Like most people with early exposure to art and fully functioning souls, I have cherished and devoured music, books, and movies for essentially my entire conscious life. As a budding young art snob, though, my interest in the biographies and personalities of the people who created these precious creative gems was occasional and limited. One of the artists that I did learn a bit about was JRR Tolkien. After years of reading his books, I came across a volume with his picture on the dust jacket. His warm eyes and the classy mahogany pipe tucked in his mouth delighted me. He looked just like I had hoped he would! I knew that he was a Christian, a philologist, and had been an influential, close friend of CS Lewis. But that was almost all I learned about the man, and any desire to investigate further was fleeting. I just loved The Lord of the Rings.
My adolescence in the late 90s coincided with exponential growth in both information access and human connectivity, and my increasing fascination with the creative process found limitless exploration online. As late as 2005, though, the best spot for stories about Stanley Kubrick and Quentin Tarantino remained my college library, and I pored over the vast offerings, mostly to absorb their filmic philosophies. Kubrick’s eccentric family man persona was curious and endearing, and in that same phase of life I was disappointed to learn that the Eagles and Roger Waters were generally considered personally unlikable, but nothing I discovered in those years more than subtly shifted my appreciation of any given artist.
Fast-forward to today, and, aided by the aforementioned ocean of newly available information and its rapid exchange, a large and growing horde of moral police are more concerned with artists’ personal transgressions and condemning ‘problematic’ tweets from a decade ago than evaluating and enjoying the art itself. Just this morning, in a Facebook thread about Pearl Jam, someone commented that he was confused by Pearl Jam’s decline in popularity because he didn’t “know of any allegations against them.” His statement shines a bright light on the common contemporary mentality that artists’ popularity or lack thereof is based not first and foremost on the strength of their art but on whether they have or are thought to have said or done anything controversial or immoral. This quoted Facebooker might not himself be a member of the cancellation army, but he reveals the growing consensus: society is quickly shifting toward caring more about a squeaky clean and orthodox record than quality work.
(I adore (early) Pearl Jam, by the way.)
Over just the last few weeks, several friends have reached out to me expressing varying degrees of concern over posts I made about John Lennon, Phil Spector, and David Foster Wallace. In the interest of focus, I won’t rehash the details here, but none of the posts expressed any admiration for their character. While their personal virtues were never praised, I did not disclaim any of my statements with the fashionable “Obviously [so and so] is a piece of shit, but” preface, and that, in the eyes of some, was my faux pas. The Lennon post, marking the 40th anniversary of his murder, was the only one to feature anything like hero worship, but nothing was said about John Lennon being a “good person.” In fact, I said nothing about John “as a person” at all—my brief note merely reminisced about how, as I teenager, I had felt deeply connected to the long-deceased John Lennon through the power of his music. Promptly, someone informed me that he was an “abuser” and commanded me “don’t celebrate him.” I delicately paid respect to this acquaintance’s view before explaining my rationale for glorifying not his morality but his music, which had a profoundly positive impact on my life. To this person’s credit, the acquaintance did acknowledge that praising his music is different from championing his character and gave me permission (hah) to do so before doubling down on John’s immorality and undeserved status as a peace icon. Virtual bystanders joined in and, of course, a fairly long thread ensued.
I promised to respond further to two closer friends who were disconcerted by my posts. After initially planning to do so privately, I decided that my explanation deserves a full and public effort because my stance clearly affects people I care about (and I’m sure more of them than I realize.) My values on this topic are important to me, too, as they are an extension of some of my general life philosophies.
With our technology and scientific knowledge having reached absurd and once unimaginable heights, I have long believed that mankind’s next great leap forward would—and should—be in the realm of the moral or spiritual. The rise of sensitive ethical concerns to the forefront of our cultural conversation elates me. Clearly, our world yearns for increased compassion and sensitivity and for moral transgressors to be held consistently and fully accountable. I support and honor that. But when it comes to policing the artists people are “allowed” to platform or even enjoy, where do we draw the line? And does de-canonizing beloved art actually push our society toward a brighter day, or does it hold us down? Is the tradeoff worth it?
