This week’s provocative question asks: “When you learn about highly regarded artists being accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, especially with minors, can you separate the artists from their art, or would you refuse to listen to, watch, or read the artists’ works?”
Hmmm… Well, to be honest I’m not a huge Michael Jackson fan and there are many other artists with music similar enough to R Kelly, so I’m not likely to listen to their music any more or less than I have done so far.
But back in the day in the glam-rock seventies I absolutely loved Gary Glitter with his showy sparkly arrogance on stage, asking if I wanted to be in his gang… and I sang along at the top of my voice with all my young teenage peers, starry eyed and caught up in the moment. But now it just feels creepy, considering his predeliction for young vietnamese kids, and so it seems in hindsight I can’t separate the artist from the art and no, I don’t listen to him any more, not even for the sake of nostalgia.
And as well as musicians, another famous publicly-shamed sexually-abusive celebrity of my innocent youth was Jimmy Saville of ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ TV fame, where for years the ‘lucky’ kids for whom he fixed their particular dream come true were privileged to sit on his lap live on air… Again, just too creepy to think about these days…
But of course it’s not only money-laden celebrities who take advantage of the trusting dollar/pound-sign blinkers placed over the eyes of both parents and children, but also certain members of the Catholic Church. The sheer arrogance of power, whether financial or religious, creates a trust imbalance that seems to allow certain predatory types to behave atrociously and apparently expect to get away with it, whether through physical or sexual abuse of children in their charge.
So to take the question a step further from considering only musical artists or celebrities, does the dubious historical action of the Catholic Church relating to allegations of child abuse affect the way I consider the Catholic religion? Absolutely – my grandmother and her younger siblings were brought up between the two wars in several orphanages run by the Catholic Church, and were treated cruelly enough by the nuns that as adults they all refused to attend church, and this experiential distrust has been passed down the generations.
Additionally, my husband was also brought up in the Catholic faith, and during the 1980s attended a prestigious private fee-paying boarding school in the Highlands of Scotland run by Benedictine monks in an actual abbey setting. Yet only a few years ago we had two policemen at our door asking my husband for a statement about his time at that school, as his second-year house-master has been accused of the sexual abuse of one of my husband’s class-mates. Sadly this is not a unique allegation, and an entire TV documentary was made at that time relating to the school (and monks) in question.
So can I separate the church from the child abuse? Nope, not then, not now, and not ever. Had the church dealt with any and all accurations of abuse openly and justly, then fair enough. But instead offenders were simply protected in order to protect the good name of the church and quietly moved on elsewhere, ostensibly free to offend again, leaving their vulnerable victims disbelieved and traumatised for the rest of their lives.
But in the longterm it does seem that the abuse of power negates whatever artistic achievements have been made by the offender. Off the top of my head just look at Jimmy Saville here in the UK for example, where there were discussions about him being posthumously stripped of his knighthood (not possible, as the honour dies with him) or the spectacular falling-off-a-cliff careers of Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey in the US… what goes around, comes around, I guess…