A Separation of Work and Man
On October 5th, 2017, Harvey Weinstein was accused of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment by dozens of women. What followed has been an unprecedented avalanche of accusations and allegations against many powerful figures in the political and entertainment spheres with no end in sight. Brett Ratner, Roy Moore, Andrew Kreisberg, Senator Al Franken, and Ryan Seacrest are just some of the men that have been accused, and, by the time this is published, many more will most likely have joined them.
The entire ordeal has been tragic on multiple accounts. Of course, the most devastating aspect of this tragedy is the stories that these women are sharing regarding all of the trauma that they are and have been going through. Sexual assault and sexual harassment should never be tolerated, and it is encouraging and refreshing to see that many of the parties involved are not letting these men continue with their lives as if nothing has happened. Brett Ratner and Andrew Kreisberg have been suspended by Warner Bros., the Republican National Committee has withdrawn financing for Moore’s campaign, and Senator Al Franken has called for an ethic investigation into his own conduct. While this will never undo the damage done or excuse the men for what they did, the hope is that these measures will prevent these men from using their power to take advantage of women, and help create a culture where this type of behavior is no longer tolerated.
At the same time, and of much, much less importance, there is another aspect to this tragedy. Say what you want about these men; you cannot ignore their achievements and accomplishments. Ryan Seacrest is one of the most successful television hosts ever, having hosted all 15 seasons of American Idol and helping launch the careers of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, and Jordin Sparks. Andrew Kreisberg is one of the most successful television producers of the decade, with his credits including Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl. Al Franken is (or was) one of the most powerful and well-respected senators, with many notable accomplishment including health care reform, improving the care of United States veterans, and helping confirm Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. These are (or were) great men who accomplished great things, and, while it does not excuse their behavior, it is sad to see them fall like this.
With all that these men have accomplished, we, the public, are put in an odd position. On the one hand, we find the acts done by these men despicable and want nothing to do with them. On the other hand, it is hard to just cut out these men from our lives. Their achievements are at a national level, and thus hard to avoid. This dichotomy leaves us with the question of what to do with the works and achievements of these men. Do we boycott and blacklist them, or do we allow ourselves to enjoy what they have provided for us so far? Can the work be separated from the man, or is the creator intrinsically connected to his creation?
This is a timeless debate that has taken various forms throughout the years, and has especially rocked the entertainment industry with two main sides battling it out. Unionists claim that the man cannot be separated from his work, no matter the act that he is being accused/convicted of. The creation is corrupted just by being associated with the accused, and, therefore, it must be banned and blacklisted by all. Separatists, on the other hand, claim that the work can be separated from the man as a man’s actions do not define everything he has worked on.
While the unionist argument is noble, it fails to resonate on multiple accounts. For unionists, one of the major reasons why they call for boycott or blacklisting is because they don’t want the sexual predator to profit off the work that he created. However, they fail to recognize that there is always more than one individual involved in any movie or TV show. Take House of Cards and its lead actor, Kevin Spacey, who is yet another Hollywood celebrity who has been accused of multiple counts of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Spacey has done terrible things and it is reassuring that Netflix has removed him from all future plans involving the show. However, he is not the only actor involved in the show. Robin Wright, Kate Mara, Corey Stoll, and Mahershala Ali all are or were starring on the show at some point. To boycott House of Cards would strip them of the royalties that come in any time the show is streamed or purchased. Why should they be punished for what their colleague did?
Even if unionists want to say that actors make plenty of money and that one doesn't have to be concerned with their financial well-being, that still leaves the hundreds of directors, producers, writers, camera men and women, production designers, caterers, costume designers, set designers, drivers, and lighting technicians that work for House of Cards with nothing, not to mention the Netflix employees that could be affected by this loss of revenue for the streaming service. Surely they should not be punished just because Kevin Spacey committed these terrible acts.
Furthermore, just because someone involved in the work has committed terrible acts does not make the project inherently bad. When it comes to movies and televisions, every project has major themes, morals, and lessons that it wants to teach. If those themes and morals are unrelated to the acts of the accused, then there really should be no problem watching those movies or shows. The lesson remains untouched and pure.
Once again House of Cards serves as a good example of this. The political drama is good TV that has been nominated for Outstanding Drama Series at the Emmy awards multiple times. The show provides its audience with lessons about politics and power that are important to the political discussion today. These lessons are unrelated to Spacey’s actions and thus can still stand regardless of what he did. Allowing Spacey’s acts to ruin that for the public just makes a bad situation worse, with no one gaining anything. The values the show teaches are still pure, untouched by the corruption.
But what if the values of the work have been corrupted? What if what the man did does contradict what the show stands for? This is the question separatists are now asking themselves in regard to Louis C.K., a comedian/actor who has directed, written, produced, and starred in many successful projects over the last decade.
C.K. has been accused of sexual misconduct with at least five women, including exposing himself and masturbating in front of them. What makes his case different from the rest of the accused is that his works deal with the exact things he is being accused of.
Louis C.K. is best known for his brutally honest humor about sex and masturbation. His stand-up routines are full of jokes about his own personal sexual encounters, while Louie, a show loosely based on C.K.’s life in which he directs, writes, produces, and stars, focuses a lot on explicit and odd sexual scenarios. C.K. used these projects to criticize the male sexual ego and the ways in which men seek sexual pleasure. It was frank, honest, and gross, and audiences loved it.
However, accusations against C.K. and his own confession have put all of his works into new light. The humor has gone from frank and honest to feeling more of a way for C.K. to defend his now-revealed actions, as if he has been preparing for this moment his entire career. In one of his stand-up routines, C.K. talks about how he is sick of all the perverted sexual thoughts that go through his mind all day everyday. “It makes me into an idiot,” he says. “I’m jacking off to morons…It’s just a dumb part of life that I’m sick of.” He then counties, saying that while women also “get to have these [sexual] thoughts, I have to have them. You’re [women] a tourist in sexual pervasion. I’m a prisoner there.”
Then there is the infamous scene in Louie, in which C.K.’s character goes on TV to debate masturbation against a young, innocent-looking, female, Christian activist. Louis is introduced as an “aficionado in masturbation…who even brags about it,” to which he responds with a matter-of-fact nod and a slight grin. As the debate begins, Louie makes the argument for masturbation, stating that “it’s easy, it’s fun, and nobody gets hurt.” However, as the activist continues to defend her position and makes Louie question his happiness, he burst into a rant, saying that “You don’t know me and you don’t know God. God probably hates people like you…I masturbate and I’m proud of it, and God’s happy. And later I’m going to masturbate and I’m going to think about you.”
These incidents are typical of his routines, which is why it is so hard to watch his work now and why the unionists are right when it comes to C.K. His work cannot be separated from his actions because his actions have tainted the values he preached. His frank critique has morphed into a defiant act against those that would question his behavior. His claims that he is a “sexual prisoner” and that “God probably hates people” that attack those who masturbate, are now seen as excuse for his behavior. He is not responsible for his actions, but some other force, be it his subconscious, God, or those that try to point out his flaws. All this time, while he has critiqued his audience and made them reflect on their actions, it seems he has never reflected upon himself. He has become a hypocrite who does not follow the values that he himself preached, making his work hypocritical, corrupt, and valueless.
At one point in the debate, the activist says the following to Louie: “I know you are a comedian, so this is probably so funny for you.” Louie responds with a simple “yeah, it’s pretty funny.” The activist then looks at Louie not with anger but with pity. “That’s so sad,” she says, “that you don’t know the darkness that you live in.” One can only hope that after all these allegations and accusations, Louis C.K. and the others like him do a some introspection and examine the darkness they live in, as well as all the darkness they have brought to their victims and their families.