Cultural Vandalism?

Does learning that entertainers are bad people retroactively ruin their art?

In “The Cultural Vandalism of Jeffrey Tambor,” Matt Zoller Seitz claims that finding out that entertainers are bad people retroactively ruins not only their own work but others influenced by it.

I love Arrested Development, but it’s yet another once-beloved work that I can no longer watch without cringing — not because of what happens within the fiction itself (cringe comedy of the highest order) but because one of the key people associated with it has been accused of heinous behavior. I can’t say that the show quite is on the “See No More” list alongside House of Cards or Woody Allen’s movies, because Kevin Spacey is in most of every House of Cards episode, and Woody Allen is responsible for every frame of a Woody Allen movie, whereas Tambor’s presence only becomes oppressive when he’s onscreen as George Bluth Sr. or his twin brother Oscar Bluth. But Tambor has just enough screen time to taint any goodwill you might feel for the work. I tried to rewatch season four — which I still think is a misunderstood masterpiece, possibly the first show of the streaming era that could not have existed on broadcast or cable TV — so that I could watch the recut version and compare them, but I had to stop after a couple of episodes because I kept looking at Tambor’s face and thinking of the abuse that three different people had publicly accused him of, on sets not unlike the one where creator and executive producer Mitchell Hurwitz & Co. make Arrested Development.

[…]

Everybody gets to answer it in their own way, and my answer is based on gut reaction: Once I know something like this, it makes it impossible for me to look at the actor and not think of the horrible things they’ve allegedly done. I don’t care to argue whether this is rational or not (I think it is), or whether I hold inconsistent opinions of works that are problematic for whatever reason (everyone does). The repulsed feeling is still there, and it makes a difference in how I react as a spectator.

[…]

This sort of thing seems categorically different from, say, watching a film starring an actor whose political beliefs are different from yours (though there, too, a line could be irrevocably crossed). Once you believe that a particular actor or filmmaker or screenwriter is a predator or abuser, you’re aware that the environment that produced your entertainment — the film set — was engaged in a conscious or reflexive cover-up, in the name of protecting an investment. You can still be passionately interested in the thing as a historical or aesthetic document — seeing it through the eyes of, say, an art historian who can contextualize Paul Gauguin within the totality of 19th-century painting, or an African-American studies professor who’s fascinated by Gone With the Wind — but you can’t lose yourself in it anymore. You can’t be in love with it. You can’t really enjoy it in the most basic sense, not without playing dumb.

[…]

On top of all that, we also have the collateral damage of cultural vandalism. Fun, meaningful, even great works that dozens or hundreds of people labored over, that built careers and fortunes and whole industries, become emotionally contaminated to the point where you can’t watch them anymore. Forget the masterpieces that Jeffrey Tambor has been a part of. Louis C.K.’s show Louie helped pave the way for the “Comedy in Theory” genre that includes You’re the WorstAtlantaBetter ThingsMaster of None (ahem, Aziz), High MaintenanceInsecure, and many other notable shows. Now, because of the indecent-exposure allegations by Corry and others — allegations C.K. himself confirmed as true — that series has become the Voldemort of recent TV: You dare not speak its name. Meanwhile, in recent years, an entire wing of African-American cultural history has been vaporized by the Bill Cosby allegations and his recent felony sexual-assault trial, including the most popular sitcom of the ’80s (The Cosby Show), some of the top-selling comedy albums of all time, the precursor to the R-rated buddy comedy genre (Uptown Saturday Night and its sequels), and the first Saturday morning cartoon with a predominantly black cast (Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids). Predators’ careers are getting raptured, as well they should be. But unfortunately — perhaps inevitably — their work is getting raptured along with it, imploding into dust as the culture moves on to things that aren’t as problematic (or that might have skeezy stuff going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about yet).

There’s quite a bit more but you get the idea.

This strikes me as rather silly. Beyond the absurdity of lumping Tambor, who apparently yells a lot, in with Cosby, a serial rapist, I’ve just never cared much about what actors, athletes, and other entertainers are like in their private lives.

While I understand why Netflix felt the need to fire Kevin Spacey, in doing so they’ve killed any interest I have in House of Cards. I’d have happily watched another season or two of Frank Underwood’s exploits. I’m not much of a re-watcher, but I’ll likely still lose myself in Shawshank Redemption again the next time I stumble on it, regardless of Morgan Freeman’s alleged misdeeds. And I doubt I’ll give Michael Douglas’ transgressions a second thought when taking my daughters to watch Antman and the Wasp.

There are limits, I suppose. I haven’t watched any of the Naked Gun movies since O.J. Simpson murdered two people. Mostly, that’s because my tastes lean less towards slapstick as I’ve gotten older. But it might indeed be harder to watch the scenes with Nordberg in them. Still, Simpson’s turning out to be awful hasn’t tainted, say, the Enrico Palazzo bit.

It gets much more complicated with those whose personae and art are intertwined. The comedy of Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. is based almost completely on the images the sought to project of themselves. Again, I’m not much of a re-watcher, so I haven’t seen Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids in some four decades or The Cosby Show in two. But both, and in particular the latter, were so built around Cosby’s image as a good guy that they might be hard to watch now. Conversely, C.K. always struck me as a somewhat vulgar man, if one who had some insightful takes on the human condition. I found his eponymous sitcom unwatchable because the main character was just so unlikeable and his standup brilliant because he was brilliant. So, I’m not sure much has changed with him.

