Watching What You Watch
by Shay McHale | published Jan. 2nd, 2018
In recent weeks, it seems like another big name in Hollywood, politics or other media is getting called out as a sexual predator every other day. This new wave of accusations and actions taken against these people is undeniably refreshing. With names in the media industry, however, it brings up an issue. For people involved in the production of media, how should we treat the work they did after they are outed as criminals?
Separating the art from the artist is a controversial idea, and it really falls on the individual to make decisions about what they are okay with doing. For example, should I stop watching "House of Cards," a show I genuinely like, because finishing it would support Kevin Spacey's actions? In a way, watching shows acted or produced by assaulters can make ethical consumption in Hollywood even more difficult to manage, especially in this tide of calling out big names for their crimes.
For a lot of viewers, the point of media consumption is either to enjoy it, learn from it or some combination of the two. Some may assume that just watching something on TV doesn't support a person's actions. However, it most certainly does support them. Consuming media that had people like this involved usually supports them in one of two ways: first and more obviously monetarily, but second, it also normalizes the acceptance of sexual harassment and assault.
Another issue arises when someone is repeatedly accused of committing sexual assault and never faces justice for it. For people like that, it becomes even more political to support or not support them. For example, Woody Allen has been accused of sexually assaulting his daughter Dylan Farrow when she was seven years old. Despite enough evidence to warrant a case against him, the whole thing has been dismissed and even now he continues to be a popular Hollywood figure.
Thankfully, even Allen seems to be feeling the heat of the recent shift in Hollywood culture. His past actions, as well as his movies with large age gaps in romantic partners, are coming under further scrutiny. Actively avoiding movies can be a powerful statement in cases like this, because eroding support for someone’s work can be an influential step in the path to eroding the support of their actions.
To act as if someone can be wholly separated from their crimes is in a way a promotion of their behavior. Whether we like it or not, by watching them just as an actor or a producer behind the scenes and not as a person is the kind of dehumanization that has allowed for people to get away with these crimes for years. Often times, they are beloved in the public eye to the point where the accusations can’t be real because everyone likes them.
To take away everything that has been produced, directed or acted in by someone who has committed sexual crimes would take away many films, but it would be worth it. Old forests are burned so that the dead trees will stop blocking the new saplings waiting to grow. Perhaps Hollywood is at that point where the plethora of movies connected to these people should be tossed aside and instead give way to new ideas, films and a new culture in the industry. This loss could be viewed as tragic, but it shines a light on the fact that while these movies were being made, countless people were harassed or assaulted and then cast out of Hollywood by people like Harvey Weinstein.
Some companies have already jumped on this bandwagon. Netflix has completely cut ties with Kevin Spacey and has continued to delay filming its final season of "House of Cards." HBO took down all of Louis C.K’s comedy pieces. The idea that now people can suffer consequences really drives home the idea that perhaps it is best to quarantine all of the media that has been touched by these people and move on to other, more promising and morally reassuring entertainment.
However, to truly participate in ethical consumption, some other things must be considered. For one, is there any way to truly consume something without the people who made it making a profit? Certainly there is piracy, but as we all know, it is completely illegal to watch pirated movies. So is there a point at which someone will stop making money off of something they made a number of years ago? Or how involved someone was in the production of the film? How much of the product is the person's real work, and does it matter?
The easy answer is no, any movie that actually makes a profit will continue to profit. The better question for people who still want to watch works that were made by sexual predators is — how much are you willing to do to not support someone? Consuming consciously in media can be increasingly difficult, especially when you don’t know who has worked on what. So for someone who wants to be fully ethical in what they watch, but also loves "The Pianist" and its touching story, what is to be done?
For one, you can be a fully conscious consumer, who actively avoids works made by these criminals as a sort of political act. The easiest thing to do is to just keep moving on and adapting the list of people to avoid, and it is probably the most morally justifiable position to take.
For someone who cares, but still doesn’t view watching something as a political act to support or not support someone, there is always the idea of changing the way you support something. Watching movies on TV after they have come out is much less support to someone than going to see the movie in the theater, and yes, pirating truly takes as much of the support away as possible, but again, is very illegal. Finding ways to enjoy the things you like without supporting some of the nasty people behind them is difficult, and is a very personal issue.
To truly consume everything you want without any guilt means you will have to give up a lot of movies and shows you've enjoyed. This really can be a hard thing to accept, but in time, the only real way to deal with things like this is to just commit to your own personal strategy, and watch or don’t watch whatever fits your morality best. This topic raises more and more questions about how to deal with all these crimes, but so long as the culture of protecting sexual predators lingers, so will the struggle to condemn their actions appropriately.