Written by Sara Leonard
The past few weeks have made it nearly impossible to check social media without discovering that another high-profile celebrity has been accused of sexual harassment. What started off as Hollywood’s crusade against Harvey Weinstein has developed into so much more: men like Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, and Roy Moore have all been accused of sexual harassment or abuse. What’s even more shocking is that the men are facing consequences for their actions. This appalling chain of events has caused many people to question artists of the past, and New York Times writer Clyde Haberman asked the question of the month: “Can we appreciate art even if it was created by someone who behaved deplorably?”
It comes as no surprise that many of our prized authors are incredibly problematic. T.S. Eliot was anti-Semitic, Norman Mailer nearly murdered his wife, and William Golding attempted to rape a 15-year-old girl. Authors like Jack London and Walt Whitman were overtly racist, yet we continue cherishing their work. These authors, and many like them, are the ones who are regularly discussed in high school classrooms, yet their malignant behavior is only a footnote.
The majority of authors called into question are now deceased, which presents a different situation than the one currently facing the film community. Instead of demanding repercussions or legal action, readers are instead charged with a decision first outlined by Erik Tarloff: “We are forced to deal with a very uncomfortable fact: Great art is sometimes—perhaps often—made by very bad people, or people who harbor very ugly attitudes, or attitudes we now find abhorrent.” But, should we continue to consume what we find “abhorrent”?
Readers are special. We have the immense power to set the agenda, and decide which works of literature stand the test of time. In this tumultuous atmosphere, we are asked if we can separate works of art from their creators. While there is no easy answer, it is something that must weigh on the minds of every reader.