I make a similar distinction with professional athletes. As noted at the time, I had mixed feelings when the Dallas Cowboys, for whom I’ve rooted for over forty years, signed the sleazebag Greg Hardy as a free agent some years back.  Had he contributed 20 sacks a season rather than being the headache he turned out to be, I’d have been perfectly willing to live with who he was off the field. I simply wouldn’t have admired him as a person in the way that I do Roger Staubach or Jason Witten. On the other hand, I can’t root for Tiger Woods in the same way that I did before finding out about his personal transgressions. I still admire his talent and pull for him to resurrect his game. But I’m not all-in on him in the way that I was when I thought of him as a good guy.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Popular Culture, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. george says:

    Sure, in the same way that learning scientists are bad people ruin their discoveries, and the same way learning engineers are bad people ruin their technologies. I’m clearly typing this on a computer made using hydrolic gates.

    I for one refuse to use any product based on solid-state electronics because William Shockley was a eugenicist. And some of the things you learn about Newton make it morally impossible to use any of his physics, starting with F=ma and going on from there. Its a pain not being able to use cars, bridges and just about everything invented since 1800, but its important not to use the work of a flawed human.

    Really, this is just silly. Most people do good and do bad. If doing some bad means their good things are ruined, we should be back to the days before fire and the wheel, because just about every advance in every human field has been done by people who have also done bad things.

    Take the good a person has done, and discard the bad. Its a much more forgiving, and useful, approach then ‘one strike and you’re out’.

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  2. wr says:

    To me, this is nothing but narcissism combined with childish hero identification.

    It has essentially nothing to do with the work or even the artist. It’s about pronouncing one’s purity and elevating one’s own sense of propriety over those who can do what the critic can’t. “Sure, Michelangelo painted pretty pictures, but he was a creepy guy and therefore I will show the world I’m better than him by averting my eyes.”

    Fifty years from now the artworks will still exist — those that deserve to exist on their own merits, anyway — the artists and their bad deeds will be forgotten, and these fabulously self-important critics will have vanished from the culture.

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  3. MarkedMan says:

    Perhaps you can divide this into two questions:
    1) Are we obligated to cast aside entertainment or art because of transgressions by the people involved?
    2) Does knowing about those transgressions ruin your enjoyment of the work?

    For myself, the answer to the first question is “No”.
    And for the second question it is “Sometimes”. But I can’t predict exactly when the transgressions will overwhelm the performances.

    Years ago I was involved in a really obscure usenet forum discussing a type of interactive fiction, and one of the more useful pieces of jargon was “breaking mimesis”. In that context it meant making the user do something that took them out of the storyline and forced them to focus on the computer or the technology. But I think it’s also a good term for what happens when we learn so much about someone that we can no longer focus on the story, when every time that actor comes on screen we are pulled out of movie and start thinking about the actor. Directors too. Woody Allen is the best example of this. I haven’t watched or rewatched one of his movies since his whole “married my step daughter” weirdness. I have a couple of Bill Cosby records I’ll never listen to again. I occasionally take in a Tom Cruise movie but often find myself thinking “So this is the guy who thinks he is the Scientologist Jesus Christ.”

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  4. michael reynolds says:

    What @george said.

    People who do creative work re not coterminous with their work. I have pushed back against this idea for years, long before #MeToo. I mostly write books for teenagers. Does that mean I love teenagers? Nope. Does it mean I’m obsessed with literacy? Nope. Does it mean I’m some idealized father figure? Ask my kids about that, but I’m going to say that’s two more ‘nopes.’

    This is my job and my business. I do it. It’s a thing I produce. I do it for money.

    Of course ‘creatives’ helped to dig the ditch so many are now in with prattle about opening veins and bleeding onto the page, and their inspiration and their ‘heart’ and blah blah blah bullsht bullsht. I have insisted since Day One of my writing career all the way back in 1979 that this was a JOB. I used to wait tables, now I write. I used to clean toilets, now I write. This job is much better, but it’s a JOB for which I am PAID. I produce a PRODUCT called a book. If you buy my book you have not bought me, you’ve bought my product, same as if you’re buying a chair or a chicken or a chapstick.

    It’s hard enough to make a career in the arts without having to be a plaster saint.

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  5. MBunge says:

    The United States of America was built in part through the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of Indians. How many white folks are renouncing their citizenship and moving to Denmark? How many of them were bothered when a lying adulterer and possible rapist was wildly cheered at the 2016 Democratic National Convention?

    I’m not opposed to standards but there’s a big difference between saying “I’m not going to watch that new Kevin Spacey movie because I found out he’s a scumbag” and “The Usual Suspects, American Beauty, and Seven are unwatchable because that scumbag Kevin Spacey is in them.”

    Mike

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  6. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:
    “Sure, Michelangelo painted pretty pictures, but he was a creepy guy and therefore I will show the world I’m better than him by averting my eyes.”

    Bingo. And who is hurt by these displays of virtue? The stupid ass who deprives himself of art in order to strike a pose. Which goes directly to the fact that these critics don’t actually value art since as @george suggests they wouldn’t refuse to be saved in the ER by a great doctor who’s a bad person. They are signaling their indifference the the art, making clear that art is easy to do without. It’s philistinism posing as enlightenment.

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  7. @michael reynolds:

    The difference between people like you and someone like a Louis CK or a Cosby, though, is the fact that those people appeared on television as characters that we liked and people thought, incorrectly, that the character and the actor was effectively the same person. We welcomed them into our home via television, and because of that we thought we knew them. We were wrong.

