There seems to be a fresh headline every morning naming the latest (almost always male) celebrity as a sexual predator. Some names weren’t a surprise: if you’ve been a long-time lurker on Gawker, Jezebel, and any other non-celebrity PR-influenced gossip website, you’ve also heard whispers for years about Kevin Spacey’s and Louis C.K.’s appalling behavior. “I been knew,” you’d think upon seeing their names trend recently online, and not in the #RIP way. But there have been names whose recent association with sexual assault literally got us shook. For me in particular, a #trustnoman type, reading accusations about Neil DeGrasse Tyson and George Takei still took me by surprise.
A chunk of that surprise is due to a deeply ingrained and erroneous belief that sexual predators come only in particular and limited packaging. An outspoken and seemingly woke gay man? An astro-physicist handing climate change deniers their @ss with facts? How could they be sexual predators?! And yet here we are, hearing their victims’ accounts, not just of the assault they had suffered but also how their encounters with these men have altered their lives.
An equally large part of that shock also comes from how much I’ve enjoyed their work. How could something so good, so funny, so smart, and so informative come from a person capable of disregarding another person’s rights?
This is the inherent problem of the stan culture, where a public figure’s behavior and personality get whitewashed by their body of work. And especially when it comes to artists, among their fans, there remains the notion of art as the sublimation of a human being’s darkest notions. Creativity is still viewed as a chaotic force that respects no boundaries of any kind, an untamed beast that must be allowed to roam free and trample over anything to produce work that the public could enjoy.
It’s a problem that is becoming more glaring, what with more sexual assault survivors, both women and men, finding the courage to speak up. It’s not a bandwagon that people are piling on; the floodgates have just finally, truly opened, after the decades of hard work put in by feminists. And in light of all the sordid and triggering details that are getting shared in the news cycle, it’s no longer enough to stop at the question of whether a sexual assault victim must be believed (they should be). There’s the equally important follow-up question of, how do we fans/stans deal with the fallout when our faves are revealed to be more than just problematic?
It is becoming more apparent that the widespread problem of sexual harassment and assault in all industries is a systemic problem. And to resolve it, we simply can’t just offer empathy without recognizing how we, the observers, keep these oppressive systems in place.
Separating the art from the artist is the denier’s route. It’s also the permissive route, one that still rewards an artist in some way, even after they have done the most debasing sh*t to another person. Remember: celebrities already have massive egos that have been nurtured by public adulation, and these egos are also what made them believe they can get away with anything in the first place. Continuing to support their art despite their wrongdoings is just enabling them further and underlining the dangerous idea that artists are above judgement due to their talent.
There is some satisfaction in seeing some big names getting cancelled after they’ve been revealed to be the monsters that they are. In some cases, because of the influence these men had held in the entertainment industry for so long, the collateral damage is massive. With Netflix’s cancellation of House of Cards after the whole Spacey exposé, people who are involved in the grunt work of its production have found themselves suddenly jobless, only because an actor couldn’t be bothered to treat so many boys and young men as human beings. But as we’re now learning, dismantling the status quo is the only way to instigate meaningful and lasting change. To curb abuse and oppression significantly, it’s important to drive home the point that no one is above judgement and the law.
It’s not an easy lesson to learn. But what are growing pains compared to the anguish of being a silenced victim, or a victim whose word no one would believe, or a victim who is believed but is denied any form of reparation? It’s admittedly difficult to resolve not to support our tainted, imperfect faves any longer with our esteem and our coin, but the world isn’t lacking in non-sexual predator talents and artists anyway. In fact, it’s high time we do away with stan mentality for good and realize that skill, fame, money, and power aren’t a celebrity’s free pass for abhorrent behavior. As for the discomfort with which we now view the works of our fallen idols? Well, no matter how much we may enjoy a film, a TV show, a song, a story, an artwork, it should never hold more weight than the pain of another person.