Reckoning with the art of our problematic once-heroes
“Can you love someone who did bad things?”
This is the question posed by comedian Sarah Silverman during the cold open of her Hulu show, “I Love You, America.” Silverman’s monologue was dedicated to comments on the recent revelations against her close friend and fellow comedian Louis C.K., who was accused by five women of masturbating in front of them without their consent. The comedian later admitted that these accusations were true saying, “I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen."
Silverman and C.K. have been friends for decades, and Silverman was a frequent guest on C.K.’s FX show, “Louie.” Her comments on his sexual misconduct were highly anticipated and much-needed, as she has been very public about both her support of feminism and her friendship with C.K. Though visibly upset, Silverman emphasized the importance of the recent barrage of sexual assault allegations in Hollywood, comparing it to tumors being removed. “Some of our heroes will be taken down,” she said, “and we will discover bad things about people we like or in some cases, people we love.”
As our idols and role models begin to deal with the fact that many of their colleagues and friends are less-than-moral people, we must also face our own reality. Even if you were never a fan of somebody who has been accused of sexual misconduct or any other type of abuse, what if tomorrow it is your hero’s face splashed across the front page of the New York Times? How will you react? Can you be a fan of something created by someone so horrible? Is it possible to separate the art from the artist? Can you still love someone who did bad things?
I wish there were simple answers to these questions. I wish that good and bad was as easy as black and white, and that there would be no gray area in between. Most of all, I wish that men and women alike would stop using their positions to take advantage of people desperate for their careers to take off. Unfortunately, we are living in an unkind world, and these difficult questions must be managed or else they will continue to persist.
I have no emotional connection to Louis C.K.. Nor did I to Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Nick Carter, Kevin Spacey or any of the other countless men accused of sexual misconduct. From the outside, it is easy to immediately discredit those who try and stand by these people. What they did is horrible, yes, and there is absolutely no excuse for their vile behavior. But I cannot shake the nagging feeling that soon enough, somebody that I have loved and admired will be the next one exposed. I imagine feeling sad, disappointed, even betrayed, but I cannot honestly say that I would exile this person, or the things they created, completely from my life.
It is hard to separate art from the artist when you know that a show or song or joke came from the the same mind that made the decision to harm another person or make derogatory comments. It is even harder to appreciate a piece of art when, in the back of your head, you know that someone else will look at that same thing and be struck with fear and trauma from what happened to them. We don’t have to feel guilty or shameful, we don’t have to force ourselves to stop liking the art that these people created, but what we do have to do is condemn their actions and refrain from making excuses. It hurts to see your heroes fall, but it hurts even more to be a victim of harassment or abuse and see people try and discredit your feelings just because the person who harmed you makes them laugh.
As Silverman noted in her monologue, this moment in time is vital not just for Hollywood, but for a world that too often allows for misconduct to be swept under the carpet. We have to expect more from the people we idolize and move towards a culture that does not allow them to use their status to exploit those under them. Until that happens, believe the victims, denounce the offenders and try to keep faith that we as a society will one day be better.