Should we endorse art made by morally compromised creators?
An uncomfortable moral quandary has reared its ugly head at the tail end of the summer movie season with the release of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For being coupled with the knowledge that its creator Frank Miller is a total jerk bag in real life.
Miller is a highly influential figure in the comic book industry who, besides authoring the original Sin City graphic novels, is credited for bringing superhero fiction into the mainstream through reinventing characters like Batman and Daredevil in the ‘80s.
Unfortunately, over the last couple of years Miller has really started to lose his mind. In 2011, he referred to members of the Occupy Wall Street movement as “thieves and rapists”, and he has had no qualms about publicly voicing his utter disdain for Islamic culture.
Although I find Miller’s views completely deplorable, I’ll more than likely be lining up on Aug. 22 to see the new feature film he wrote and co-directed. You might call me a massive hypocrite because of this, and maybe suggest that I should stay at home and make a symbolic stand against Miller’s hate and ignorance.
This might make sense if I lived in a world where every other worthwhile artist and entertainer was a shining beacon of moral integrity. But unfortunately, many of your favourite artists both past and present aren’t exactly who you’d call “good people.”
Some have proven to be self-destructive degenerates who intentionally isolated friends, neglected their children, and shamed their wives, such as the case with Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway. Others have harboured hateful and prejudiced belief systems, like the anti-Semitic tendencies of painter Edgar Degas and the fascist leanings of poet Ezra Pound. A few have even been labelled sex offenders, which you’ll deal with if you watch a Woody Allen or Roman Polanski film.
Sometimes talented artists are just unbearably pretentious, egotistical douchebags, such as people like Dan Harmon, creator of the TV show Community, and Kanye West, creator of musician Kanye West.
Yet even though these creators have proven to be morally dubious human beings, they are still subject to endless praise by fans, critics, and scholars alike in the 21st century. The works of men like Dickens and Hemingway are even regularly taught in schools and there is no call to have their books pulled off the shelves and burned in a big pile. Pound’s poetry and the film negatives for Polanski’s Chinatown have similarly gone untarnished.
Why is this? Because when you indulge in art, it’s often vitally important to regard the creator and his or her creation as separate entities. While these creative works are an expansion of the artist’s identity, they only represent a fraction of who that person actually is. Regardless of what you might hear, all art is not autobiographical and every hateful negative feeling that an artist internalizes doesn’t get translated into a book or a song or a movie.
That doesn’t mean talented artists should have a free pass to do or say whatever they want, but it does mean we should evaluate the individual and their art on different terms.
So, in this spirit, is Frank Miller a bigoted ignoramus? Absolutely. Is his latest blockbuster movie a giant piece of crap? Well, I’ll judge that for myself.