1. Thought i erased it by accident so i reposted another comment dont let people see i messed up amateur blogger!

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  18. Love this blog! Lindsay doesn’t have a career anymore and can only seem to get on the news with her train wreck lifestyle. Chris and Riri yea that sux senseless beating but there still together. Dont buy anything from them as protest I refuse to promote violence

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