Can We Separate the Art from the Artist?
Mel Gibson with former girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva
by Guest Contributor Brian Robinson
In 2010, I think it’s safe to say that Americans are obsessed with celebrity. We consume it in a feeding frenzy, as the Kardashians, Hiltons, Richies and Snookies parade in front of the camera. But true stars are still hard to come by, and our culture is happy to highlight those that we actually pay money to watch work. Which, when you think about it, is a strange thing to do. Can you imagine an audience of some kind watching you as you work throughout your day? And PAY you for the privilege? We bestow a special position for those in our society who entertain us and do it well. This is why we are fascinated when those to whom we have bestowed this “honor” turn out to be run of the mill, every day human beings. Guess what? They flounder, flail and falter like the rest of us. So, when it’s one of your favorite entertainers, do you continue to support them as artists?
Of course the latest person caught with his (figurative) pants down is Mel Gibson. Gibson forgot, as did many of the people I will mention, that we live in the instantaneous Digital Information age. You say it and it’s likely somebody recorded it. In Mel’s case it was his ex-girlfriend by whom he has a daughter. Unbeknown to the general public, all that intense craziness we saw him enacting on-screen in the ‘Lethal Weapon’ movies, ‘Braveheart’ and ‘Payback’ was maybe a bit more real than we would have guessed. The recordings of his conversations with his ex-girlfriend are vile, misogynistic, childish and scary. He not only insults blacks, women and Mexicans, but even her singing! OK, I haven’t heard her singing, so that part may be justified. One would think that after his well-publicized arrest drama (where he accused Jewish people of being the cause of all of the wars on the world) that he’d have learned his lesson. Although, that arrest was officially expunged, so perhaps he thought that reset some clock somewhere. Isn’t that just like us? But, here is my question to you: should his art be shunned?
Should we, the movie-going public, now solemnly swear to never sit through ‘Ransom,’ ‘Bird On a Wire’ or ‘Apocalypto’ again? Do we punish him by turning our backs whenever we see his face on cable? I am serious here. I want to get a read on how we as a group respond to his outrageous behavior. Other than blogging about it, listening to the talking heads go on about it, what do we really need to do in the way of reaction? You see, you and I have no real direct effect on whether he ever gets hired for another directing or acting job. We have a powerful indirect effect though, in that we can band together and never pay to see another one of his films. But, is that fair? And by fair, I don’t mean to the man, but to the art that he had a hand in creating.
It’s no surprise to anyone reading this blog that movies, TV shows, albums, and just about any other mass entertainment is made as part of a collaboration of many craftspeople and artists. Mel Gibson, for all of his talents, has never alone directed, acted, operated a camera, lit a set, made costumes and recorded the score to a major motion picture. There were hundreds behind the camera that you and I will never really know the names of (even though their names are listed at the end of every movie). Do they deserve to lose work based on his wingnuttery?
More specifically, what if he is really just that damn good of an actor?! What if in his next performance he leapfrogs Marlon Brando to become the best actor on the planet. (And yes, I know that Marlon is no longer ON the planet, but you get me). Should we shun the work, even if he is so transcendent that you don’t see Mel the actor on the screen, but a fully formed different human being altogether? Can we watch without getting hung up on his personal troubles?
Think of some other artists (let’s use that word for lack of a better one right now) who have transgressed in front of the American public; some illegally, some merely offensively:
Woody Allen – accused of molestation (never proven) by his ex-girlfriend, Mia Farrow, whose adopted daughter he eventually married and remains married to this day.
Alec Baldwin – recorded verbally slamming his daughter over being rude to him and disregarding his arrangements to see her according to visitation agreements with the ex (Kim Basinger) and the court.
Lindsay Lohan – arrested for multiple violations on drug offenses, reckless driving and parole violation.
Christian Bale – recorded on the set of ‘Terminator: Salvation’ going above and beyond in castigating the director of photography in front of the entire company.
Charlie Sheen – well-known for his drug addiction, chasing of prostitutes and, recently, choking his wife at knife-point while on vacation.
Robert Downey, Jr. – was a long time drug addict with many misadventures to his name, and spent time in California State prison system for multiple parole violations.
Roman Polanski - famous director who infamously raped a thirteen year old girl in the seventies, served SOME time for the crime, but skipped the country before being sentenced to even more time. Recently was held in Switzerland for deportation to the US, but was freed upon appeal there.
Have you patronized any of the movies, shows or music (Downey and Lohan have recorded music) of any of the aforementioned people since their respective transgressions? I know I have, and more than once. But, not always with a crystal clear conscience.
In a way, I feel that I should join in on the punishment they seem to deserve, not just at the hands of the penal system in some cases, but also in the court of public opinion. But, when I really give it some thought, I can’t always justify that idea in my own head. I can’t stand what I (think) Woody Allen did to his ex-girlfriend or to his son (the molestation accusation never had enough merit to make it to court). And, don’t forget the impropriety of the way he married his wife. But, when I go to see ‘Match Point’ there is nothing in my actions that says, in my mind, that I support what he did. That’s his life, this is his movie. They are not the same thing. Because he wrote and directed a brilliant movie does not change my opinion of what I think I know about his private life.
Apparently there are millions of Americans who have forgiven Charlie Sheen because his sitcom ‘Two and a Half Men’ pulls them in by the droves (personally, I think the show is the biggest crime he ever perpetrated). Nobody thinks twice going to see ‘Iron Man’ or ‘Iron Man 2′ because Downey, Jr. is in it. Hell he, Allen, Baldwin and Polanski all get major awards for their work to this day. Is that the crazy Liberal Elite in Hollywood doing that? Well they must have a lot of recruits because those movies don’t get made if the public won’t pay to see them. I think most of us are willing to cluck our tongues and shake our heads until the next movie or TV show they are in just looks too good to miss.
Perhaps the great artists of the past (Picasso, Van Gogh, Hemingway, Williams, etc.) were all lucky to have been born before the Digital Information Age. We probably wouldn’t have dared to tolerate them otherwise. Or would we?