Judgement Day

I was listening to a CBC podcast the other night, and there were a couple of people talking about their feelings about various famous authors and musicians. The conversation was really about whether or not our judgements about the behaviour of artists should influence how we feel about their art, and if we should decide to like or not like their art because we don’t agree with the conduct, opinions or morality of the artist.

I listened with some interest because the commentators were both people who identify themselves as lgbtqia2s (https://www.mic.com/articles/28093/lgbtqia-a-beginner-s-guide-to-the-great-alphabet-soup-of-queer-identity) and one of them also identified theirself as a gay black non-binary person. My immediate reaction to their conversation was curiosity because although I don’t identify myself as a member of a minority, generally, I do still identify as a person who has lived my life on the outside of established social, cultural and religious communities in which I live.

My political opinions are progressive within the Canadian meaning of that word meaning that I tend to share and support the politics of liberal leaning parties, and instinctively tend to feel sympathetic and supportive of anyone who self identifies as an outsider, whether as result of ethnicity, race, gender, ethical, sexual and religious views, appearance, etcetera. Which generally means that I’m somewhat judgemental about other people who I perceive as judgemental against all those people I’ve previously mentioned. So I’m inclined to be pretty judgemental about myself, since I know perfectly well that my own behaviour over my life has failed at times to live up to my own ethical, moral and social standards.

So the questions being raised are important to me. Is it safe for me to listen to music I like or even love, if it has been created or performed by someone I judge to have behaved badly? Say, like Michael Jackson, who now appears to have been a pedophile. Should we erase all of our collective memories of his music and dance, and never moonwalk again? Should we ban any mentions about Sir John A. MacDonald, who, in addition to being a drunk, a racist about first nations peoples and their rights, an outright unapologetic sexist. The fact that our nation exists because this man, and other similarly flawed men founded it continues to be true, even if I don’t like it. History is made by flawed men and women. Music is sung by creepy assholes. Great classical art was drawn by perverts we wouldn’t allow in our living rooms.

Should we hide the Mona Lisa, because her painter was a narrow minded bigot who was probably gay but denied homesexuality over and over again to gain social acceptability, not to mention contracts that paid for his work and allowed him to survive in times we can barely imagine.

I found it fascinating that these two commentators came to the conclusion that excluding people from your life because they happen to have been flawed, made terrible mistakes in their relationships, or even committed heinous crimes, should not necessarily mean that you deny the value and beauty of their art as fruit of the poison tree. Doing so would deny human beings the ability to grow, to make amends and try to do and be better than their worst selves. Doing so could remove the incentive for people to change and reflect on their worst behaviours, and thereby learn something.

Should I forever hate my father because of what he inflicted on me as a child, even in the certainty that he committed himself to looking after my younger sister for most of his life after she became a quadriplegic in her early twenties. He did bad things when he was younger, but did amazing things that made her life possible when it had become impossible. So I try to hate the behaviour I judge offensive and admire his enormous contributions to my sister. So I will never forget either, but I judge him to have been a deeply flawed man who showed the capacity for love. I love my father, but see him clearly for all that he was in his life, not just those things that harmed others but also those things he did that contributed.

Which is how I think we should look at historical and living people alike. We should make every effort to be our better selves, no matter how damaged we are or have been in our pasts. We should be as transparent as we can be, without expecting it of others. Fight for equality, justice and freedom, but make allowance for human frailty, both for ourselves and for others.

25 thoughts on “Judgement Day

  1. Thanks for the thought-provoking post! After living in China for about 15 years, I’ve observed numerous dire consequences that spawn from redacting the pages of history. I’ve also come to appreciate my freedom of personal responsibility that comes with knowing how to separate the bad deeds of an individual from that same individual’s great works.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. One of my biggest arguments has been that the only reason we even know about some of the flaws and mistakes is because these people are now in the spotlight. If not made famous, no one would know and then have no opinion. It’s about throwing stones when you live in a glass house. Does anyone admit to their sins? Does everyone put out all their mistakes for the public, even the world, to judge? I’m not going to get into politics but our President, Mr. Trump did some things that were wrong. When he was called out on it, not only did he admit it, but he did it again. That is where I draw the line. Mistakes are made all the time, but if you ignore what is ultimately right, just to do wrong again, is my idea of evil.

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  3. Brilliant, beautiful question. I have thought down this path too, especially with Jackson and especially with my own father who was one of those bright but tragically broken angels. Bravo.

    As to Michael Jackson, I decided that yes, I would allow myself to enjoy his music knowing what I know. He was a genius. Further, he was never convicted in a court of law of ever harming anyone.

    On my own dad, I can’t just ignore the bad stuff. It’s a part of me too. What I choose to remember is the side of him that I loved, knowing full well that’s not the whole story. I talk to him in my dreams, but it’s his good self, not Demon Dad. Demon Dad lives fiercely in my memory. I don’t expect to get this ever truly reconciled.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Really enjoyed reading this post. Lots of thoughts to process and digest.