    Even if he never had the history of being a serial sexual assault perpetrator, Bill Cosby never was Cliff Huxtable. Even if he had never been revealed as a rampant anti-Semite, Mel Gibson was never William Wallace or any of the other characters he played. Similarly, Bing Crosby was not the characters he played, and neither was John Wayne. While there are obviously some cases, such as O.J. Simpson or Cosby, where separating the art from the artist just isn’t possible, in most of these cases it’s still possible to appreciate the art without having to view the artist as some moral ideal.

    Perhaps part of the problem here is that there’s a sizable part of the public that fails to make the distinction.

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  8. Modulo Myself says:

    When it’s pop culture, maybe. I love Arrested Development but the Bluths became this lovable crooked family in a way that the Hank, Artie, and Larry didn’t in The Larry Sanders Show. People invest in the pseudo-warmth of a certain type of pop culture product in ways they don’t invest in the work of Celine (Nazi), Carl Andre (wife ‘fell’ to her death out of a building), or Philip Roth (Philip Roth). This pseudo-warmth is bound to fail. Look at Junot Diaz, whose books suck, or David Foster Wallace, whose image was a fraud. Someone who got in Wallace for his stupid speech (and probably didn’t read Infinite Jest) is going to be ‘betrayed’ because he was abusive towards Mary Karr. So it’s really an audience problem.

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  9. Moosebreath says:

    @MBunge:

    “How many of them were bothered when a lying adulterer and possible rapist was wildly cheered at the 2016 Democratic National Convention?”

    I dunno, how many of them were bothered when a lying adulterer and possible rapist was wildly cheered and then nominated at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

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  10. Kathy says:

    @george:

    Sure, in the same way that learning scientists are bad people ruin their discoveries, and the same way learning engineers are bad people ruin their technologies.

    Please, not this false equivalence again.

    Art is a personal expression, be it individual or collective, possessing a purpose and aim all its own. Science and technology are morally neutral universals. Art depends a great deal on who makes it; science and technology are completely independent of their discoverer or developer.

    This is a topic worth discussing, but let’s please focus on what matters.

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  11. CSK says:

    Woody Allen once said that the best way to be famous is by being a writer, because everyone knows your name, but practically no one knows your face.

    I could add that writers tend to have a better class of fan.

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  12. Tony W says:

    @MBunge:

    How many of them were bothered when a lying adulterer and possible rapist was wildly cheered at the 2016 Democratic National Convention?

    Geez dude – even when you make a decent point, you ruin it with this crap. If you are going to pick a political figure to single out for their horrible treatment of women, don’t you think there might be a better example out there?

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  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Perhaps part of the problem here is that there’s a sizable part of the public that fails to make the distinction.

    This.

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  14. Franklin says:

    I agree with most of the posters. I’d still watch the Cosby Show if I happened to come across it flipping through channels. It might be different if I found out the children were all slaves, forced into acting or something.

    @Kathy:

    Science and technology are morally neutral universals.

    Good point, but what do you think about Nazi human experimentation? (By that, I obviously mean whether the results should be used? I would hope you didn’t think I was implying you might actual support performing the experiments.)

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  15. teve tory says:

    @Kathy: Agree with Kathy here. James Watson is a famously shitty human being. That doesn’t taint his co-discovery of the structure of DNA because the DNA was always out there, independent of Watson. He didn’t create its structure, he just understood it first. This is different than Bill Cosby’s stand-up persona, because the creation and its creator are deeply connected. It’s much harder to separate the two. Louis CK’s whole shtick was, “Hey look at this abhorrent thing I just said, but deep down I’m still just a regular guy.” When you find out the regular guy was not so regular, it affects how you respond to the art.

    There aren’t any simple rules for how to respond in the end, you might decide arrested development and michael jackson songs are still fine, but woody allen movies are not, or whatever, but that’s a personal response based on the individual consumer and how they react to different scenarios.

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  16. Kylopod says:

    I’ve mentioned it before, but I usually find it easy to separate an artist or performer from his work (the masculine pronoun is intended here), but I feel that Bill Cosby is an exception because while the revelations did not detract from my appreciation of his contributions to comedy, it did take something away in terms of the feeling of personal warmth that he has always exuded. He belongs among a select group of entertainers of which I’d include the late Fred Rogers, in that a central part of his public image had to do with the perception of him as a mensch. And when you add his role as someone who dedicated much of his career to breaking down negative stereotypes of African Americans, it makes the revelations even more disappointing. I can’t look back at his early comedy without feeling these pangs, in a way I would not if there’d been similar revelations about, say, George Carlin.

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  17. Stormy Dragon says:

    Dear Lord, please leave us Tom Hanks. If I find out Tom Hanks is a secret creep, I will be given over to despair.

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  18. teve tory says:

    This pseudo-warmth is bound to fail. Look at Junot Diaz, whose books suck, or David Foster Wallace, whose image was a fraud.

    Infinite Jest is better if you skip over all the Don Gately stuff and read the tennis academy stuff. 😛 But Wallace was much better at nonfiction, in my book. I’ve got several articles about his abuse of women saved on my hard drive that I haven’t had time to get to. When I do read them, it’s going to damage what I think of Wallace as a person, but not too much because I’d already heard enough to know he was often shitty enough to warrant jail time, but I don’t think it’ll affect how I read “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”, for instance, because he wrote that stuff like he was a disembodied robot and there’s little in his essays that put him in the situation: it was like anti-gonzo journalism.