I don’t land at the farthest possible point on the spectrum of this debate but generally believe in “separating the art from artist.” Here are the main reasons why:
1. All Crimes and Mistakes Are Not Equal
I can understand why someone might be uncomfortable with my hanging one of Hitler’s paintings in my bedroom, but what about cases of less extreme crimes? What about an artist who once drunkenly hit his wife but was deeply repentant and never did it again? What about someone who stole a large amount of money or bullied a classmate? What about someone who cheated on his or her spouse? Infidelity can be one of the most torturous, soul-shattering, and life-altering tragedies in life, and honestly I would be more inclined to “cancel” someone for marital infidelity than for many of the reasons I see people being condemned on Twitter (see: JK Rowling. More on her later.) And yet infidelity, for some reason, is not considered a cancellable offense. Infidelity is so common that I can’t even begin to imagine what a list of soon-to-be-cancelled unfaithful spouses would look like. Franklin Roosevelt, one of the most beloved and, by some estimates, successful leaders in world history was well known to have cheated on his esteemed wife for years. Should he have been thrown out of office as he successfully led America out of the Great Depression and defeated the Nazis? Evidence suggests that even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a hero to us all, engaged in numerous extramarital affairs, but I would never dream of tearing down one of his statues or suggesting that these horrible actions ruin the legacy or the majesty of his brilliant mind, courageous heart, and all of the love that he gave us.
The sad truth is that many, many people, perhaps especially artists, who do sometimes live up to their stereotype as overly emotional and pain-stricken, have made mistakes—and sometimes significant ones. I have not committed any offenses even close to those of Phil Spector (a severely abusive husband who was convicted of murder) or John Lennon or David Foster Wallace (who were at times abusive toward female romantic partners), but I have done and said things I know were wrong, and you probably have, too. Some people’s behavior is indeed worthy of outright condemnation, and yet all people are complicated.
Holding the powerful to greater account for hurtful and sometimes evil actions is a necessary and beautiful step for our society. However, erasing from the canon and the classroom people who have brightened our minds and warmed our hearts for decades or even centuries because they made human mistakes, sometimes even terrible ones, is a murky proposition. In extreme cases, taking certain artists off the idol’s podium may be appropriate, but in general this mindset is a slippery slope, at best unlikely to lead us to the kind of progress we need. At worst, it’s dangerous.
2. Art and Artist Really Can Be Separated
In our modern age, creations can exist independent of their creators more easily than ever. Through the centuries, books (still a relatively recent invention in the scope of human history) have often been written anonymously and pseudonymously, but once upon a time, singers and actors would have been people we knew, our fellow tribesman and neighbors. No longer. After all, it’s quite possible—common, in fact—to listen to recorded music without a clue about the performers because, after all, they aren’t in the room. Sharing visual art requires not a prestigious gallery exhibition with biographical placards but merely a click of the mouse. Plus, contemporary art forms often involve massive collaborations—how many people recall the assistant visual effects coordinator or even the cinematographer of the last movie they enjoyed?
What if, hypothetically, your best friend was an art connoisseur, and one day he walked past a street vendor and saw a print of a drawing. His heart skipped a beat. It was perhaps the most captivating, soulful drawing he had ever seen in his life! “Who is the artist?” he asked, his breath short, awestruck. The vendor didn’t actually know. Your friend purchased the drawing and had it framed in his living room, where it boosted his spirits daily. He scoured his fancy books to determine the magical illustrator of his new favorite piece, rifling through collections of all of the biggest names in art over the last several hundred years, but he could find no answer. What a mystery! (He didn’t think to ask about it on Reddit.) Nevertheless, for thirty years, he savored his treasure, which found a new and prominent placement on his wall each time he changed dwellings. On special holidays, the drawing would catch his eyes in the midst of his family’s laughter, increasing his joy, and sometimes he would show it off to his nieces and cousins and monologue about his favorite details. In times of grief, he would stare at the drawing, pouring out his emotions in solitude, and he would walk away reminded that magic and beauty still exist.
But after thirty years, his riddle was solved one day when a new friend happened to notice it. “This is a gorgeous drawing,” the visitor said, “but it’s a little off-putting to see Adolf Hitler’s art hanging on your wall!” (Apologies for reusing this hypothetical, but it’s too useful not to.)
Hitler wasn’t Van Gogh, but what if he had been? Should your friend feel differently about the drawing, which had been his beacon of light for so many years? Undoubtedly, he would have a reaction to this revelation. But really, in the long run, should his relationship to the drawing be changed in a fundamental way? Should he love it any less? Should he take it down? Should he regret or question or even disavow all of the passion the drawing had kindled inside him for so long? I say no.
