Where Do We Draw the Line?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been thinking an awful lot over the past few months about where we, as a culture, draw a line. Actually, even if you’re not me, that’s probably a question that you’ve wrestled with a good deal since the downfall of Harvey Weinstein led to a seemingly global reckoning where powerful men were finally being held responsible for their transgressions, primarily sexual in nature.
Sometimes it’s easy to see where a line has been drawn. When Roseanne tweeted that African-American Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett was the product of an illicit union between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes franchise, for example, a network that stood to make tens of millions of dollars, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, from remaining in the Roseanne business drew a strong line indicating that tweeting clearly racist and Islamophobic things represented grounds for immediate cancellation.
I suspect that Roseanne’s tweet would have been viewed very differently if she did not have a long, troubling history of saying awful, hateful and egregiously bigoted things on social media, often about Obama and his advisors. Roseanne’s Planet of the Apes tweet just confirmed what people like myself, who’d been morbidly hate-reading her Twitter feed for years (although I eventually had to stop because it became too toxic and dispiriting even to glance at every now and then) already knew: Roseanne was a conspiracy-loving racist whose social media feeds represent a toxic stew of fear-mongering, name-calling and unabashed hatred.
In retaliation, Conservatives called for the heads of Bill Maher (for many, many things, some of which I also see as egregious and grounds for firing) and Samantha Bee, who referred to the President’s daughter (you know the one) as a “feckless cunt” in a foul-mouthed rant that also traded on the idea that the President wants to make sweet passionate love to his daughter.
At the risk of coming off as a prude or a scold, I think that Progressives should take the high road and eschew humor rooted either in the President’s obesity or his relationship with his daughter. There are so many legitimately awful things to make fun of the President about. We should never have to resort to cheap, mean-spirited cracks about the President being a fat piece of shit who wants to fuck his own daughter. We're above that.
For me, there is a huge difference between Bee’s joke, or Michelle Wolf’s comments about Sarah Huckabee’s eye shadow and Roseanne’s clear-cut bigotry and racism.
Of course I did not need Roseanne to out herself yet again as a hateful racist to steer clear of Roseanne.
Her show would have to be pretty goddamned transcendent in order to get me to overlook her screamingly public support of Trump, and the way it informs the show and her character. It’s a whole lot easier to say no to new works by people like Woody Allen, R. Kelly, Kanye West and Louis CK when your enthusiasm for their work has waned considerably over time.
I was once a huge fan of all four of those men. Woody Allen in particular was a formative influence on my sensibility and my sense of humor but I got to a point where it became impossible to ignore the creepiness of Allen's personal life. My enthusiasm dwindled as I grew less and less able or willing to separate the artist from the art as I got older. These troubled men’s scandals gave me what little permission I needed to give up on their new work altogether.
A similar dynamic is at play with the fifth season of Arrested Development, which I am not remotely interested in watching partially because the show’s male cast members came off terribly in an infamous New York Times interview where they essentially gas-lit Jessica Walter and minimized the verbal and emotional abuse she suffered from Jeffrey Tambor but mostly because I watched season four for the Wall Street Journal website and found it to be bloated and inert, shapeless and unfunny.
It certainly is easier to draw a concrete moral line with art and entertainment you don’t feel passionate about. It’s a whole lot harder when doing the right thing morally means purposefully depriving yourself of things you love and bring you joy. I’d like to think I’m capable of drawing a clear line even with artists and entertainers I adore but I honestly don’t know.
It’s a tricky thing being intensely invested in the lives and careers of the people who create the art and ephemera that fill our lives with meaning and pleasure, particularly in an era where their flaws and moral shortcomings are becoming public and unavoidable in ways they never have before.
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