Why Must Everything Be Hopelessly Tainted?
If you’re the parent of a three year old, as I am, you are forever on the look out for entertainment that will delight your little one without driving you criminally insane. When you find something that entertains you and your child, you feel like you’ve won the lottery. That’s how my wife and I felt when we very recently discovered The Loud House, a funny, clever and sweet animated show about a boy who lives in a house with ten sisters.
The animation reminds me more than a little of Peter Bagge, which is always a good thing, and as my wife has remarked with no small amount of delight, not only is The Loud House funny and clever and not exclusively designed to sell toys, it’s also casually progressive. The protagonist’s best friend’s dads are an interracial gay couple, something that is never commented upon or even treated as unusual.
Not only do my wife and I enjoy watching The Loud House alongside our son Declan: we feel good about doing so, which is not something you can say about a lot of children’s entertainment. Well, I did feel good about it. Then I had to open my dumb mouth.
I was so excited about The Loud House that I asked the members of my Facebook group, Society for the Toleration of Nathan Rabin if any of them were familiar with it. I wanted to share something I had discovered and enjoyed with people who might enjoy it as well.
I really should not have been surprised when the first response was a link to a story about Chris Savino, the show’s creator being fired by Nickelodeon for allegations of sexual harassment. But I was both surprised and a little shattered. I got a sinking feeling in my gut. I felt intensely disillusioned, even crestfallen.
In a moment, the sunny little world of The Loud House that had brought my family and myself so much seemingly innocent enjoyment was hopelessly tarnished. The Loud House suddenly wasn’t the brain child of someone with a big heart, vivid imagination and good sense of humor: it was the product of someone who preyed upon women, who abused his personal and professional power.
This wasn’t like Harvey Weinstein or James Toback, where I was surprised only by the extent and awfulness of the alleged sex criminal’s crimes. This was more like when I discovered that John Lasseter, one of the geniuses behind Pixar, had a long and shameful history of being professionally and personally inappropriate.
Motherfucker, can’t anything not be tainted? Can’t Pixar or The Loud House stand out as beacons of non-scuzziness in the fetid pit that is the world of entertainment? Savino was fired, sure, and the show has continued without his creative input but the show is nevertheless hopelessly sullied for me.
It’s a very good thing that sexual criminals and harassers are being exposed and punished. That goes without saying. But because of all this essential work, a huge subsection of pop culture is going to play very differently to upcoming generations. When I watched The Cosby Show in the 1980s, it was almost universally considered an apex of American commercial entertainment, as a pop culture milestone that was extraordinary popular but also also extraordinary important and extraordinarily good.
Once upon a time people watched the Cosby Show to be entertained, sure, but also to feel better about themselves and about the world, to feel like we were making progress, that the racial gulf wasn’t as vast and painful as it seems. Audiences tomorrow and today are undoubtedly going to see it much differently, just as reading the allegations against Savino made me see his creation in a much different, darker light.
These allegations are going to force people, specifically men, to be more honest and more ethical going forward. God willing, the days of sexual harassment and assault being tacitly forgiven and forgotten are over but it feels like culturally we’re going to have to be like baseball after the Steroids controversy blew up.
There are going to be a lot of creators whose legacy is in question because of their personal actions, just as there are a lot of steroid-fueled sluggers who will never see the Hall of Fame because of what we know about how they got so big and so strong. Knowledge is invariably a good thing, even if it robs us of our illusions and casts long, troubling shadows over cultural places that once seemed sunny and bright. I’d go so far as to say that knowledge is especially valuable when it robs us of our illusions and casts long, troubling shadows over cultural places that once seemed sunny and bright. But goddamn if that knowledge isn’t also acutely painful at times.
Support Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place and get patron-only exclusives over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace