Separating the Art from the Artist

Sofia Carlisi ’24 (Arts Editor, 143rd Board) in Arts | November 11, 2022

The song “Best Friend” can be found on any teenager’s beach playlist, and with its lyrics “you’re gonna wanna be my best friend baby,” musical artist Rex Orange County, real name Alex O’Connor, has made a name for himself in the indie pop industry. It was Rex’s fun-loving, “one of the good ones” persona that gained him quite a loyal following. 
Fans were devastated when last week, Rex was charged with six different sexual assault allegations, all from the same woman. Can these fans still listen to his music with a clean conscience, or has his entire discography been stained by his evil deeds? The moral dilemma Rex’s fanbase is experiencing begs the question: Is it possible to separate the art from the artist?
There is, in all honesty, no right answer to this question. People are free to listen, read, and experience the art of whomever they want to, regardless of the artist's actions. That being said, oftentimes people feel obligated to pass judgments on those whose opinions on this matter differ from theirs. It is important to look at all sides of this argument, and it is up to each individual person to draw their own moral lines and decide for themselves what to do.
Everyone has ethical and political standards that they refuse to cross. If an artist does not withhold these standards, it makes perfect sense that one would discontinue their support. Does it make someone hypocritical to preach about something but continue supporting artists that go against those values? Maybe. Where is this moral line, though? If it is different for everyone, then it’s up to each person to determine whether the line has been crossed.  
Society also has a terribly short memory. Take Michael Jackson as an example. Even though in the documentary Leaving Neverland, four boys came forth about their sexual abuse at the hands of Jackson, the majority of listeners did not stop playing his music. A poll done by the Hollywood Reporter found that 61 percent of people did not stop listening to Jackson after these allegations, and 54 percent did not think they should stop. It seems that some artists like Michael Jackson are somewhat immune to the pushback of allegations, as his music and fame suffered little in the wake of the documentary. Is Jackson’s music just too good? Maybe, but many people never hopped onto the bandwagon of “canceling” him. 
Cancel culture, a trend of hating certain media stars, often only affects present-day celebrities. In the digital age, artists’ presences on social media make fans feel like they know them. Thus, supporters feel personally betrayed by their idols’ actions. Since Jackson dominated the pre-social media era and had already died before these allegations came into the limelight, does he get a pass? 
Often, people do not want to support artists who have fallen from grace because they do not want to put more money in these artists’ pockets. Still, this decision affects other hard-working employees. For instance, although the Harry Potter books are some of the most popular to this day and age, many were devastated by the transphobic tweets J.K Rowling made in the spring of 2020. She commented on an article about “people who menstruate” demanding the article use the word “women” instead. After her insensitive comments, many decided to leave Rowling in the past and stopped buying her books. If someone was to buy a Harry Potter book from an independent bookstore, although they may be giving money to J.K. Rowling, they are also supporting a small business and its employees. Many do not want to support authors like Rowling, but they still want to read their books. Some buy these books secondhand, but this often leads to the pirating of books illegally online. Is that more moral than buying the book legally? 
Should one be judged for calling Harry Potter their favorite book series or for continuing to listen to Rex Orange County even after what he has been accused of? At the end of the day, it is up to each person to make that decision for themselves.