Do we have the right to expect certain behavior in public?

The unofficial theme of today has seemed to be the intersection of the private and the public. We started with Abel Ferrara’s film about the ex-President of France being accused of sexually assaulting a maid. Then, I Am Curious looked at the intersection of the political with the social and sexual. Inside Llewyn Davis is about the private life of a folk singer, and wonders if that has an impact on the art, and the audience. Last Days in Vietnam transcends the static beat-for-beat war overview to delve in personal on-the-ground archival footage. And, Bryan Singer’s scandal is the epitome of when the private comes out to play in the public arena.

Obviously this isn’t a new topic. Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s scandal happened just a few years ago. I Am Curious was released in the mid-60s. Bryan Singer’s case allegedly happened in the 90s. Last Days in Vietnam was in the 70s. We’ve been struggling with the cult of the image for decades. Scandals are as old as prostitution.

Nor is the topic’s question anything new, nor has it ever been fully answered. Do we have the right to expect our artists and celebrities to act in a certain behavior?

Last week, I framed this conversation with respect to gillianren’s discussion of Tom Cruise’s behavior towards psychiatry, and my constant obsessive ranting about Orson Scott Card’s behavior towards gays, especially with respect to that movie that came out last year. Other frequent hot topics include Mel Gibson’s anti-Semetic rants while drunk/high, Gary Oldman’s wrong-headed defense of that, Alec Baldwin’s treatment of his wife and use of homophobic slurs during times of anger, Tracy Morgan’s joke about brutally murdering his son if his son came out as gay, or Tina Fey’s defense of Tracy Morgan using 30 Rock to call the offended groups Morons. Plus, there’s also Bret Easton Ellis’ Twitter trolling to stay relevant, Jenny McCarthy’s anti-Vaccination preaching, and Craig T Nelson whining about how he never caught a break. And, let’s not forget the nasty feud/allengations between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, nor the activities of Roman Polanski. Amongst many many other controversies.

Some of these controversies occurred in the private or semi-private – Bryan Singer, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Mel Gibson, Alec Baldwin, Allen and Farrow, Polanski – while some of them happened in the very public: Gary Oldman, Tom Cruise, Orson Scott Card, Tracy Morgan, Bret Easton Ellis, Jenny McCarthy, Craig T Nelson. In the modern age, we’re still tearing down walls between the private and the public. Facebook and Twitter allow us to shape the image of who we want to be presented as, but they frequently also serve as a public wall to a private thought. Most celebrities, if they’re not making a show of tearing these walls for us, they’re having these walls torn down by other people, as is the case with the phone hack bit.

If the case is that walls are being torn down for these people, are we justified in demanding they act a certain way? Sure, we have a right to boycott their movies on our own terms, but is it justified? I feel justified in boycotting Orson Scott Card because he would actively do harm with my money by giving it to groups who want to marginalize me. Gillianren feels personally marginalized by Tom Cruise because he preaches in public. But, what about the rest of this? Should we be actively boycotting Gary Oldman because he came to the defense of Mel Gibson and said a few shitty things in an interview? Should we be boycotting Roman Polanski because he drugged and raped an underage girl 40+ years ago, the victim of which has said she forgave him?

Raoul had this to say on the topic:

I think about this a lot because I know I’m guilty of a lot of hypocrisy in this area. It came up in a conversation about Sin City 2 with the girl who cuts my hair. Frank Miller is an important artist in his field, but knowing what I now know about him, both his personal ideals and politics along with his recent work like 300, makes it hard for me to enjoy any of his work. I enjoyed Sin City well enough the first time around, but I was younger and “Frank Miller” meant something very different to me back then.

Which is all to say that I think we have every right to demand things from the artists we love, but we have to be consistent about it or it will be petty. How many Jerry Lee Lewis (who married his 13-year old cousin) fans have made jokes at the expense of Michael Jackson (who was never found guilty of anything)? If you’re going to boycott Woody Allen’s movies based on allegations that may or may not be true, go ahead and boycott anything with Klaus Kinski in it too.

Or, you can just deal with the fact that, like the rest of us mere mortals, the men and women who entertain us for a living are flawed human beings capable of great evil and great good. If I kept track of every single heinous thing any actor, director, writer, etc. had done and opted out of all the films they made, I might not have much left to watch. I’m not saying that we should just give up completely – I still won’t watch or read anything by Frank Miller again, but I think the key is to be honest about it. I just don’t like the guy. Julius does it right – supporting Card is not in his interests. He didn’t say “Card represents a force of evil and anyone who says, etc. etc. etc.” If you take the moral high ground, you have to stay there. That’s not easy.

What about you? There are a lot of different positions to take on this. Does your view of an author affect how you view his work, positively or negatively? Or, do you not let people’s off-screen behavior affect your view of them or their work?