    The question of how separable the artist is from the art seems like a case-by-case basis to me.

    But I do ponder the fact that the guy who turned me on to DFW, 20 years ago, turned out to be an extremely misogynistic creep. I don’t know how he could have known, but it feels like…he might have, somehow.

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  19. Kathy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If you buy my book you have not bought me, you’ve bought my product, same as if you’re buying a chair or a chicken or a chapstick.

    If this be so, and if the person producing the book, or chair, or chapstick, is an awful person, why would I want to pay them money?

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  20. MarkedMan says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Good comment. As an aside, I was going to use Mel Gibson as an example of an actor whose mere appearance pulled me out of the story, but in truth that didn’t happen because of the anti-semitism and misogyny and strange religion. It was because I saw him in a movie with Gary Sinise, who fairly radiated menace and danger with barely a change in expression or voice, as compared to ol’ Mel whose entire schtick consisted of SHOUTING his lines and falling to the floor and flopping around wailing. Since that time if I happen to see him I just automatically start waiting for him to start ludicrously hamming it up.

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  21. Lit3Bolt says:

    I guess I have more mixed feelings about stuff like this. The old “But he’s a genius in his field!” excuse for all sorts of behaviors hides some pretty damning behavior that people should be held accountable for. Then again, in 100 years, no one is going to care and people will enjoy these actors and comedians and movies without any guilt, the same way we enjoy old MGM movies today, not knowing most of the in-depth details of Louis B. Meyer’s child-star making practices.

    So yes, I think you can enjoy Chinatown and still think Polanski is a child molester who should be in jail. But as with all art, that’s a consumer choice and it’s up to the individual.

    I think people are fixating on this because it sounds really, really damning when painted in a certain light. “I enjoy movies and comedies made by rapists!” No one wants to admit to that, but soon we’re going to be arguing about the tactics used by internet-clickbait-gotcha artists and not the thoughtful issue at the core of the discussion.

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  22. Kathy says:

    @teve tory:

    Agree with Kathy here.

    That’s a useful habit to acquire 😉

    James Watson is a famously shitty human being. That doesn’t taint his co-discovery of the structure of DNA because the DNA was always out there, independent of Watson. He didn’t create its structure, he just understood it first.

    Exactly. If humanity were wiped out, and other intelligent beings arose millions of years from now, they’d find exactly the same structure for DNA. Also the same relationships between force, mass and acceleration. And if they produce airplanes, their wings will have the same kind of cross-section ours do (but hopefully more legroom, should they have legs).

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  23. MarkedMan says:

    @Kylopod: Wait, are you saying Fred Rogers has a dark background?

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  24. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy:

    If this be so, and if the person producing the book, or chair, or chapstick, is an awful person, why would I want to pay them money?

    Upthread you observed, correctly I think, “Science and technology are morally neutral universals. Art depends a great deal on who makes it; science and technology are completely independent of their discoverer or developer.” It follows, then, that you’re buying a chair or chapstick because you prefer it over substitutes at a given price point. But substitutes are actually easier for such products than for the book.

    If it turned out that George R.R. Martin was a pedophile cannibal, it would presumably change how people viewed Game of Thrones. But one suspects that people wanting to know how the series end would still be willing to pay him money to find out. That is, they’d want to pay him money after the discovery for the same reasons they did before.

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  25. Kathy says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Perhaps part of the problem here is that there’s a sizable part of the public that fails to make the distinction.

    It’s common to judge others by one’s self. It’s been so clear to me since as early as I can remember that actors are not their characters, that I find it hard to grasp some people would think they are. I mean, would you ask Alan Alda to operate on you because he played a brilliant surgeon in MASH?

    Further, I tend to avoid learning too much about actors I admire, as their real selves can be awfully disappointing (even when they are good people).

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  26. Kylopod says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Wait, are you saying Fred Rogers has a dark background?

    No, I’m using him as an example of a celebrity where it would genuinely hurt if we found out he had a dark background–something I do not think is true of celebrities in general.

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  27. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    It follows, then, that you’re buying a chair or chapstick because you prefer it over substitutes at a given price point. But substitutes are actually easier for such products than for the book.

    Well, yes. There are dozens of brands of chairs available, but only one “The End of Eternity” by Isaac Asimov.

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  28. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: It’s been so clear to me since as early as I can remember that actors are not their characters, that I find it hard to grasp some people would think they are.

    I often think of an interview I heard with Paul Newman. The interviewer brought up a number of turns of phrase and mannerisms that had made his characters so memorable and understandable and Newman commented on one he especially liked. The interviewer then asked if he ever incorporated mannerisms he liked into his real life. Newman got very serious and said, essentially, that an actor should avoid that at all costs, that once you start confusing yourself and your characters you will inevitably lose yourself and become just a shell housing a collection of fictions.

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  29. MarkedMan says:

    @Kylopod: Whew. People like Rodgers fall into yet another category because they are teachers entrusted with our children as much as they are media personalities.

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  30. MarkedMan says:

    Another show I don’t think I could watch anymore: Hogan’s Heroes. Years ago I heard a radio show or podcast or something about what a strange, disturbed guy Bob Crane was. He ended up bludgeoned to death in a hotel room and it was subsequently revealed that his life had become a pathetic mess of sex addiction and amateur porn production using women he picked up nightly in hotel bars. Given the video evidence he left behind the police commented their might be several hundred suspects.

