Fallacy of Boycotts in Consumers vs. the Art World
Woody Allen. Bill Cosby. Two men who have allegedly (I believe the rumors to be true) committed sexual transgressions beyond forgiveness against women.... And yet I still love Woody Allen's movies and find the Huxtable family charming.
I'm a huge advocate for the support of art in every manner, whether its watching television (which is an art form, I refuse to argue anything else) or going to a museum or watching fine cinema. When the guy who played Kramer went on a racist rant in a comedy club, I didn't stop watching Seinfeld. It actually made me want to watch Seinfeld to go back to a time before that terrible event.
However, when Chick-Fil-A was outed as a largely homophobic company, supporting anti-marriage equality 'cause' with large amounts of funding, I boycotted them. Ever since the Hobby Lobby court decision, I have not entered the tall, bleak halls of fake flowers and glue guns. What perturbs me about those cases is that if I in anyway support their franchises by purchasing goods there versus somewhere else which might offer similar things. For example, I could go to Taco Bell instead of Chick-Fil-A for fast food. Michael's Craft Store instead of Hobby Lobby. There are alternatives to these businesses which choose to act against my political worldview, and barring any insurmountable inconvenience, I have boycotted these places in the past.
But why don't we do the same thing for media creators and artists? Andy Warhol for example was embroiled in drug addiction and led a group of people from his Factory where people used drugs, committed acts of perceived & actual sexual deviancy, and was an all-around negative force in many peoples' lives. And yet he still celebrated, studied, and lauded as the pop art king.
I don't immediately have a problem with Andy Warhol, maybe because his transgressions are less immediately relevant in my life, but to stand on principle for one case such as Hobby Lobby while trying to demonstrate an artistic understanding seems to illicit nothing less than complete fallacy.
So if CFA + Hobby Lobby's impact on society through an individual's support of their franchises is that certain rights are taken away from some portion of the population, for example CFA supporting anti-marriage equality causes and Hobby Lobby's refusal to allow employee health insurance female birth control, then what does it mean to boycott an artist? An artist's impact is that they create a text to be read, and because we live in a post-structural world, it's very hard to pinpoint the exact moment of meaning construction for everyone who experiences the art text.
Why do we think that continuing to support artists by watching their shows, films, or going to their exhibits is okay? Well, there's a thing in the art world called objectivity. It's very difficult to reach, but once there, viewers can see the work and the artist as separate entities. The impact of their personal lives, whether its sexual transgressions or getting a bunch of people addicted to speed and watching them die, is far different than the impact of their art.
The Cosby Show is probably one of the best examples of how the impact of art can differ greatly from the impact of ones life, outside their art. It depicted a wealthy African-American family with mainstreamed values coexisting in a world which was predominately white-washed and lacking diversity. It depicted for the first time a complete and functional African-American family with the values of middle America. This was a landslide shift in public and media portrayal of African-Americans, and is still one of the more progressive shows in syndication. And yet, because it is syndicated, people obviously want to watch it and Bill Cosby makes money. The end result of supporting his art seems to be supporting an alleged serial rapist, an alleged monster.
It's a tough quandary, but it must be tackled. Woody Allen is apparently still making films, and I still watch them. Blue Jasmine, Allen's latest film starring Cate Blanchett, raked in almost $100 million worldwide at the box office. The film was praised by critics and viewers alike, and took home boatloads of awards, all in the midst of Woody Allen's sexual history of transgressions coming to light. At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves if we believe that terrible people should be allowed to be successful.
And yet time seems to heal all wounds, as reports of Allen's transgressions subsides into the static of our oversaturated media landscape, I found myself with a renewed interest in his films on Netflix and went on a Woody Allen spree one week, watching almost all of them.
I'm not saying I have the answers to any of these questions, but the issue has to be explored. If we are to boycott one and not the other, what good are we doing? But also, why can't art be separated from the artist in mainstream consciousness? Does the artist's work lose its meaning because of the personal actions of the artist? And how can we maintain their art's meaning and value without also supporting the monsters the artists have become? Many, many citizens of the world have fond memories of The Cosby Show and Woody Allen's films, but should their enjoyment of it become tainted with the discoveries which followed?
Sound off, I wanna know your thoughts.