    Making every effort to be our better selves is so important but forgiving ourselves and others, or at least separating events and actions they don’t completely define us or them is essential for peace in the mind. Not always easy to do though!
    Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I believe that artists are kinda like heroes. They can influence their public very easy. So there is something like a responsibility to be a widely known person.
    It’s kinda necessary for me to know that they are not only artists but also moralists. I still can enjoy their music but probably I always will leave that 1 or 10 percent margin of bad thinking about them not being as good as probably I wanted.
    This is me thinking on a larger scale.
    Beyond that, it’s good to try to embrace, to comprehend better, to be inspired by the good sides of folks and to try to accept, forgive or even ignore the bad side of our family, friends or probably our neighbors.
    I feel that this is not very liberal opinion of mine but I think some things must stay solid.
    Most recent example. I am a fan of the 80s -action movies, music etc.
    Recently I learned that Steven Seagull was abusing women I think. And just before that he was something like a motivational figure to me. Not so grate as Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone or The Terminator but still he had some fighting spirit aura that you admire and respect. You know somehow I just can’t continue to support his character anymore.
    It’s hard to stay pure but if you preach some moralism trough your art – films, music etc, than you must somehow try to stay faithful to your cause.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You raise some great points. I have a conflicting point of view regarding art. On the one hand, I think we should be able to enjoy art in any form, regardless of who created it. On the other hand, what bothers me today is that we place artists (sports figures, politicians, etc.) on a pedestal and give them celebrity status. If their morals are twisted, this puts them in a position of power over vulnerable people. The other thing that bothers me is that they make a great living from their art while conducting themselves badly behind closed doors – at least until they are caught. Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I think the information age is a big problem. We now know all kinds of things about celebrities and artists and in my opinion, it’s overkill. It’s like wondering whether or not I like the same hockey team as my plumber. Who cares? As long as he fixes my toilet at a reasonable (low) price, I’m happy. We’re done. Nowadays, you can hear a song and love it and then the news will eventually throw the politics of the artist at you and then you have to decide whether that’s a deal breaker or not. If I like the work, I like it and then I move on. If I want to know them any better, I’ll look it up. Otherwise, I like the work and exchange money for it and we’re done and I have a new, cool tune or movie or book! Woohoo! Keep it simple. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • There really are no secrets anymore, for anyone. One way of dealing with this is to refuse to accept anyone at all who is the slightest bit different than ourselves. Another way, and one I generally prefer, is leave judgement about other people and their actions and morals up to themselves, provide that they don’t harm others. And those who harm other should be dealt with in a compassionate way but which still protects those who are vulnerable to them.

      Liked by 1 person

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  9. Thanks for a thought-provoking post. I have had this discussion with my wife frequently and we often disagree. If we were to base our opinions of artistes on their behaviour we would constantly be pruning down our Spotify and Netflix playlists! We would become less interested in music and art but would need to become full time researchers or even private investigators into the behaviour of our favourite artistes. Ugh! I don’t want to go there. I’ll continue to listen to the music of Miles Davis and Michael Jackson and watch American Beauty and Fitzcoraldo.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “So I try to hate the behaviour I judge offensive and admire his enormous contributions to my sister.” I think that you could not have said it better Anonymous. I think it is important to see the positives of people, because absolutely no one is perfect. And I completely agree with Stone writing that we only know because they’re in the spotlight. Why are they in the spotlight? Because they did great things as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is an Interesting question that you raise. It is compelling right now because in this country, the US, there is a sharp divide that is based on political preference, race and other immutable qualities that make us different. In my mind, our differences are what makes life worth living and that prompt growth and tolerance. As individuals with thoughts, flaws and feelings of our own it is nonsensical to judge another differently because they are different from us.

    As such, it can be applied, not only to art, but to every area of our existence.I believe that no one of us is free of flaws or bad (sometimes, these actions are the worse that man can do to another), or less than perfect, thoughts or actions. No one can claim to be perfect. In most cases, beautiful or sublime art can be judged positively if it touches you in some profound way. In viewing those things, we rarely judge it with the person who made it in mind. On a personal note, I find that art that depicts things that are meant to INCITE feelings of hate, violence, unlawful behavior, or worse against another is not to be judged in the same manner. I suppose that is my own flaw. In those instances, I can’t seem to separate the art from the person. So, in answer to the question that you pose, I believe that, in general, art is best judged on its own merit.

    Blessings and 🙏🏽, Lydia

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My previous comment was a bit cryptic… I just wanted to say that the answe depends on what you ask. You could ask should we put moral values and artistic creations together to be judged? I think that in this way we could answrr I don’t agree with the morality of the artist but his/her art is sublime… for instance

    Liked by 1 person

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