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  31. george says:

    @Kathy:

    You can argue science is independent of its discovers. I completely disagree with that; what is discovered depends upon the person doing the searching. Sad to say, I could have spent a lifetime looking at what Einstein looked at, and never have come up with any of it. The same is true for 99.99999% of the population.

    But technology is as much an expression of individuality as art is. Do you see solid-state computers walking around in nature? How about cars, or planes? The only difference between engineering and art is the one is creativity centered on the physical, the other is creativity centered on mental or emotional. Technology has the same moral content as art; in both cases its an expression of its creators, and in both cases its moral content depends upon its use, not its creators.

    And the only true equivalences are in formal systems like math and logic. ‘False equivalency’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘non-formal system equivalency’. In normal usage, an equivalence is made between aspects of one phenomena and aspects of a different phenomena. Of course they’re all false, the question is if its useful. In this case, especially with technology, its extremely useful because the creative process is almost identical.

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  32. al Ameda says:

    I’ve never looked to actors, athletes, and entertainers to be ‘role models’ so, I probably have a different ambivalence-ridden threshold when it comes to ‘cultural vandalism’ and personal boycotts of these people.

    That said, if the ‘cultural vandalism’ is severe enough – Bill Cosby, Mel Gibson – it will probably cause me to ‘enjoy’ the art and entertainment of that person a lot less, if at all.

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  33. Dave Schuler says:

    This is a question with serious cultural, historical, and financial implications. James Levine has conducted the Met for the last 40 years. Excising his works from the corpus leaves a huge gap. Or consider Picasso. Picasso is known to have physically abused his wives and lovers. His influence on 20th century art can hardly be overstated. Tossing his works into museums’ closets would leave them looking like The Red Shoes.

    Cosby’s conviction has had serious financial consequences for the actors and actresses who worked with him. Phylicia Rashad, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Lisa Bonet, and many others are all taking serious financial hits from the loss of residuals for The Cosby Show.

    I don’t mean to say that we should diminish the wrong-doing. I just think that we need to come to terms with the separation between the artists and the work.

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  34. george says:

    I think this comes down to a division of people into ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’.

    If a good person makes a funny but harmless joke, then its good. If a bad person says the same funny but harmless joke, then its bad. And once you’ve done something bad, you’re bad for the rest of your life.

    And interestingly enough, youth gangs are already using this to keep members in line. Once you’ve done a crime (sold drugs, armed robbery, stolen a car etc) you might as well stick with them for life, because it’ll be dragged up twenty years from now and you’ll everything. Minorities especially know only too well that anything that is used against rich, powerful white folk (ie once guilty then everything you have done is bad) will hit poor minorities a thousand times harder. The lesson is clear: that car you stole when you were sixteen is with you forever.

    The people I know working with indigenous gangs are really worried about this trend of digging up the past; everyone in a gang has done something illegal, and in most cases violent (armed robbery especially).

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  35. Todd says:

    Reading this article, the theme seems to be something that was already intuitive … if the celebrity was someone we were already inclined not to like, it is easier to take these charges more seriously. Whereas if it is someone we like(d) such as Morgan Freeman, finding rationalizations to still enjoy his work is also easier.

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  36. Kathy says:

    @george:

    Sad to say, I could have spent a lifetime looking at what Einstein looked at, and never have come up with any of it. The same is true for 99.99999% of the population.

    Einstein is a particularly bad model. Like Newton, he was not only prodigious but prolific. Not only could you not have made the discoveries he did, very few people in history would have been able to.

    But that’s not the point. Suppose Einstein is never born, what then? Well, then someone else would have figured out Special Relativity, as that was related to one of the burning issues of the day in physics (See the Michelson-Morley experiment). I doubt the same person would then have worked out General relativity, explained the photo-electric effect, or developed a mathematical proof for molecules and atoms. Most likely these would have been separate discoveries by different people.

    But they would have all discovered exactly the same things Einstein did.

    This isn’t entirely hypothetical, either. many discoveries have been made by different people at nearly the same time (which actually makes a lot of sense), or by different people at different times. Darwin, for instance, dallied and delayed publishing his natural selection theory of evolution for years, until he learned of someone else who was close to publishing the same thing.

    But technology is as much an expression of individuality as art is. Do you see solid-state computers walking around in nature? How about cars, or planes?

    Have you noticed all planes look alike? There are alternatives, like flying wings and lifting bodies, but these have drawbacks which make them unattractive for investment. Also notice there are no planes with a square fuselage, or computers that use strawberry jam instead of electricity, or cars with oval wheels, or TV screens made of gold.

    That’s because the principles on which these devices are built are amoral universals. You could try to make a jam-powered computer, but you’ll find jam’s properties do not allow for the types of things a computer does. Oval wheels would work on a car, but provide a terrible ride and even worse fuel consumption.

    Now, Boeing planes have a central control column, which repeats its movements on both pilots’ seats. Airbus planes have a side joystick that does not repeat its movements. That’s a choice made for various reasons by each company. But the planes otherwise work and are managed in very similar fashion.

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  37. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tony W: Okay, but aren’t you forgetting that Bill and Hillary Clinton are the 2 singlemost horrible people in the history of the entire world? Worse than Ghengis Khan? Worse than Nero? Worse than Calligula? Worse than Czar Ivan? Worse than Chairman Mao? What’s up with you? Can’t you recognize horrible evil when you see it?

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  38. MarkedMan says:

    Off Topic, Site Specific
    It seems I accidentally subscribed to email updates for this post. I can’t find where to turn this off. Anyone know?

