Editorial: Separating art from artists

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A wave of sexual misconduct allegations has rapidly transformed into a tsunami.

The floodgates were forced open by the reveal of Harvey Weinstein’s unwanted advances in Hollywood, which spanned three decades with at least 80 women. Soon afterward, women and men alike began speaking out against powerful figures across the country and throughout the world.

It seems impossible to argue in favor of anyone on the ever-growing list of celebrities and industry titans accused of sexual misconduct. Publicized incidents have infiltrated every aspect of society, from local university professors and media representatives to politicians and world leaders.

Try it for yourself. Google any of the following names right now and see what pops up.

Sen. Al Franken, accused by four women of sexual misconduct including groping and forceful kissing. Charlie Rose, accused by at least nine women of sexual misconduct including “walking naked in their presence” and groping. George H.W. Bush, accused by seven women of sexual misconduct including groping during wheelchair-bound photo-ops.

These accusations, serious as they may be, still grossly underrepresent the widespread incidents that exist today. The way prominent figures act in their personal lives is appalling by any moral standard.

Had you Googled those names six months ago, however, you might have formed a different impression — one of professionalism rather than perversity.

Sen. Al Franken, celebrated as one of the most vocal opponents of Donald Trump’s policies. Charlie Rose, celebrated for his investigative journalism on 60 Minutes. George H.W. Bush, celebrated for easing tensions between a rapidly fracturing Soviet Union.

Should we forgive and forget? Or persecute and punish?

There’s no doubt these men, as well as countless others accused of sexual misconduct, have made positive contributions in their respective fields. Any societal progress attributed to their previous achievements should never regress because their names are attached.

Instead, the flood of accusations provide a bittersweet opportunity to analyze who we support and — more importantly — why we support them.

No one is asking to boycott every one of the accused, or any collective they belong to. It’s unrealistic — if we did, we would be boycotting every institution in the country. There’s too much ambiguity in determining who knew what, when they knew it, and whether or not they spoke up about it. If someone’s previous work brings you joy, that’s your right.

But be aware of what continued support means to the accused. Even more importantly, understand what it means to their victims.

For every Chris Brown who continues to sell out stadiums and win awards, there’s a Rihanna who lives with psychological damage that should never have been inflicted. For every Louis C.K. likely to make a comeback after a brief hiatus, there’s an up-and-coming female comedian who wonders if it’s worth the potential hardship of struggling up the ladder. For every Donald Trump who claims “nobody has more respect for women than I do,” there’s millions of women who beg to differ.

Removing people accused of sexual misconduct from your life isn’t always as simple as “boycott and move on.” A random student might not have any qualms with outing a professor’s misdeeds, but a 4-year doctoral candidate often can’t afford risking their degree over actions perpetrated by their adviser.

This isn’t a case of moral absolution. If you don’t lose any sleep at night over the suffering of these victims, that’s on you.

But if you can afford to prevent the continued fame and success of prominent figures accused of sexual misconduct, do so. For their victims’ sake.

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3 Comments

  1. Amy Charles '89 on

    I notice that in general men are extremely interested in the subject of punishment and gradations of punishment, when it comes to sexual harassment and assault, and start talking about revenge and vindictiveness, and trying to enumerate which terrible things are most terrible; women, in general, simply want the perps out. Out of the office. Out of the conferences. Out of the building. If your emphasis in this discussion is on punishment, let me suggest that your mind is still on the wrong thing — how terrible it is for a man to lose a thing — rather than on the harm his continued presence does the women and the workplace environment generally. It’s pretty simple: if you want to keep your job, your career and reputation, then treat others, even women, as though they are human beings, not things you are entitled to use. That’s really all there is to it.

  2. Amy Charles '89 on

    (Oh — I hope we can skip the next round of notsobadism, which is no doubt about vaguely Christian redemption and forgiveness. Again, it’s pretty simple: don’t behave like a predator. I understand that in some respects this cuts against the grain of a Lehigh education, but perhaps that’s worth some thought, too.)

  3. Robert Davenport on

    “a 4-year doctoral candidate often can’t afford risking their degree over actions perpetrated by their adviser”

    Keep repeating the words power and greed. That is the motivation. Couple that with intelligence and you have serious abuse. An intelligent abuser understands the quote above. Smart abusers put themselves in positions of trust and control and pick individuals who are more compliant. Should we forgive them for lifetimes of planning for successful abuse? Punish them for as long as they have actively abused others.

    Understand that there are some who wanted to get something from the abuser some innocently and some manipulatively neither one appreciating the abusers power. Neither deserves abuse. Children should be protected by all.

    Pray for true whistle blowers who have lots of courage but often no protection. Feel sorry for wolf criers.

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