I love Katy Perry. I think Donald Glover is hilarious and makes great music, and I unashamedly think ‘Fancy’ is an absolute tune. So when I watched Katy don a Japanese geisha costume which screamed “cultural appropriation” at the American Music Awards last year, or listened to Donald using a variety of slurs in his music and comedy, or saw Iggy’s various racist and homophobic comments on Twitter, I felt rather ashamed for enjoying the content these people were producing.
We live in the age of The Celebrity, and so understandably many of us look up to celebrities or public figures to be role models, or a source of inspiration. For me, Laci Green (a popular content creator on YouTube) comes to mind. Through her ‘Sex+’ channel, she was the first person to give me accessible, no-nonsense, and incredibly important sex education. She talked about sexual consent, sex positivity, feminism, sexualities and LGBT sex, sex with disabled people, sex with yourself. Considering all I’d been taught at school was how to put a condom on a banana and what it looks like when a woman gives birth, Laci Green sort of blew my mind. I looked up to her and spent hours watching her videos…
…But then it happened.
I started to see criticisms of her and her videos appearing across the internet, and valid criticisms too. Islamophobia, transphobia, general antitheism… how could I continue to look at her in the same way? Initially, I was inclined to just write it off and forget about it – after all, many of these things had happened a number of years ago, and she had apologised for some of them; was that not enough? For her critics, it wasn’t.
For a while, it seemed like there were only two ways of dealing with the heart-breaking news that someone you really liked had done or said something that you really did not like. Option A, you completely dissociate yourself from them – delete the back catalogue of their music from your library, unsubscribe from their online profiles, sell their books and DVDs on eBay, burn the t-shirt with their name on it and then find a new favourite… until they let you down in a similar manner, at which point you repeat the process. You repeat it again and again and again, because what sort of role model are they if they aren’t totally infallible, right?
Option B, you ignore it and make excuses for them – “they’re only human, people make mistakes, they apologised for it, it was only a joke.” Until they do it again and again and again, because who really cares what kind of person they are when they’re sooooo catchy, and you can buy their new album on iTunes now!
Here’s the thing – yes, we are all human, and yes, we do make mistakes, but we can’t excuse problematic behaviour just because we enjoy the content that someone produces. By the same token though, we shouldn’t instantly write someone off because they’ve done something wrong. How they handle the situation, however, can say a lot about them.
Jonah Hill recently came under fire for shouting a homophobic slur at a member of the paparazzi, but the apology he gave on The Tonight Show was one of the most honest apologies I’ve ever seen from a celebrity – he acknowledged why what he had said was a problem, took responsibility for his actions, didn’t expect forgiveness and expressed what felt like genuine regret for his mistake. So, for now, Jonah and I are cool.
On the other hand, we have Macklemore who dressed up in what he called a “random costume”, yet it could have easily been mistaken for something lifted straight from anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda. In his apology, he seemed reluctant to admit that despite his supposed intent of disguising his identity, he hurt and offended a lot of people. He seemed more concerned with how people would think of him rather than own up to his mistake and apologize sincerely. Sorry Macklemore, but you could learn a thing or two from Jonah.
Now, I’m not saying that we should all boycott Macklemore – I enjoy drunkenly trying to rap along to Thrift Shop just as much as the next person – but we should be making the effort to call out the problematic aspects of his behaviour, as we should for everyone.
It’s up to ourselves to decide what behaviour we draw the line at when it comes to enjoying an artist’s work – I simply can’t listen to Blurred Lines, no matter how catchy it may be. If you do enjoy it though, as long as you can accept the fact that it contains a pretty problematic message, no one can stop you from enjoying it.
Our favourites are not perfect, and sometimes, our favourites do things we’d rather they didn’t. In those instances, it’s important to be able to separate the art from the artist. Otherwise, we’d be left in a world with no art at all, and I don’t think that’s a world any of us would choose to live in.