The Cultural Vandalism of Celebrities – When The Real Life Actions of Celebrities Ruin Their Art for Fans and Viewers
This piece by Seitz had its impetus in Tambor, but really, it addresses the general concept of actors who are so disappointing or hideous in real life – perhaps a news story breaks that the actor is a child molester, or arrogant and rude to people in real life – and this knowledge makes it difficult for you to sit through the television shows or movies you once enjoyed that feature that particular actor.
The Cultural Vandalism of Jeffrey Tambor By Matt Zoller Seitz
… Tambor [the actor] is far from the first great popular artist something like this has happened to [received negative publicity for being abusive to people in real life]. He won’t be the last. And it’s not on us to either forgive him for it or try to factor it out as we watch his work.
That was never our job. It was part of his job. And he blew it.
I was thinking about all this en route to the interview. I love Arrested Development, but it’s yet another once-beloved work that I can no longer watch without cringing — not because of what happens within the fiction itself (cringe comedy of the highest order) but because one of the key people associated with it has been accused of heinous behavior.
….I had to stop after a couple of episodes [of Tambor’s TV show ‘Arrested Development’] because I kept looking at Tambor’s face and thinking of the abuse that three different people had publicly accused him of, on sets not unlike the one where creator and executive producer Mitchell Hurwitz & Co. make Arrested Development.
This sort of thing seems categorically different from, say, watching a film starring an actor whose political beliefs are different from yours (though there, too, a line could be irrevocably crossed). Once you believe that a particular actor or filmmaker or screenwriter is a predator or abuser, you’re aware that the environment that produced your entertainment — the film set — was engaged in a conscious or reflexive cover-up, in the name of protecting an investment.
You can still be passionately interested in the thing as a historical or aesthetic document — seeing it through the eyes of, say, an art historian who can contextualize Paul Gauguin within the totality of 19th-century painting, or an African-American studies professor who’s fascinated by Gone With the Wind — but you can’t lose yourself in it anymore. You can’t be in love with it. You can’t really enjoy it in the most basic sense, not without playing dumb.
You didn’t do that to the artist. The artist did that to himself.
And it’s awful. People’s lives get ruined, their careers get interrupted or destroyed. The emotional, physical, and financial damage that problematic artists inflict on people in their orbit should always be the first and main subject of discussion. Not only have actors reported all manner of sexual assault and harassment, many of them weren’t able to capitalize on their prime earning years because they were traumatized or blacklisted (or both).
… On top of all that, we also have the collateral damage of cultural vandalism. Fun, meaningful, even great works that dozens or hundreds of people labored over, that built careers and fortunes and whole industries, become emotionally contaminated to the point where you can’t watch them anymore.
… Nobody is stopping anyone from watching these works (though they’re no longer as easy to find, and you probably have to own a DVD player). We can still talk about them, study them, write about them, contextualize them. But the emotional connection has been severed. The work becomes archival.
… That’s all on the predators. It’s not on you. None of us asked for this.
As I wrote in articles about Woody Allen and Louis C.K., it’s not incumbent upon the audience to pretend not to know unpleasant facts about the performer so that they can enjoy fiction.
It’s incumbent upon the artist never to put the audience in that position in the first place.
It might sound like I’m describing one of those “morals clauses” in Old Hollywood contracts, but it’s a different thing, because it’s about protecting the audience’s emotional investment in the art, not just the studio’s investment in the product. It’s a basic courtesy, an implied part of the unwritten agreement that ought to exist between the artist and the viewer.