In the era of political infiltration into nearly all aspects of life, epitomized especially by the #MeToo movement and its implication of numerous artists throughout Hollywood and beyond, the question of how to appreciate art in spite of the artist has taken on a new significance.
When the Senate conveniently overrules Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s implicating testimony and confirms Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court or Bill Cosby receives a mere three to ten years in prison for sexually assaulting dozens of women, our raging disbelief leads us to believe that a revolution exists within our everyday choices; watching a movie becomes a matter of avoiding the likes of Harvey Weinstein or listening to music becomes a matter of skipping over the likes of Kodak Black. Though these perceived acts of defiance may feel morally uplifting, they rarely serve their intended purpose.
After rapper XXXTentacion’s murder, protests arose at his posthumous idolization and calls for boycotting his music came to the forefront in light of his past littered with domestic violence and sexual misconduct. When Kanye West declared his support for Donald Trump and denounced the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery, outrage resulted in many declaring their refusal to buy from his clothing line or to listen to his music. Similar rage has plagued many artists, typically following various forms of politicized controversy.
Caught up in the waves of justified anger, proponents of such boycotts fail to realize that their supposed righteousness not only has little impact on the artist but also defeats the purpose of enacting preventative change.
this represents good and America becoming whole again. We will no longer outsource to other countries. We build factories here in America and create jobs. We will provide jobs for all who are free from prisons as we abolish the 13th amendment. Message sent with love pic.twitter.com/a15WqI8zgu
— ye (@kanyewest) September 30, 2018
Art exists inherently as a product of context. Divorcing art from its creator removes the dimension that speaks to the human condition; alone, XXXTentacion’s music merely consists of rhyming words sprinkled with profanity. Context considered, his music touches on mental illness, mass incarceration and other topics relevant to the decade. Mind you however, such topics include blatant misogyny and his own history of abusing women. Without circumstances coloring between the lines, art is merely words on paper or brushstrokes on canvas.
Years from now, XXXTentacion or others of a similar reputation will arise in a didactic discussion about rape culture and the subsequent rise of the #MeToo movement. Art, musical or otherwise, serves as both a looking glass through which we experience the reality of a time period and a point of contrast by which we determine our degree of social progress. Without it, history is little more than the glazed over eyes of disinterested students half heartedly skimming through a textbook the night before a test. Moreover, neglecting the less savory parts of an artwork’s context essentially erases that portion of history, leaving behind a society susceptible to making the same mistakes again.
Listen to that XXXTentacion song, or don’t. Watch a Harvey Weinstein movie, or don’t. Boycott as a personal choice, but don’t assume someone supports domestic violence just because they let a song play on the radio or watched a movie with a controversial director. Instead, express discontent with the system in place which allows for discrimination against racial minorities or abuse against women. Protest police brutality, raise awareness of rape culture. Dismantle the institutions that give rise to such controversial figures and, rather than merely skipping a song or brushing aside a novel, fight for more meaningful change.