In tragically familiar news, a powerful man in entertainment was recently revealed to be a scumbag. Harvey Weinstein, who spent millions paying off women who accused him of sexual assault, was involved in hundreds of great works including Project Runway, Pulp Fiction, The English Patient and Air Bud. Weinstein, of course, is terrible, and none of his work redeems this. The question, for some, is how to deal with a beloved work once it bears the taint of Weinstein’s involvement.
Photos by Jamie McCarthy, Kevin Winter and Rich Fury
There’s no one “correct” way to feel about good work that involves a bad person, or even a good person with some bad behaviours. But if you’re unsure how to feel as a fan, there’s plenty of advice online. Here’s our guide to some of the best reading on the subject.
The group-Tumblr Your Fave Is Problematic (now abandoned) called out a wide range of potentially offensive behaviours by celebrities. Its title became an adage (and frequent headline), meaning, “The people and works you love often do harmful things.”
The blog itself was often problematic but, as Vice pointed out, it helped educate many readers, introducing many to concepts such as cultural appropriation, transmisogyny and microaggressions. Its “Now What?” section is a succinct guide to dealing with a problematic fave. It gives a generous answer to the question: “Am I still allowed to like a problematic fave?”
Yes. No one is stopping you from doing anything. You can like and consume their work without liking them as a person. You can even like them as a person, so long as you recognise that they do have problematic issues.
Of course, some creators you probably shouldn’t like as a person, such as Weinstein and fellow alleged sexual aggressors Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. No amount of charm, warmth or intelligence redeems an unapologetic molester or rapist. Every fan will draw their own line between mistakes and unforgivable sins, and most writers on the subject grant them this freedom. But most creators are open to improvement, and YFIP encourages fans to call out bad behaviour not just as punishment or warning, but to help creators evolve.
- Bad people make good art. As New York Times critic Charles McGrath explains, this statement conflates two different kinds of “good” and “bad”. Art and people aren’t judged the same way, and shouldn’t be. So enjoying literary classics doesn’t mean endorsing their often horrible authors. (Of course, this is more complicated if the author is still around to pick up a check when you buy their work.)
- Good people do bad things. So do you. While some creators should be written off, others are doing their best. Calling them out is supportive, not destructive. Ijeoma Oluo cuts through the defences we often raise. Her essay “Admit It: Your Fave Is Problematic” forces us to recognise that all our favourite creators and celebrities will eventually say or do something hurtful. We don’t like to admit this because it means admitting that we hurt people too. And unless we admit our flaws, we’ll never address them.
- Your fave can improve. Writer Liv Jordan uses the same concepts as Oluo to examine how Tina Fey fails to recognise and apologise for problematic behaviour. Jordan comes away still liking and respecting Fey for her work and for her fight against sexism, but hopes she can do better.
- Don’t expect your fave to be perfect. On the African culture blog Africa Is a Country, Sisonke Msimang deconstructs the concept of “black girl magic” that sets up thinkers such as Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie as infallible, leading to inevitable disappointment when they slip up or reveal a bigoted opinion. She points out how we put more pressure on these supposedly perfect figures, and punish them harder for any mistakes, than white people or men. In other words, acting like black women can do no wrong is sometimes just an excuse to reinforce existing racist and sexist hierarchies.
- Critiquing your fave is healthy, and sometimes even fun. The podcast Your Fave Is Problematic critiques pop culture from the ’80s to today, with episodes dedicated to Friends, Aaron Sorkin, La La Land and Taylor Swift. The hosts demonstrate that recognising flaws (without excusing them) can enhance your appreciation of a work.
- Don’t pick your faves so hastily. The famous “milkshake duck” tweet coined a term for 15-minute celebrities who turn out to be terrible. By explaining the term’s history, Esquire‘s Luke O’Neil shows the risk of overly and instantly valourising people for a single act. This doesn’t just apply to one-hit wonders; it’s crucial for choosing whom you promote and emulate. It’s one thing to personally enjoy someone’s work. But if you start to evangelise them and publicly identify with them, you should recognise you’re building some risk, and research accordingly.
- Appreciate that you can even call out your fave. Vox’s Jaime Weinman traces the history of cultural criticism, finding that the genre has grown more socially conscious over time. Rather than tamping down on free speech (no one’s getting problematic works legally banned), this criticism actually opens up possibilities by fighting for new stories, better representation and introducing new conversations. After all, if a cultural work isn’t worth examining, is it worth enjoying?