February 25, 2020

Tainted by Association

“When I first heard the allegations of serial sexual misconduct against the American folk-rock singer Ryan Adams earlier this year – that he had emotionally and psychologically abused several women and underage girls, using his status in the music industry as leverage – I didn’t want to believe it. Yet this desire to not-believe strongly preceded any acquaintance I had with the actual facts. Indeed – and as I am now ashamed to admit – I initially read the facts with great skepticism, hoping that they were wrong. Only with effort have I forced myself to put aside my initial disbelief, and consider things impartially, making a more balanced assessment. Why?

One answer comes from feminist theory. As a man who has been raised in a male-dominated society, one that tends to privilege the status and testimony of men, and to cast aspersions on those of women – most especially when it comes to issues of sex – I am ideologically conditioned to react this way. Sadly, I suspect there is much truth in this. But it is not the only explanation in play. Another consideration is that I didn’t want Adams to be guilty because I like his music. And the worry that I had – initially, without even realising it – was that, if Adams is indeed guilty, then I won’t be able to enjoy his music any more. And I don’t want that to be the case. Hence, I initially read the accusations against Adams with skepticism, precisely because I (subconsciously) wanted to protect my future enjoyment of his records.

It is not uncommon to find that one’s enjoyment of something is irrevocably damaged if that thing turns out to be closely connected to somebody who has committed serious wrongs. Many people will now feel deeply uncomfortable watching films associated with Harvey Weinstein. Similarly, critically acclaimed movies starring Kevin Spacey – even if made long before any accusation of wrongdoing was levelled against him – will no longer seem the obvious choices for Saturday night viewing that they once were. And this is not simply because we want to take a moral stand against Weinstein or Spacey (though that might certainly be true). It is because we feel that the films themselves are tainted.”

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