The Cultural Gutter

we've seen things you people wouldn't believe

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Is that a gun in your sweatpants?
Art, morality and The Superbowl

alex macfadyen
Posted February 7, 2013

pop eyed triceratops2I told my 3 year old that I’d find a bed for his google-eyed dinosaur. “I promise, sweetheart.” Then, after 45 minutes of ducking in and out of his room with him crying and the senile cat howling in the background while I tried to write an article, I threw the dinosaur across the living room, accidentally breaking it’s eye. God, I hope we still sell those at work.

This, in combination with the homophobic media bumbling of several San Francisco 49ers players prior to Superbowl XLVII, left me pondering the dilemma of bad people making good art. If someone is a reprehensible person, what does it make me if I find their creations beautiful? At the low end of the spectrum, readers might have enjoyed my writing, blissfully unaware that during the process I broke a toy, a promise, possibly a toddler’s heart, and barely resisted tossing my 19 year old cat out into a snowbank. More serious are the ever-popular examples of Wagner’s anti-Semitism or Ezra Pound’s proto-fascism, and somewhere in the middle of the road lies my ability to appreciate the athleticism of football players even when they don’t support my access to equal human rights.

cromartie amazing catchSo what’s that about? Athleticism has an artistic beauty, and even though I know that a lot of football players probably hold opinions I’d think make the world a worse place if I knew about them, I still enjoy watching them play. The challenge is deciding what constitutes plausible deniability and what I can afford to label not my business when it comes to a few hours of tv entertainment.

Examples of off-field behaviors I’ve found highly specious but possible to ignore while watching a game:

  1. Attacking a paper towel dispenser for being empty
  2. Shooting yourself in the leg in a club with an unlicensed firearm that was tucked into the waistband of your sweatpants (so many things wrong with this scenario)
  3. Texting pictures of your privates to women who may or may not have wanted to see them
  4. Non-specific “family values”

Some deal-breakers I can’t bring myself to overlook no matter how great you play:

  1. Beating your wife and/or kids or committing sexual assault
  2. Running a dog-fighting ring
  3. Saying gay guys better get out of your locker room
  4. Participating in the It Gets Better video project to lower suicide rates among queer and trans youth and help them survive bullying, then denying that you were involved in any such thing in a way that makes it clear you’re freaked out by gay people

it gets betterThe last two examples were part of this year’s pre-Superbowl media circus, and even though I have fond childhood memories of the championship Niners of the Joe Montana and Steve Young eras, all of my friends and I were cheering for the Ravens this time around. It’s the first time I’ve seen my wife get emotionally invested in football since her ex Football Boyfriend, Ben Roethlisberger, crossed over to her deal-breaker list when he was accused of several counts of sexual assault. The Niners player from 3) above apologized and promised to learn from his mistakes and Big Ben has yet to be charged, but then again fame complicates the location of guilt. There has to be room for people to learn from their mistakes or make reparations, but neither fame nor artistry excuse violence and hatred.

Similarly, I’ve never wanted to know much about any of the actors I like unless it’s to hear what they have to say about acting. My appreciation for them is related to their art, not what they wear or like to eat for breakfast, and frankly, knowing their opinion on gun control or birth control or marriage often creates an uncomfortable association that means I lose what I got out of their art in the first place. I remember being pleasantly surprised when Salma Hayek had some smart things to say about feminism and race during interviews after her role in Frida. It made me much more inclined to watch Ugly Betty when I realized she was executive producing it.

A counterpoint to my assiduous lack of interest is the pervasive obsession with celebrities lives, resulting in stars having to worry about finding paparazzi lurking in their cereal box in the morning like some freaky prize. And the combination of the pressure and opportunity to misbehave on an epic scale results in behavior that ranges from entertaining to genuinely horrifying to Theatre of the Absurd. It seems that bad behavior is like a car crash we can’t help rubbernecking at, and even when it’s actually reprehensible it holds such morbid fascination that people continue to pay the price of admission rather than drawing a line.

There’s also a pull to conflate character and actor, to feel like you know someone because the experience of watching them act left you emotionally invested in a person who looked like them but wasn’t. Instead of writing stories about characters, some people write fan fiction about actors or make up stories about them as if they were characters. Take the phenomenon of Feminist Ryan Gosling. He seems like a nice enough guy, but the creation of that identity is a work of art by other people using his face and name. As long as he doesn’t do anything noticeably dissonant with that persona his actual content is irrelevant, and millions of people’s opinion of him will be subtly influenced even if he’s not really that guy.

kinopoisk.ru

So how much does it matter who someone is if their art is what people interact with? I think it’s a valid argument to say that art has an existence and value independent of the artist – a value located in the experience of the viewer – but there’s a line past which our social responsibility as citizens requires that we refuse to accept bad behavior despite artistic merit. Conversely, policing art on moral grounds can come disturbingly close to fascism.

Also, sometimes I just like to drink beer and watch football.

~~~

   Hey Girl.

alex MacFadyen really does think it’s adorable that all your crafts turn out crooked.

Comments

2 Responses to “Is that a gun in your sweatpants?
Art, morality and The Superbowl”

  1. Chris Szego
    February 12th, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

    I always love reading your articles, Alex, but this one? This one KILLS.

  2. alex macfadyen
    February 12th, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

    Aw, shucks!

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    An interactive sculpture of Hanuman made from 26,000 light bells made by Charuvi Design Labs. to promote their film Sri Hanuman Chalisa. Here is a video of the interactive experience. (Thanks, Beth!)

    ~

    At The Daily Beast, Arthur Chu writes about GamerGate, Disco Demolition and Lilith Fair. “The biggest 1970s music bonfire was not done by a church, and the records they destroyed weren’t metal records. And they didn’t use kerosene and a match, they used explosives. And rather than singing hymns and being quietly self-righteous, the event erupted into an orgy of violent rage. I’m talking, of course, about the ill-fated promotion the Chicago White Sox ran on July 12, 1979, known as ‘Disco Demolition Night.’

    Yes, in an era where Christians literally believed rock bands were Satanic cults who used backward masking to hypnotize people, the worst violence against music was wrought by guys who just didn’t like disco.”

    ~

    Actor Elizabeth Peña has died. Peña appeared in both film and television including, La Bamba (1987), Batteries Not Included (1987), Blue Steel (1989), L.A. Law, Lone Star (1996),  The Incredibles (2004), Justice League, Prime Suspect and Modern Family. NPR remembers Peña. The Guardian has collected clips of Peña’s work. Latino Review, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and  The Hollywood Reporter have obituaries.

    ~

    The Book Design Blog has a gallery of Valeria Brancaforte’s hand-printed books.

    ~

    Jake Adelstein has shared an unpublished chapter of his book Tokyo Vice online.  “This chapter never made the final cut of Tokyo Vice because it’s not about crime or the underworld. It is about the battle to tell the truth when it is inconvenient for the powers that be to have it known.  It could probably use some more editing but for those who feel like the Japanese government isn’t telling you the whole truth about the actual environmental damage coming from the Fukushima meltdown–which is still going on–because if they stop pumping in water, nuclear fission will start again, this should help make you even a little more paranoid.  Enjoy.”

    ~

    “Lights Out, Please combines retellings of traditional ghost stories and urban legends, alongside new, personal stories from a variety of international authors in order to tell others about the kinds of fears we live with. We tell our stories as a ghost story or urban legend to get people to believe us.” Find out more here and then play it!

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: