*TW: this post includes discussion of sexual assault
THERE’S A SCENE in the movie Spaceballs – it’s supposed to be a parody of the chestburster scene in the movie Alien – where the late John Hurt re-enacts the scene where his character, Kane shows us what happens when you get too close to something that looks like this
And then this happens
Seriously no Bueno.
In Alien, Kane dies. In Spaceballs, Kane’s misfortune ends with a punchline.
Because Spaceballs is a comedy.
If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. That Dark Helmet is pretty funny.
Gazing down at the newly born xenomorph emerging from his opened chest, John Hurt, as Kane, laments, “Oh no, not again.”
I’m kinda understanding how Kane felt right now.
Not because I have an alien neonate bursting from my chest.
It’s because I, too have recently said the phrase “oh no, not again”.
It wasn’t the punchline of a joke, though.
I said it because I, like Kane, was lamenting the repeat of something I’d been through before – discovering that yet another one of my faves is “problematic”.
“Problematic” is an understatement.
One of my faves is accused of committing multiple acts of sexual assault. On minors.
Now, I’ve written about problematic favorites before. Thrice, in fact.
If you’re a fan of enough famous people, you’ll find that there’s a certain percentage of them that are, for lack of a better phrase, bad people. As a Beatles fan, I am aware of accusations of John Lennon’s violent behavior, including spousal abuse.
As a fan of philosophy, I know that philosophy is filled with sexists, anti-Semites, racists, even renowned University of California, Berkley philosophy professors accused of sexual assault.
…and I’m not even talking about old white guys who lived hundreds of years ago.
Alright, I know that no human is perfect, even myself. Many of us has done something that, if we ran what we did through an ethical evaluation machine, our acts would label us “problematic”.
I’m not expecting moral perfection.
For me, being a philosopher isn’t about being perfect (No philosopher is. Not even Hegel).
Luckily studying and enjoying philosophy doesn’t require that.
I know that no person is perfect. And I know that brilliant people; people who do wonderful things, create amazing art, or develop the perfect ontology, can do the most heinous moral wrongs.
Schopenhauer pushed a woman down a flight of stairs.
Intellectually I realize (rationalize?) that it’s possible to separate a creator from their creation; that, despite what I know about John Lennon, Roman Polanski, or Colin McGinn, it’s possible to enjoy and appreciate what they have contributed to our culture and public discourse.
Heidegger was a Nazi, but I can’t deny his influence on the way we think.
As much as I am sometimes reluctant to admit that I can push aside what I know about the private acts of my favorite famous people, I ask if I should push the acts aside. I can’t but feel that there’s something wrong with saying John Lennon was a horrible person, but his horribleness doesn’t matter (or at least matters less) because he made some really good music.
That just doesn’t sound right.
I still feel that people should be held morally accountable for what they do. Even if they’re brilliant filmmakers, actors, musicians or philosophers.
As a philosopher, I fear a slide into a moral relativism based on the principle of “whatever you do is ok so long as I like what you do”.
That’s not good at all.
So, I ask again, what do I do?
What is the appropriate way to deal with problematic faves? Is it morally wrong to continue to enjoy the music of John Lennon or the films of Roman Polanski or Kevin Spacey, even if they’ve committed morally objectionable acts?
Are people inseparable from what they do? Are we obligated to turn our back on them? Should we throw away their albums? Burn their books? Boycott their films?
As I write about this subject for the third time, my answer is I still don’t know.
But I have the feeling that before I figure it out, I’ll be saying “Oh, no. Not again”.