Post Spacey, Can We Separate the Art from the Artist?

Social Commentary

Post Spacey, Can We Separate the Art from the Artist?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Bryan Cranston, or the artist formerly known as Walter White of Breaking Bad, today made headlines for saying that we should be open to forgiving Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. Incredibly, his full statement is far more incriminating, one which hints at the way these fallen idols can redeem themselves: “If they were to show us that they put the work in, and were truly sorry and making amends, and not defending their actions but asking for forgiveness, then maybe down the road there is room for that.”

What Cranston is doing is hinting at the playbook which allows men in showbiz to regain their celebrity by using an age-old PR ploy, which involves going to rehab, saying you were mentally disturbed, followed by another PR blitz that says you are forever changed.

But the fact that Cranston came out with this statement raises an important question: Would a month-long atonement work for anyone else charged with sexual assault? Imagine if Cranston’s driver were to jerk off in front of women like Weinstein did, would Cranston say there is a possibility of redemption there or would he sack him? The glitz of Spacey and Weinstein’s power and celebrity is forcing Cranston to rationalise their behaviour, one he wouldn’t do for a random driver or investment banker or me or you. Cranston is struggling, like everyone else, to disassociate the art from the artist.

When allegations of sexual harassment against Kevin Spacey surfaced, a friend of a friend took down a House of Cards poster in her living room, saying she can’t like the show anymore. I remember feeling something similar when closer to home, back in the mid 2000s, India’s favourite villain Shakti Kapoor was caught on camera asking for sexual favours in exchange for roles in movies, aka casting couch. Shakti was 53 years old, younger than Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan are right now, and his career took a nose dive. Aman Verma, famous for being one of several Mihirs on Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi too joined this growing list of casting couch predators, resulting in the cancellation of his oddly entertaining game show called Khul Ja Sim Sim. Verma wasn’t seen on TV until his eventual Bigg Boss appearance, where he was brought in because he was a controversial figure. India, surprisingly responded well to both revelations and didn’t let them have a free pass with the only power the public has: Our monies at the box office.

Hopefull, the market (and one hopes, the law) will take its natural course and their star will fade.

These are different times though, when the internet has injected culture in our veins, inundated our lives with listicles and factoids and memes from House of Cards and Breaking Bad, or movies like Pulp Fiction, which Weinstein produced. We made an emotional investment in their art, which in turn brought us pleasure. So now do we not laugh at any Louis CK joke or share a House of Cards meme or ever watch Andaz Apna Apna again because of Shakti Kapoor?

Perhaps not. Pulp Fiction, I fear will remain my Bible forever, but if Weinstein were to ever produce Pulp Fiction 2, I wouldn’t sign up. And hopefully, no actor with half a principle would, either. I can still marvel at the beauty of The Pianist, but whatever Roman Polanski does from now on is going to be white noise for me.

Yes, art is a novel, mysterious endeavour that is a big part of the human experience (which is why Leonardo DiCaprio will always be more revered than Ajay Bhatt, the dude who invented the USB). But bright lights don’t give anyone the leeway to get away with misconduct. The market (and one hopes, the law) will take its natural course and their star will fade.

Just ask Shiney Ahuja.