I’ve been a little surprised that people have made such a big deal about Michael Jackson lately. He’s been kinda lying low for the last few years – as a celebrity, I feel like he was already dead. I find it hard to care. Granted, the songs are great, and rife with positive messages. The man, however, was, as far as I know, of late, an irrelevancy.
A friend of mine said that he couldn’t support Michael Jackson, Woody Allen or Michael Vick – that he would boycott them. The discussion arose that this is a slippery slope; so many of the great artists that define our culture are personally embroiled in reprehensible behavior that eschewing the work of anyone personally repugnant would impoverish our collective humanity (our ubuntu).
And as I pondered this, I came to the conclusion that I do happen to think both Jackson and Allen [we/a]re brilliant artists whose work one should not ignore because s/he finds the artist personally repugnant.
I feel differently about Michael Vick. I don’t watch football, but I will assume for the purpose of this post that Vick is tremendously talented, that his ability is unique, prodigious, and contributes to our collective cultural legacy. Athletes contribute enormously to culture, and can’t easily be dismissed as non-artists. The question is to what degree Vick’s work is distinct in the public consciousness from his repugnant acts, and to what degree (and for how many) appreciating his work is an endorsement of those acts.
The fact that Woody Allen is a philanderer, and has been involved with distressingly young women informs his art, even to the point of being a vital factor in his work. We, the viewing public are enriched by meditations on sexuality as it extends to, and beyond what we deem acceptable. None of Allen’s work stands as an open endorsement or invitation to the sort of activity we despise in him. To the contrary, it seems to stand as an illustration of the unnecessary complexity and conflict that results.
Does an athlete’s odious activity affect his fans as distinctly from his craft as a filmmaker’s or musician’s? Football as an art form does not, of itself, afford an opportunity for self-critique and meditation. A football player can publicly disavow his involvement in reprehensible acts, but that utilizes the personality, and not the craft. Naturally many sports fans are critical enough thinkers that they will be able to appreciate prodigious athletics without equating them to an endorsement of an athlete’s odiousness, but (and this may reflect my own bias as a non-sports-fan), I think that the ratio of personality to product in an athlete’s cultural impact is higher than it is for other art forms.
Should I boycott Michael Vick’s work? The question is moot, in the sense that I don’t watch, buy or use football-related stuff. Given the fact that I seem to be arguing that athletics are less distinct from athletes in their cultural impact than the art forms I do consume, I seem to be setting up a slippery slope of my own. Who should be the authority on the ratio of personality to product? Am I rationalizing the fact that I am inexplicably more repelled by dog-fighters than perverts, or by athletes than musicians and filmmakers?