Choosing not to financially support or collaborate with someone who is actively harming others is one thing, a valid choice in many cases. But our hypothetical art lover enjoyed a relationship with the drawing that was completely divorced from the person who created it. Whatever the artist’s life choices or personality or beliefs or motives, your friend took his own meaning and inspiration from what that artist created. And what that artist created was indeed meaningful to him. The drawing gave him life and perhaps even made him a “better person.” Why should he have to give that up because of a stranger’s mistakes or even, in this case, evil atrocities?
One of the most challenging dilemmas I have faced is Michael Jackson. He was my first musical love. Bad, Dirty Diana, and Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough lit my heart and are forever seared into my psyche. As a child, I felt his intensity and emotion through the speakers, and I was moved. When I became a musician, I practiced long hours with the goal of creating songs that moved others like that.
Many years later, revelations made apparent that he probably abused children. Like many, I wrote off the earliest allegations as likely fabricated or heavily distorted for attention or financial gain. Lacking an HBO subscription, I did not watch Leaving Neverland, but from the coverage and clips and reviews I sought out and the reports of friends who braved the film, it seemed most people found the documentary convincing beyond reasonable doubt. I was crushed. I was disturbed. Sometimes, I tried to deny it, to rationalize how it might not be true. In moments of acceptance, I told myself I didn’t really care what happened, but that was denial. When I was most obsessed with Michael Jackson, I was the same age as those kids, and imagining what might have happened if I had met him chilled me to the bone. I was never sexually abused, but I do suspect that I was groomed for it at one point. Thank God, circumstances changed and nothing happened. Those memories came flooding back.
Ironically, I had been going through a Jackson phase shortly before Finding Neverland was released. Not long after Leaving Neverland exploded, I tried to listen to Thriller at the gym. I couldn’t. It felt gross. Was my love of Michael Jackson’s music ruined forever?
Within a month, life’s soundtrack had served me up a few MJ tunes—on the radio, in restaurants—which brought a mixture of the usual pleasure (in diminished form) and haunting thoughts of the allegations. Soon, with one of my cover bands, I performed Beat It, our second set closer, to a packed house. With its swagtastic riff, powerful lyrics, and the opportunity for me to take a shot at Eddie Van Halen’s incendiary solo, Beat It had always been one of my favorite songs to play, and I was surprised that I enjoyed it almost as much as before. Less than a season later, back at the gym, I felt the urge to hear Jackson’s familiar vocal tics and decided to dip my toes in the water again. I pressed play on Smooth Criminal, and I became so lost in the emotion of the first chorus that I didn’t even remember who made the song, let alone what he was like or what he did.
It turned out that my relationship with that music transcended anything about Michael Jackson as a person. He died some years ago, and he was not my friend. In fact, I never met him.
I did meet his music. I met whatever part of him was able to express joy and ferocity and tender care through sound, a part of him that I have no doubt was “good.” His music is, to quote one of his best songs, Another Part of Me. Why should I let something else he did rip that away from me, rip that music out of me? I do not think that I should.
If our culture indefinitely shelves Jackson’s music, I will not be the only one missing out. Billions of lives have been changed in ways slight and significant by those gorgeous, energizing, truth-telling songs. Would taking all of that away really make our world better?
Let me be clear that if someone else does not feel comfortable listening to Michael Jackson anymore, then I completely respect that. Someone close to me was sexually abused as a child, and this person once adored all of the same songs I do. They say they can never enjoy that music again. I empathize, and I totally understand. But in my own experience (and I speak only for me) listening to those songs still brings me closer to God, not further away.
He was never convicted of any wrongdoing, and I do not know whether he committed those crimes. My personal estimate of his guilt is 50% or perhaps a little more, and that probability is relevant to my choice to continue to listen to his music. To be honest, though, I would probably continue to listen even if his guilt were certain. I do not give him a pass. I am not turning away from it or in denial. However, my loving his music or celebrating his artistic life does not constitute a complete or even partial endorsement of him as a person, and I believe that is a key difference in perspective that is often misunderstood. Others seem to believe that even listening to music constitutes some sort of association with an artist’s entire life and personhood and implies a quasi-endorsement of that life. For me, that is not true. Celebrating one aspect of his life—his art—does not in any way entail my condoning his other actions. My relationship to his music is far longer and deeper than any relationship I have with facts about his life, let alone any relationship I had with him directly, which was zero. My relationship to his music, as is the case with the magical things that make life worth living, is sacred. And where there is sacredness, there is light. Where there is light, the shadow of his mistakes cannot fall.
