Can We Really Defend Our Problematic Faves?
Updated: Apr 2
I started watching the show Girls a little over two years ago. At that time, I had already established that I disliked Lena Dunham for a plethora of reasons, but I had seen a clip of the show on reddit and was instantly captivated by the intensity of the characters Hannah and Adam. I already really liked Adam Driver, and had enjoyed Dunham's film Tiny Furniture (2010) that I watched way before she had said her slew of problematic and insulting remarks over the past few years, including publishing her memoir.
I gave the show a try, and quickly deemed it as one of the best shows I had ever seen. I was hooked through every episode, and by the time each one ended, I would say "This writing is incredible. How is this show so good?" But throughout, I felt a constant twinge of guilt - how could I be loving something that was created by a person I don't support in any other way? And does it even matter that I condemn this person for her actions and words if I am watching her show? I don't want to be a bad feminist, but I do want to be honest - I watched all of Lena Dunham's Girls and absolutely loved every second of it.
During my sophomore year in school, I was sitting by a new friend in an English class. It was around Halloween, and I was wearing my Michael Jackson Thriller shirt. As soon as she noticed, she asked me in disgust how I could support a child molester. I was taken aback. Of course I knew all about the infamous allegations, but to me, Michael Jackson was an artist who I had listened to my whole life. I grew up with The Jackson 5 and all of his greatest hits that surfaced in his adulthood. My parents would play the Thriller album constantly, and we even had a DVD collection of his music videos. When Michael Jackson died, I cried next to my mom while watching his televised memorial. Maybe I was ignorant and didn't want to listen to what the media was saying, because I knew it was probably true. But again, does liking Michael Jackson make me a bad person?
I started thinking about all of this two nights ago, when I saw an article published by Ms. Kai Cole, writer and director Joss Whedon's ex-wife. If you have read some of my other posts, or know me personally, then you will also know that I have absolutely idolized Joss Whedon for years. The article spoke about how Whedon was not really a champion for women, but cheated on her multiple times throughout their marriage. I was broken. I hurt for her, but also felt so betrayed by an artist that had changed my life. In a time when I needed it, Buffy the Vampire Slayer absolutely saved me. As for all of his other shows, I have watched them multiple times and am essentially obsessed. Whedon is a brilliant writer, but I have historically admired him mostly for his strong female characters and feminist themes.
Now - is all of that a lie? I cannot stop loving Buffy, or any of his other works. Those fandoms are deeply ingrained into my soul. But I am confused.
The whole time Whedon was creating my favorite show of all time, he was most likely cheating on his wife. I know the man is flawed and often put on a pedestal by geeky feminists. In reality, he is not our feminist savior dude, but just a somewhat woke guy who writes great shows with feminist tones. Is he fake? I am not sure. I can say that I am truly saddened and disgusted after seeing behind the curtain.
I do know that whatever he comes out with next, I am going to devour. And yet again...does that make me bad?
I try to tell myself that as long as I acknowledge that these people are problematic, then I am not as dirty as I want to feel. But is it right to support work from an artist who has done shitty things? There are some celebrities that I boycott or speak out against because of their views, and others that I actually support by taking in their content. This probably makes me a hypocrite, but I am also only human (not sure if that is an excuse, but hey).
Ultimately: How do you separate a brilliant artist's poor actions from their work, and can you? Am I bad a feminist, or person? It's a topic worth thinking about, and I think I might be in good company.