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  39. Modulo Myself says:

    @teve tory: @Kathy:

    I mean, would you ask Alan Alda to operate on you because he played a brilliant surgeon in MASH?

    Re: DFW–He writes in one of his essays (E Unibus Pluram) that Larry Linville aka Frank Burns received hate mail from MASH fans who loathed Frank Burns so much they had to go on hating the actor.

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  40. teve tory says:

    You can argue science is independent of its discovers. I completely disagree with that; what is discovered depends upon the person doing the searching. Sad to say, I could have spent a lifetime looking at what Einstein looked at, and never have come up with any of it. The same is true for 99.99999% of the population.

    Proof of independence is codiscovery. If Einstein hadn’t been around, Poincare and Lorentz and those guys would have figured it out, they already had two of the four equations. Heisenberg and Schrodinger both figured out quantum mechanics at roughly the same time. If Newton didn’t get the credit for calculus, Leibniz would have. Alexander Graham Bell beat the other guy to the patent office by hours or days IIRC. But on the art side, no two people independently write Othello. Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe didn’t race each other to copyright The Merchant of Venice.

    Of course, independence isn’t total, scientific discoveries are conditioned by social and personal factors, but it’s an order of magnitude less than in art.

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  41. teve tory says:

    Contradicting my point, of course, are comedy bits about Hot Pockets. Several comedians, acting independently, codiscovered that bit. Although, like Einstein gets Special Relativity, Jim Gaffigan gets the credit for the Hot Pockets bit. 😛

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  42. Kathy says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Re: DFW–He writes in one of his essays (E Unibus Pluram) that Larry Linville aka Frank Burns received hate mail from MASH fans who loathed Frank Burns so much they had to go on hating the actor.

    I’ve heard that about other actors as well.

    Back in the late 70s my parents took us to see plays often. Many had really hateful villains and charismatic heroes. I’d say nine times out of ten, the actors playing villains got a bigger ovation after the play than those playing the lovable heroes. This tells me people can tell the actor and character apart.

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  43. Modulo Myself says:

    @Kathy:

    People can, but acting links actors to characters. Christopher Walken can do many things, but he’s f—ing great at being Christopher Walken.

    Humans have always enjoyed the total breakdown of mimetic play. (For similar reasons, drugs are awesome.) Art that challenges people tries to push this breakdown into the foreground while remaining entertaining. Brecht invented epic theater and its fourth wall around the same time that the Nazis were getting high on German Expressionist cinema and Wagner.

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  44. MarkedMan says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I accidentally subscribed to email updates for this post. I can’t find where to turn this off

    OK, so the new site no longer has a “Manager Your Subscriptions” button below this box, but when you get a comment forwarded to your email there is a link there to manage subscriptions.

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  45. Gustopher says:

    A lot of this is just virtue signaling. “I’ll never see a movie with that terrible man again! I support women, young boys, dogs, whatever.”

    Not all of it. Maybe not even the majority of it. But a lot of it. There’s also honest disgust in there. Both fade in time, and the great works will stand on their own.

    But sometimes, knowing the actor is a horrible person who has done horrible things actually makes the movie better. Rewatch “Baby Driver” and tell me that Kevin Spacey’s character arc doesn’t make a whole lot more sense if he has an unhealthy, creepy fixation on that young man.

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  46. James Pearce says:

    I’m not going to derail this discussion by participating (and thereby inviting the hate) but I am quite surprised at some of the reactions here.

    I never thought I’d hear Gustopher say “A lot of this is just virtue signaling,” or wr say “this is nothing but narcissism combined with childish hero identification.”

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  47. Stormy Dragon says:

    @michael reynolds:

    One pattern I’ve noticed in my life is that most of writers I find most insightful tend to be infamous assholes in their personal lives. I’ve basically come to the conclusion that this is because only people who are by and large alienated from society can really be objective writing about it.

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  48. Charon says:

    I’m very situational about this, sometimes I ignore, sometimes not.

    Knife in the Water is a great movie I have no problem watching, regardless of what kind of person Roman Polanski is.

    OTOH, I can’t watch Louie as the character he plays is too much like his unlikeable self. (Of course, I was never that much into Louie anyway).

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  49. Charon says:

    It can work in the reverse direction, I might be turned off by people associated with movies I disapprove of.

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  50. wr says:

    @MarkedMan: “Another show I don’t think I could watch anymore: Hogan’s Heroes.”

    Hogan’s Heroes is a comedy about a bunch of wacky American prisoners outwitting their kooky, adorable Nazi captors — and it’s the star’s sex life that would keep you from watching it?

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  51. wr says:

    @Todd: “Whereas if it is someone we like(d) such as Morgan Freeman, finding rationalizations to still enjoy his work is also easier.”

    If there is one actor I think of as a truly toxic, repellent human being, it’s Don Johnson. (Not saying he’s a molester or harasser or anything like that — I just know too many people who worked for or with him and know how he treats those around him.) But a few years back I was rewatching Tin Cup and realized how much I was enjoying his performance. He may have been treating the crew like crap every day he was on set — and it didn’t affect his scenes in the movie at all.

    I’ve tried to “boycott” the works of artists I believe are terrible people. I’ve never seen a frame of Babylon 5, simply because of my personal loathing of its creator. But when the Wachowskis made Sens8 with him, I did end up watching — and it was a powerful, life-enhancing experience. Had I continued my boycott, the only one who would have been poorer for it was me, not Joe Straczynski. If I refuse to listen to Parsifal because Wagner was such a hideous person, I don’t think he’s the one being hurt.