3. The Complication of Collaboration
In many cases, “cancellation” harms innocent bystanders associated with the work: the many collaborators, contributors, and often-unsung workers of all kinds who stand to lose both income and esteem. Should Quincy Jones’ brilliant production work—integral to the quality of the music—be excised from our public culture because of the private horrors of someone he worked with? Michael Jackson wrote many of the songs on Thriller, including Billie Jean and Beat It, but not all of them. Jones contributed, and Rod Temperton wrote several classics, including the title track. Man in the Mirror, among the most life-affirming songs I have ever heard, sprung from the pens of Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett. Should Ballard and Garrett call for their masterpiece to be taken off the air and removed from Spotify?
When it comes to economic punishments, the targets are not the only ones affected. For every boycotted artist, money and opportunities vanish for the families of collaborators, distribution companies, storeowners and their workers, and even truck drivers carrying art and apparel.
Noble as its intention may be, the shunning of art passes on tremendous, wasteful costs—financial, emotional and reputational—to innocent people. Surely, there is a wiser and more efficient road to justice.
4. Mental Illness
Only in recent years has our society begun coming to grips with a specter that often looms over tragedies both mundane and shocking: mental illness. Our culture’s shift toward understanding and compassion regarding mental illness, addiction, and trauma is a long overdue milestone for humankind. But if we are to take such a holistic and sensitive view of people’s struggles, then that necessitates the sometimes challenging reevaluation of people’s shortcomings and perhaps even the reframing of their worst moments. The uncomfortable truth we must face is that people’s behavior is often heavily influenced by mental states that may be partially or even completely out of their control.
Phil Spector was undoubtedly deranged and unbalanced—diagnosably so. While causes are complex and research ongoing, some studies suggest that adult abusers are more likely than average to be traumatized survivors of their own childhood abuse. This does not make murder or abuse acceptable in any way. Violent actors must be held accountable, but psychiatric and psychological issues do complicate matters when it comes to ethical and spiritual judgment.
Off the top of my head, I can think of at least one murderer whom I consider a friend. In an alcoholic black out, he killed a co-worker and regained consciousness in a jail cell. He has now been sober for many years, and he is a lovely person. Also, someone I’m very close with once assaulted me in the midst of a psychotic episode. This person was successfully treated, and our relationship was quickly repaired.
Just a few days ago, I came across a headline about domestic abuse perpetrated by the Seattle Seahawks’ Chad Wheeler. I read the article, which described a harrowing assault worthy of severe repercussions. The report stated midway down that Wheeler had been prescribed medication for bipolar disorder but had not been taking it. To be sure, bipolar disorder does not necessarily lead to violence, nor is it an acceptable “excuse” for his horrendous actions. Still, we must face the truth that people suffering from bipolar disorder “are at significantly increased risk for violence.”* Mental health struggles notwithstanding, Wheeler might be a hateful, mean, “evil” person to the core of his being, and whether he is or not, his actions are completely unacceptable and some form of justice must be meted. Wheeler might not even have bipolar disorder—I have no idea. However, his psychiatric condition and a likely rapid withdrawal from powerful drugs probably played some part in this incident.
Usually, people who abuse others or spew hate and lies are themselves wounded and hurting. These flawed people are often miserable (some in ways apparent to all, others just below the surface) and need proper treatment and care more than anything else. Once again, that does not excuse violence or hurtful behavior, but if increased sensitivity and compassion for mental illness is society’s goal, then that compassion must include the uncomfortable practice of contextualizing people’s mistakes through the lens of mental health problems when applicable. Whether universally or on a case-by-case basis, those who suffer from mental illness must be offered some possible path to redemption.
5. The Impracticality of Research
It is not always easy to know who has committed frownworthy or even nightmarish acts and to what extent. Many transgressions remain mostly hidden for decades. Others are publicly known but for whatever reason have not become trendy stories in the news or on social media. Some incidents are murky rumors or allegations, with the precise facts of what occurred not fully understood.
And when it comes to people from the distant past? Forget about it. With his personal life presently shrouded in mystery, Shakespeare could have been a saint or a serial rapist or anything in between. Whatever his ethical track record was, we will almost certainly never know about it at this point.
