Chris Churchill Saves the World | The Misguided Art of Defending Misguided Art
By Chris Churchill
We love to be entertained. Maybe it’s a side effect of having tamed our environment so well in the last one hundred years or so that we only have to work eight hours a day to keep a secure existence. Maybe it’s because working (as it is for most of us) is a miserable part of our lives and we need entertainment to save our brains from the repetition that puts undue stress on our bodies. So, maybe “love to be entertained” is only one way of looking at it. Maybe that’s just for those with nothing to do. Maybe many more of us need to be entertained. It’s a lifeline to our very sanity for much of human civilization.
I have my go-to sources of entertainment. I’m one of those people who you laugh at because they’re screaming along with their favorite music on their car stereo. Queens of the Stone Age makes me feel strong... or vulnerable... whichever one I need. Ween makes me embrace my own feelings of oddness and cleverness as well. Prince or The Beatles make me feel strong, clever, wise, and/or powerful on a good day. When I had a mental health crisis in 1999, Radiohead’s OK Computer gave me sufficient rest from “all the unborn chicken voices in my head” so that I didn’t completely melt under the heat and gravity of my own illness.
Comedy does it for me too. Usually comedians I’ve followed for years; the ones who feel like old friends.
It’s the old friends thing that can really cloud your judgment, though. Not just that, but rather the idea that you have any personal connection at all to these sources of entertainment. (I mean they aren’t old friends, you know. They aren’t family, you know. But a HUGE part of their job and their success relies on making you suspend that rational understanding that they are not your friends and feel that they are, if only for the duration of their set.)
When one of them proves to be unworthy of your fandom, it’s a tough breakup, isn’t it?
I’ll admit, I used to love both Bill Cosby and Louis C. K. I truly thought they were good guys who were simply commenting on life’s foibles and the shortcomings of the human male. I have insecurities about much of what makes me male. So their humor felt like an old friend saying, “I get it. I feel that way too.” (Cue laugh of recognition and relief.)
Implied in their onstage personas was also this thought: “But we’re not really going to do the bad thing.” But then you find out that, yes, they did want to do the bad bad things. That changes things, doesn’t it? For me anyway, that changes the whole point of their humor. Then it loses me. Not simply because I don’t want to support a sex criminal (which should be enough) but because the art they had put out there no longer means the same thing to me.
If I try to hold the Louie of his television show, with all his honest introspection about the concerns of modern sexuality and single parenting and if I try to search for emotional truth — if I try to hold that Louie in my head while also picturing the one that trapped young female comedians in a room and forced them to watch him masturbate — suddenly I don’t care about his foibles anymore. I don’t find him to be the lovable underdog anymore. And with that, the point of view and the point, in general, of the joke, vaporizes. The whole stage/screen persona changes from an honest, vulnerable guy into a guy wants you to believe he’s an honest, vulnerable guy in order to trap you in a room.
As far as Cosby goes, who can laugh at his album Spanish Fly, and as a result, any of his humor anymore, now that you know the actual point of view of Mr. Cosby? I can’t.
“I’m a sexual predator but, God, I love my family. I’ll drug a woman but YOU should pull up your pants.” It falls apart.
Recent revelations about other celebs have brought these same thoughts to mind as I watch the fan base of R. Kelly debate over social media about whether or not his music should be totally abandoned because of his sexual predation. Of course, the first line of defense for those who desperately need the art that R. Kelly created in their lives, is that other people did the same types of things or worse than their chosen artistic hero (one example I’ve seen is Hugh Hefner) so where’s the anger at him? (Of course, “whataboutism’s for kids”, you know.) Yes, reevaluate Hefner with modern eyes. Do that. But also reevaluate your own heroes when it comes out that they have been awful.
Notice that people who are not fans of R. Kelly have no problem believing the young ladies who are accusing him of assaulting and imprisoning them. Fans of his, the more fanatical the better, create reasons why that either the accusations are untrue (“These ladies want money.”), why it’s not so bad (“I had a kid when I was fifteen and I knew exactly what I was doing.”), or why it is a conspiracy by some outside party to discredit, destroy, or punish their celebrity hero. It’s usually a whole lot of mental karate to protect their emotions of sadness, disappointment, or shock.
Of course now, thanks to the Michael Jackson documentary, I hear a lot of “They killed Michael Jackson. Now they’re smearing his name with all these fake allegations of child sexual abuse.” Who are they? And why would you do the mental and emotional gymnastics to believe this but not put your mind and feelings through the same ringer to protect a different celebrity? That’s a question about you, not about them. You can go ahead and answer that, if you want. (I know I was real late on accepting that Cosby and Louis C. K. had done the things they had been accused of doing for years.)
The things we do so we can keep listening to the same music, the same comedy, the same television or movies... SMH… It’s crazy how we’ll defend someone we don’t know over someone else we don’t know simply because the first one made up something we loved or needed and the second one, as far as we know, didn’t. We overlook the fact that art isn’t the only thing that’s valuable. That other person you don’t know is valuable too. Believe me, I understand how art can treat the ailments of the soul. But you know what else does that? Doing the right thing and having a clear conscience about it.
“Cosby would never do that. You know he was about to buy NBC? They just wanted to bring a black man down.”
“Hugh Hefner wasn’t all bad. I loved that magazine. Even though, maybe it was misogynistic and his little empire may have even promoted abuse. He seemed like my fun uncle, Hugh.”
“Billy Graham was such a man of God. Even if he was hateful to homosexuals and those who opposed him.”
“John Lennon beat his wife. But he went through intense therapy and grew up a lot. But still, he beat his wife. But he wrote ‘Imagine’. But he did beat his wife.”
“Richard Prior was a violent drug addict but he grew from it and got wiser and funnier.”
Sometimes, the facts do fall on the side of the person who did the bad things. Sometimes people grow, repent, and only make relatively “small” mistakes for the rest of their lives, like forgetting to take out the trash. Sometimes they don’t.
Let me suggest that the information on sexual predators shows that there will probably be no growth or repentance for any celebrity who preys on children. R. Kelly preyed on children. I’m sorry if your own life experience tells you that a fifteen-year-old is an adult. It’s not. And you, hopefully, are more mature by far than you were then. Hopefully, no adult forced you to do anything too grown up at that time. If they did, hopefully you aren’t doing any mental karate to protect them.
The larger point, though, is that it’s not even about repentance or forgiveness. It’s about the new understanding of the original point of view of the art. If a piece of art was created by an artist who created it from their warped perspective on life, then maybe the art doesn’t mean what we think it means anymore. Maybe we were singing or laughing along with the wrong messages. Can we be mature enough to adjust our feelings accordingly?