When posed the question, “What do we do with the art of monstrous men?” Claire Dederer’s answer is anything but simple. Her piece, which was published during the height of the Me Too movement, focuses on modern instances of terrible men who put out their work to the world. She approaches and dissects the complexity of this issue, which is not an old problem but is more relevant today than ever.
Dederer applies her thoughts to the specific situation of Woody Allen, first explaining her emotional connection to him and his work. She watches his works, along with the films of Roman Polanski, and cannot imagine not having the comfort of this art anymore. She doesn’t want it to be tainted by his moral shortcomings. Almost every person today has witnessed one of their favorite artist, musician, director, actor, or comedian outed as a sexual predator or abuser of some kind. It is a disheartening experience shared by millions, thanks to the Internet.
At this point in Dederer’s piece, I was concerned she was going to explain that it is 100% okay to enjoy these still. However, she returns to the issue later on, explaining a conversation she had with a male writer. She goes on to ask the reader who has the most unbiased view, those who acknowledge the artist’s personal shortcomings, or “The one who had the ability—some might say the privilege—to remain untroubled by the filmmaker’s attitudes toward females and history with girls?”
This sentence summarizes my opinion in this area better than I could myself. As a woman, I cannot separate a sexual predator from the art he curates. I, along with every other woman I know, has experienced sexual harassment and assault. I do not have the privilege of overlooking this quality in a man, just to appreciate a role he plays in a film. She illustrated that male privilege plays a massive part in separating the art and artist in the Me Too era. As Dederer states, this is a completely emotional stance to take, but it would be unethical to take any other.
By following this idea through, one can see that an artist and his art are tethered together. It is impossible to study great art without understanding the influences and the motives behind creating it. Dederer investigates Woody Allen’s character in Manhattan, where he plays a middle-aged man dating a high school girl. This displays how Allen’s personal attitude and behavior towards women seep into his acting. As Dereder states, it “seemed to animate the project.”
Artists take their personal experience and pour it into what they create. It is impossible to deny the connection between an artist’s personal experience and personality and their pieces. In our art history class, we study this daily. An everyday example that most remember is Will Smith’s character in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In one scene, his character breaks down in tears over his dad’s absence in his life. A video of this went viral, its caption explaining that Smith’s acting was very real considering his relationship with his estranged father in real life. Hundreds of thousands of people praised him for pouring his heart into his work. In the same vein, Allen used his personal urges and desires to create his character in Manhattan.
Dereder’s essay proves that the bond between an artist and art is unbreakable.An artist takes every aspect of his life and uses what he knows to create something. Therefore, enjoying his pieces that were inspired by monstrous acts makes us culpable in his behavior. Supporting predators, abusers, and rapists by consuming their art is unethical. To say that films, music, or pieces are isolated from their creators is a lie told for our comfort.
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