I realize that many prominent cases of public moral judgment are about events that we do know occurred, but even so, frankly, I do not want to spend a significant portion of my life researching the personal behavior of every writer and musician that I enjoy. That seems like a very strange way to live—and a waste of energy. When I discover a new band I like, I don’t want to be compelled to dive into each member’s biography just to make sure I am not accidentally “aligning myself” with someone who did something shady twenty years ago and thereby tainting my own reputation. If an allegation surfaces against one of my most beloved artists, I will look into it, out of curiosity’s sake if nothing else. If the creator in question is not a personal favorite, I might not even bother. Why would I spend precious time researching and parsing out the details of unfortunate incidents that may or may not have been perpetrated by people I have never met, probably will never meet, and usually have no desire to meet? It’s a tall enough order to deeply understand myself and a few of my closest friends and family members, so why would I spend hours or days digging into the personal behavior and statements of artists or athletes whose work I happen to appreciate?
I have better things to do than scouring the internet for salacious quotes and wallowing in the immoralities of people I don’t know, including but not limited to enjoying art, making art, and, most important of all, loving the people who are actually in my life.
6. By What Measure Do We Judge Someone’s Worth?
Should we judge people by their worst behavior, their best behavior, their average behavior, or all three? If, for sixty years, someone is saint-like, almost painfully kind and generous, but one night gets drunk and says something hateful on Twitter, are those decades of kindness invalidated? What if a powerful man gives away his entire fortune, providing clean water and shelter to many thousands of people, literally saving their lives, but in his personal life, he is a spiteful bully or even a physical abuser? How are we possibly supposed to judge the lives of strangers and decide in a black or white manner whose achievements remain worthy of celebration and who should be condemned and forgotten about?
Accurately judging someone’s character from such a great distance is not possible. It is reasonable to like or dislike public figures, subject to change, based on what we know about them, and denouncing specific actions can obviously be justified and necessary, but the notion that we can accurately paint certain people as “good” and acceptable and others as “bad” and damned to irrelevance is unwise if not patently ridiculous.
7. Timelines and Change
People change—in both directions. What if someone commits vicious acts as a teenager or young adult but repents, becomes an essentially loving person, and then goes on to produce great art? What if someone lives an immoral life in the prime of his/her career but changes and makes amends later on? What if someone is squeaky clean during the period of creative achievement but much later descends into evil? Does it matter when the work was produced in comparison to the disapproved deeds?
Questions like these lay bare the difficulty and frequent absurdity of any attempt to create a consistent and logical approach to judging a stranger’s character across a lifetime.
8. The Message and Impact of the Art
The crosshairs of cancellation are inconsistent and fickle. One way this plays out is that artists who hold non-approved personal views are demonized regardless of the positive impact of their work, whereas those same moral police don’t often raise much fuss over art that itself explicitly glorifies violence and hate. A recent and glaring example of this is JK Rowling, who has come under fire for her belief that feminism should refocus on issues that affect women who were born female, issues she believes are being increasingly overlooked in favor of trans activism. Whenever she tweets another comment to that end, a few of my friends on social media swear they will no longer read her books and/or will not be allowing their children to do so. Her work, which in no way touches upon her ostensibly problematic views, has brought immeasurable happiness, hope, inspiration, and comfort to what swiftly approaches a literal billion children. In light of that, I find this line of thinking and behavior sad, misguided, and disturbing.
On the other hand, The Godfather, Pulp Fiction, any number of gangster rap albums, and reality TV gutter trash that makes entertainment out of real people’s dysfunction and pain are widely accepted by the same people who would deprive their children of Harry Potter. It’s strange that artists like Snoop Dogg and Eminem, who openly rap about the thrill of murder and spew cartoonishly vile misogyny, are still household names, paid actors in cheesy prime time commercials, their art celebrated, whereas people like JK Rowling or Michael Jackson (two very different cases, to be sure), whose artistic messages champion healing, love, kindness, and the celebration of life, are condemned. Gangster rap did receive backlash in its heyday, as did The Godfather, but in 2021, hateful and perverse art is left largely unchallenged by cancel culture, and yet no matter how positive and uplifting and intelligent one’s work, simply voting Republican is commonly accepted grounds for a creator’s censorship and expulsion from the mainstream. This misallocation of focus is clearly warped and counterproductive to any supposed goal of creating a better and more moral society.
Cries of hypocrisy against John Lennon are not invalid. He wrote paeans to peace and world harmony while bringing frequent chaos to his family life—that is when he chose to stick around at all. Should the loving message of his songs, though, be undermined or even lost forever because he failed to live up to his own vision of healing? To some degree, we all fall short of our best aspirations. At least Lennon had noble ideals, and he expressed them boldly. His personal actions, good and bad, are forever in the past, but his ideals live on, and they can still help us.
