How can we love the art while hating the artist? – Alastair Stewart

We can’t have our cake and eat it when it comes to music and films made by sex offenders and the like, writes Alastair Stewart
Is it morally acceptable to watch films made by Harvey Weinstein? (Picture: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)Is it morally acceptable to watch films made by Harvey Weinstein? (Picture: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
Is it morally acceptable to watch films made by Harvey Weinstein? (Picture: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Wiley’s abhorrent anti-semitic tweets will cost the rapper dearly. ‘Cancel culture’ shouldn’t just end a programme, but strike out the fruits of a disgraced career.

No one discusses the morality of continuing to enjoy the work of people who have been convicted or disgraced. Harvey Weinstein’s movies are still available to stream. Can we appreciate and enjoy works tainted by crimes? If not, is it only the actors who disqualify a film or the production company? If so again, why not the catering company on set if there’s a conviction there?

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More disturbing is the fact we seem more accomodating of some crimes and attitudes than others. Sean Connery once encouraged domestic violence. Roman Polanski is a fugitive on a sexual abuse charge. Mike Tyson was convicted of rape. Wiley’s music catalogue is still on Spotify along with Gary Glitter and R Kelly. All are still famous entertainers and ‘acceptable’, it would appear, to some.

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And we continue to worship Michael Jackson’s music despite persistent child molestation allegations against him, although he was acquitted of charges brought in a 2005 criminal trial. John Wayne is still a cinematic icon despite his views on white supremacy. Hugo Boss designed Nazi uniforms and is a fashion powerhouse today.

Nazis and the space programme

Consider that ‘Gone With the Wind’ can come with the disclaimer that the film “denies the horrors of slavery”. Should we not apply that standard to movies and music made by figures convicted of crimes? That we have such sensitivity to sex and violence but see nothing wrong with enjoying the products of extremely dubious figures is horrendous.

Humanity has been struggling with what to do with the information obtained unethically for decades. Nazi human experimentation continues to inform our medical knowledge.

Operation Paperclip was a covert US operation to enlist 1,600 German engineers, technicians and scientists – most of whom were former Nazis. Many pioneered the space programme, but if going into space was ‘good’, surely using the expertise of thugs, criminals and racists was ‘bad’?

The ethical comparison between Nazi knowledge and idiotic musicians might seem extreme, but the question remains the same. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle and erase culture or music or knowledge. We’re determined to reassess the morality of controversial statues; surely we should look at the fruits we enjoy and who had to suffer for them?

No Orwellian cliche

A plethora of once acceptable humour and behaviours, including racist and disablist language, is now wholly unacceptable alongside blackface and ‘funny’ foreign accents. Why are we not having the same conversation about music and films tainted by criminality by its stars?

We’re either going to cancel or not cancel, and it has nothing to do with some Orwellian cliche on rewriting history – it’s about moral culpability, the courts and making a stand. We’re morally complicit in what we do with our ‘entertainment’.

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We can’t really have our cake and eat it: “You’re a disgrace, sorry but thanks for the albums.” The sad truth is we want to punish the guilty, but are not prepared to surrender the ‘damn good’ songs and movies they made. Smooth criminal, indeed.

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant. Read more from Alastair at and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart

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