Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Art and the Biography: Should It Matter?

Posted By on July 27, 2010, 9:19 AM

Not that there should have been much question even prior to the last few weeks, but apparently Mel Gibson is a racist, misogynist raving asshole. But when it comes to his movies, should we care? ---

The recent release of a bunch of recordings, allegedly capturing Gibson hurling all manner of threats and offensive comments at his ex-girlfriend, is of course not Gibson's first encounter with having his personal views under a microscope. Four years ago, Gibson was arrested for DUI, and the traffic stop included the hurling of various slurs and epithets. Information about the Holocaust-denying, conspiracy-fomenting views of Gibson's father further cemented the notion: this acorn hadn't fallen far from the fucked-up tree.

But in an era when celebrity scandals come at us faster than we can turn them into Twitter hashtags, we're forced to process another question: Does information about the flaws, failings and even personal politics of our artists and entertainers make it impossible to just let the work be the work? Over the years, actors from Jane Fonda to Sean Penn have been reviled for their public statements about political issues; many fans abandoned Woody Allen after his scandalous relationship with the much younger daughter of his longtime girlfriend became public; Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Rubens faced years of career rehabilitation after an incident in a porn theater. From Michael Richards to Michael Jackson, performers have been consumed and at times defined by their meltdowns. And after our immediate reactions of disgust, then what?

It's hard not to wonder what a short list we'd be left with if we only found a way to appreciate art by those we thought had unimpeachable character. No Leni Riefenstahl films; no Phil Spector records; nothing by those whose outspoken politics we considered harmful to the nation. So how much does your knowledge of the person behind the performance make it hard for you to lose yourself in the art?

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