I brought up our lionization of those who make dark and arguably toxic art not to rally the troops against them but merely to illustrate how bizarre the current obsession with artists’ personal lives really is. Let me be clear that in addition to defending the consumption of beautiful works made by troubled people, I also defend the enjoyment of violent and provocative art.
If we were to eliminate all art that explores violence or sexual immorality with any nuance as well as all of the artists who have transgressed in their own lives, we would have almost nothing left. Even though I do not agree with Woke puritanism, its omnipresence in my life has incidentally brought me to cancel culture fluency, my brain soaked in it so thoroughly that I am capable of creating an argument for the censorship or cancellation of almost every work of art and artist that has ever existed. Try it yourself—whether due to violence or ableism or gender stereotypes, there is a ready justification to de-canonize almost everything. If we utterly condemn all major mistakes of creators as well as any hint of the glorification of violence or unhealthy romantic relationships in the creations themselves, then the moral landfills of our society will be filled to the brim with everything from Groundhog Day to Kind of Blue to Star Wars to The Bachelor. Is that really the world we want to live in? When it comes to which artists we feel comfortable supporting and what stories and ideas we believe are worthy of our children, there is tremendous gray area. If we can live in that gray area, then we can all continue to learn and grow from the irreplaceable and profound legacy of the art bestowed on us by our brilliant brothers and sisters past and present. If we cannot, we threaten not only the future of artistic expression but even our ability to engage with ideas, to explore and challenge ourselves and each other, and, quite frankly, to think and experience the world with sophistication. That future is bleak, indeed.
In summary, the type of cancel culture that seeks to police whose artistic achievements can be enjoyed and celebrated is not logical. That doesn’t mean it is always wrong or all bad. This attempted cleansing of our culture has likely had its positive effects, such as the possible deterrence of unambiguous atrocities like rape going forward. Plus, not everything needs to be logical, nor should it, and in most cases, I respect the choices of others who decide on moral grounds that a certain artist is not for them. Painful revelations actually have compelled me to shy away from art in a few cases. For example, the last time I watched a Woody Allen movie, I struggled to enjoy it. The reason is because his obvious real life dysfunction in romantic relationships is so closely mirrored in many of his films. I do not know what Woody Allen is like or what accusations levied against him are true, nor do I think he is evil incarnate. But I do know that he divorced his wife to marry his de facto stepdaughter, and that incontrovertible fact makes watching his movies that focus on infidelity and sexual problems, of which there are many, a mildly unsettling experience for me. When someone positively references Woody Allen, though, in person or online, I do not feel the need to intrude and say, “Don’t celebrate that pervert!” He has made some phenomenal films, and I do not judge anyone else who appreciates them. Maybe one day I will enjoy his edgier work again, and a fairly recent viewing of Midnight in Paris, a lighter story, remained fun for me, but at present, it’s merely my personal choice that I would rather not ingest movies about brutally dysfunctional relationships made by this particular person with real-life brutally dysfunctional relationships.
There are no rules, clearly, and most cases are not so obvious. Factors like artistic collaborations, lack of detailed knowledge of the events or beliefs in question, mental illness, repentance or lack thereof, and the timeline of events, among others, render this type of moral policing hazy. At the end of the day, we all possess different values and beliefs. In a perfect world, we would follow them to the best of our abilities and respect each other’s inevitably varied conclusions. Certainly, there are artists whose crimes should be exposed and who should be brought to justice. We need more justice in our world. But when it comes to the art itself, some is so precious to me that no transgression by its creator could compel me to abandon it. If it came to light tomorrow that Paul McCartney had been a serial killer for the last fifty years, I would still cherish Hey Jude, and I would still seek to emulate his songwriting. I would be devastated, and I would want to see him brought to justice, but I would continue to blast Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey at full volume and unabashedly proclaim him one of the greatest musicians of all time. I would understand why many people would do the same—and why others would not.
Some things are bigger than one person. Those who understand the power of art understand that. In the majestic peaks of humanity’s creativity, I see the divine. Winking through the haze of our mundanity, art, along with love and childbirth, provides a precious glimpse of transcendent perfection, channeled through infuriatingly imperfect vessels. Our world needs more of the sublime, not less. Conflating the creation with the creator and depriving us all of the magic of music or comedy or poetry, degrading it or even throwing it away because of someone’s mistakes, because of the misdeeds of someone 99.9999% of us have never met, is a catastrophic waste, and that is why I continue to celebrate the professional lives of many people who, in some or most respects, I do not want to be like and would never even want to meet.