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  52. wr says:

    @Kathy: I think in many ways Steve Jobs was a pretty sucky human being. But I still have my iPhone, iPads and Apple Watch… and I have them despite the fact that there are similar products made by nicer people.

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  53. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Perhaps part of the problem here is that there’s a sizable part of the public that fails to make the distinction. (Between art and the artist.)

    All of these arguments apply to the fallacy of taking sports heroes or Presidents as moral exemplars. Especially next time one of us lefty commenters asks what getting a consensual (heck, eager) BJ had to do with presidenting.

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  54. Mister Bluster says:

    @george:..Do you see solid-state computers walking around in nature? How about cars, or planes?

    UBER’S SELF-DRIVING CAR SAW THE WOMAN IT KILLED, REPORT SAYS

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  55. Kathy says:

    @wr:

    What do/did you have against Joe Straczynski? I’m unaware of any major negative acts or attitude on his part.

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  56. MarkedMan says:

    @wr:

    Hogan’s Heroes is a comedy about a bunch of wacky American prisoners outwitting their kooky, adorable Nazi captors — and it’s the star’s sex life that would keep you from watching it?

    Good point 😉

    An interesting side note: All of the major German officials (Klink, Schulz, the SS guy and one other who I can’t recall) were played by Jews. The guy who played Klink only agreed to do it after he was assured that his character would never succeed in anything. And the guy who played Corporal LeBeau was actually in a Nazi concentration camp (not POW camp) and had a serial number tattooed on his arm.

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  57. teve tory says:

    @wr: I’m thinking about this w/r/t the Elon Musk nonsense at the moment. Shit, I spent a week reading the Isaacson biography of Jobs. He’s still a shitty human being, and also brilliant in some ways. They say, “Don’t meet your heroes,”, not that Jobs was a hero of mine, but more a statement that life is complex in ways that we wouldn’t understand if we were children.

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  58. michael reynolds says:

    @Kathy:
    You’re kidding yourself if you boycott people you’ve decided are bad.

    Let me give you an example. In kidlit there are half a dozen people outed as #MeToo or related. There are more not similarly outed. I could name names but won’t. If you boycott X because you’ve learned something that’s a 3 on the scale of evil you’re likely transferring that money to someone worse. So your boycott makes you feel good for harming someone more benign than the person you support. You’re making moral calls not based on reality but on a distorted and narrow slice of reality. In short, you’re depriving yourself of something you enjoy in order to give a preference to someone worse whose work you may enjoy less. You punish yourself and reward the guy who is better at covering his tracks.

    Further, #MeToo isn’t the only evil, is it? Masturbating in front of some poor, cornered woman is bad, but is it worse than, say, pushing the Vaxxer nonsense and quite possibly increasing the likelihood of innocent deaths? If you’re anti-choice and you see that as a moral evil, should you boycott every pro-life person? How about people who supported the Iraq war? How about people who oppose foreign aid to starving people? I could go on.

    As @Stormy Dragon: points out, creatives are not necessarily moral paragons. I don’t think we’re worse than any other random bunch of people, but we’re certainly no better. If you know of a creep who works as a clerk at Walgreens why are you supporting the company that pays his salary?

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  59. teve tory says:

    Personally, I think I’m an interesting and intelligent guy, but I’d never run for the Presidency because there are one or two episodes in my life which, if exposed, would make any right-thinking person despise me. Such is life.

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  60. Kathy says:

    @wr:

    I think in many ways Steve Jobs was a pretty sucky human being. But I still have my iPhone, iPads and Apple Watch… and I have them despite the fact that there are similar products made by nicer people.

    I had an iPhone 4 once, and I couldn’t get away from Apple fast enough 🙂 In my case, I dislike Jobs for his product, not for himself.

    Here’s my main beef (and for all I know it’s been corrected): I had mobile data switched off for almost everything but Waze, email and message apps. Whenever I opened almost any other app, a notice popped up saying something to the effect that cel data is turned off for this app, and do I want to switch it on. And I could do nothing with the phone until I tapped “NO”

    It may seem like a small thing, but it tended to drive me crazy.

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  61. wr says:

    @Kathy: It’s nothing that would ever be reported anywhere — at least, not back in those days. He caused a great deal of harm to a close friend of mine and tried to have him driven out of the business over a personal slight. He is (or was — for all I know success has allowed him to grow into a wonderful, warm human being) a roiling ball of awfulness.

    My one fond memory of Joe is when a dear friend who was a bit of a prankster invited me and Joe’s victim to lunch — and then invited Joe along without telling us so he could watch the fight. Instead, Joe spent the whole lunch attacking the prankster for the terrible crime of being a Mormon.

    But again, this isn’t an accusation of a crime — just a deep personal dislike from many decades back. My memory is he inspired that in a lot of people. Everyone loved his wife, though, so go know.

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  62. Kathy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m not attempting a boycott. It’s simple reluctance to give money to someone I know to be a moral asshole.

    I don’t expect anyone to be a moral paragon. I do expect people to be decent overall. Political differences, when reasonable, are not necessarily a barrier. On the other hand, scamming people with pseudoscience would be a major barrier. So among the people whom I can’t stand even to look at you’ll find Gwyneth Paltrow.

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  63. Kathy says:

    @wr:

    t’s nothing that would ever be reported anywhere — at least, not back in those days. He caused a great deal of harm to a close friend of mine and tried to have him driven out of the business over a personal slight.

