We Are The Creators of New Expectation

My “Ropes” performance adjusted for a film scene. Photo still from the short film “Legitimate” by Izzy Lee

Unless you’ve been under a very large dense rock for the past month or so, you’re aware of the current conversation about Harvey Weinstein’s history abusing women, the emergence of #MeToo, and the subsequent steady outing of a long list of popular men in the arts and politics as rapists, abusers, sexual predators, and unthinking opportunists. It’s an amazing time to be (or have had the experience of being) a woman. The bedrock concept that “women and minorities should be believed” is having a moment, and it’s striking how many people are absorbing that thought for the first time as a basic step toward building equality. At this same moment we are learning to let go of our desire to support certain celebrities as we take sexual assault and harassment more seriously than before. We are wading through the meaning behind which actions should get someone fired from their job or investigated, strung up by mobs, or lauded for the sincerity of an apology. Amidst these trials I recently read the article “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?” by Claire Dederer in The Paris Review. It’s a good article which acknowledges a lot about the corners of current affairs which aren’t being mucked into. While I don’t share her point of view entirely, nor think her assessment of women’s transgressions are as applicable to current events as they could be, I applaud her willingness to stand squarely within a quandary we’re not talking much about and pose the question: what do we do with the things we love when they’ve been sullied.

In reaction to her article and in conversation in general I’ve often heard the sentiment: It’s art. We enjoy it. We also acknowledge that the creators of art leave a lot to be desired as role models.

I don’t think that answer goes far enough. Hearing that makes me pause and wonder if the person relating that perspective is already over the moment we’re having — trying to quickly move past “listen to women and minorities”, and leap all the way over to “we really grew as a society when all that happened”, which I feel is where we get to after we give up on hard conversations and move back into our comfortable old coping mechanisms. We’re in the middle of growing pains right now trying to evolve away from those old coping mechanisms, but without holding out into discomfort and examining our impulses for quite a while they will not change for the long run. I will note here, because I think it’s important to think about, that it is usually a cis male who has uttered this sentiment. In radio interviews, on social media threads, and in articles I hear women and trans people retort, “I hope we keep talking like this. I think we’re far from over, this is just the beginning and I hope we keep having these hard conversations. There is still a lot to uncover and learn”.

There’s a disinfected truth to it: “It’s Art. We enjoy it. We acknowledge that those guys who made it are shitbags…”. I can hear the “but” hanging at the edges of that sentence every time it’s articulated by someone new. “…But I like that movie and don’t want to have to boycott it”, “but that guy was my friend and I don’t want to feel weird getting beers with him”, “but eventually we’ll get to a place I can be comfortable again, right?”

There’s an impatient rush to say “we got better at the thing” and forget about it so we don’t have to examine ourselves or our friends anymore. Isn’t that entirely the point in this whole uprooting to begin with though? We must become comfortable not being comfortable in order to grow and evolve.

What artists wrestle with in the creation of their art is often (always?) intersecting things they wrestle with as human beings. This is especially true of (and often visibly outlined within) artistic careers. I think it must be hard to be great at anything without wrestling — even enjoying the wrestling which comes from — the uneasy factions between your personal instinct and impulses, against a history of professional training and the system of knowledge that’s come before. Assaults and molestations and taking advantages of are about power. Abuse takes in hand opportunity and pushes boundaries in order to one up and push out. Artists and other people of power must daily be opportunistic, manipulative, and transgressive to bring their particular (often unique) point of view to the forefront at work. Yet we know it is entirely possible to make great art without being abusive. How often have we lauded the alcoholic or drug addict as “art genius” in the past, even knowing it’s entirely possible to be sober and great at what you do? Conflation. Storytelling. Romanticism — beware of it.

We’re fascinated by these stories because we feel morally superior to them within the broad strokes, yet we’re also implicated in the details through our consumption and support. Is it a guilty pleasure or form of self flagellation to consume these good arts made by bad men, waving away the implication that we would ever do such things ourselves? We’re still maintaining a certain edge, a bit more raw and verboten, when we say “it’s genius regardless of the person who made it”. What we don’t say (but can be read between the lines of position and behavior) is “and I just keep giving them my money. I just keep giving them my time and attention. I’m not doing research to find the women and minorities and not abusive people who have also created genius things for me to consume”. This is not evolution. This is maintenance of the status quo even after declaring we have moved on and learned society’s current lesson. This is the Patriarchy profiting off of a good mic drop moment because we love a good mic drop, but what happens after the mic is on that floor? We go back to our beers. And pettinesses. And comforting privileged routines. The mic has become highway litter no one feels a personal need to be responsible for. Who picks it back up? The women and minorities. Always.

I believe there is no answer but to struggle. Struggle to invest in the lives of victims rather than perpetrators. Struggle to believe women and minorities and listen to their perspectives on transgressions and their transgressors. We must struggle because through struggle we begin to really know something, and a knowing struggle is what instigates those artistic articulations we believe to be genius in the first place. We (you and I) must remember those who struggle and do not transgress at a predatory level as a result. Nonabusive artists and politicians may not have had the privilege to become lauded heroes of the patriarchy before their fall — yet their existence proves struggle and creation within art/politics/etc. is possible to do with some amount of grace.

Until we can leave behind those who maintain abuse of power during the workings of their genius, and start supporting the geniuses of those who struggle to make without harm, we are only feeding the beast we profess to abhor and starving the healthy ones out. Shitty abusive coping mechanisms don’t change because someone gets slapped on the wrist and then goes back to their regularly scheduled programming. Shitty abusive coping mechanisms change because they are suffocated out when they cease to work anymore. When we empower those who wield power and genius humanely, we create a new standard for getting attention and resources. Only when we leave those with stunted coping mechanisms behind, will those people have to do the work of learning new ways to work and new ways to be.

We must be willing to do our work first. We must find ourselves loving and supporting different people. We must research and find alternatives to what the Patriarchy and white privilege has served up on popular demand for so long. We must demand more from one another. We must get comfortable being uncomfortable, and struggle, and do better. We must always reach for more.

Play On My Friends,
~ Creature

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~Thank you.

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