    I’d be pissed at that, too, and never even approach his work. You hear about such things in show business from time to time. I’ve heard some nasty things about Straczynski and his former wife, Kathryn Drennan (who, BTW, wrote one of my favorite Babylon 5 novels “To Dream in the City of Sorrows), but it was all rumor and hearsay.

    I’m sorry to hear about your friend.

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  64. wr says:

    @Kathy: Thanks. Everyone ended up ok — just a long, stupid period of unpleasantness.

    It was a long time before I saw anything JMS wrote. Had to break the blockade when a friend of mine produced The Changeling and invited my wife and me to a screening. And honestly, I really think Sens8 is a great work, no matter who was behind it.

    Which I guess is why I don’t stay away from works by artists who are miserable people. I get that it’s harder for some with Woody Allen — in several generations of a certain type of male (basically the type that grows up to be film critics) his early films invited a strong sense of identification. (And yes, I plead guilty.) But this was a problem for Allen long before his fans started feeling complicit in his unique personal life. As early as Stardust Memories he was making movies in which he was playing thoroughly bad or unhappy people — and the fanboys couldn’t see past Fielding Mellish and Alvy Singer. But Roman Polanski? I’m supposed to swear off Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby for a terrible act he committed almost half a century ago?

    I’ve never heard a bad word spoken about Ron Howard as a human being. I hope he lives happily for another hundred years. But I’d rather see a new Polanski film than one of his…

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  65. DrDaveT says:

    The bottom line is that my emotional reaction to learning these things about artists is not something I can control. It doesn’t really matter whether I think it is reasonable to change my opinion of a work of art or music or film when I learn something horrible about the artist — the fact is that sometimes it happens. Not always, or at least not always to the same extent, but (again) this is not something I can control.

    If we were talking about (say) racial prejudice, which I am also prone to, I could consciously strive to not let my unfortunate prejudices affect the way I treat people. And I could work consciously to undermine those prejudices over time. And so I do. But art is different — if I can’t enjoy Tchaikovsky the same way any more, much less Wagner, there’s nothing I can do about that, because the enjoyment (or lack thereof) is entirely subjective. Appreciating craft isn’t the same.

    So I think it’s an interesting empirical phenomenon, but I don’t see a take-away action item here. My responses are what they are, and I don’t think they’re important enough to merit a long-term dedicated regimen to shift my underlying psychology.

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  66. george says:

    @Kathy:

    Planes look alike because the designs are copied – this is allowed to much greater extent in engineering than in the arts. I could write like Shakespeare if I was allowed to make minor modifications to his words and stories – and my plagiarism would (again sadly) be much better than anything I could come up with myself.

    The same is true for my work as an engineer. It very strongly resembles what others have done, because I (and most other engineers) lack the imagination to come up with equally good new designs, especially in the allotted time (a development cycle of ten years means the company is going out of business. The limitations aren’t technical – the long list of improvements over the decades (or actually centuries) on even basic devices show how creativity limited design, far more so than natural limits.

    Almost any engineer working in development will tell you the same thing – there are physical constraints (just as there are grammatical constraints in writing), but the limiting factor is imagination, not physical constraints (or grammar). In fact its a joke among design engineers – there’s always only one way to make a product well, until someone has a bright idea and then suddenly there are more ways. But of course, everyone will copy them (in ways not allowed in the arts), and once again there’ll only be one proper way to make things.

    In the case of science, most of it is obvious once someone else comes up with it. And then anyone could do it. Do you wonder why it took two thousand years from the time of the ancient Egyptians to notice F=ma (actually F=dp/dt, though that came with relativity and Einstein) if it was so obvious? Or to notice that the gravitation mass being the same as the inertial mass (leads to General Relativity) is simultaneously just out there for anyone to discover but still took two centuries?

    Even the smallest discoveries typically takes years of research (theoretical and/or experimental). In history books (and undergraduate science classes) the discoveries of science are smooth, logical process that anyone could have done. But that’s not the actual, real life process, its just a way of teaching it once all the work has been done. Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” is pretty straightforward once its been written. The trick was in writing it.

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  67. Kathy says:

    @wr:

    Everyone ended up ok — just a long, stupid period of unpleasantness.

    Pretty big “just.”

    I’ve seen Babylon 5, which is about 4.3 seasons good, and carries a story arc for that long. Later I learned he’d been involved in “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoons I’d liked a few years earlier. I’ve yet to see Sens8. I keep meaning to, but in this case I can’t get past my dislike for “The Matrix.”

    It’s always something, isn’t it?

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  68. Kathy says:

    @george:

    Do you wonder why it took two thousand years from the time of the ancient Egyptians to notice F=ma (actually F=dp/dt, though that came with relativity and Einstein) if it was so obvious?

    No, I think I know why. I do wonder why it took so long to come up with the printing press, when all the principles, tools and materials existed for two thousand years. Simply put, if you can strike coins, you should be able to print books, with illustrations.

    As to planes, the cylindrical fuselage is necessary for containing the pressurized air. Notions like a flying wing would work, and make more room for passengers, but the ride might be terrible in some areas. Not to mention getting people to fly in the damned things.

    It’s not lack of imagination. See how fighter and attack planes differ markedly according to their mission type and specs. It’s economics.

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  69. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    I do wonder why it took so long to come up with the printing press, when all the principles, tools and materials existed for two thousand years.

    For me the crazy one is paper. It was invented independently exactly once, in China. We might even know the name of the guy who invented it. Every other successful production of paper has been by someone who learned from someone who learned from… who learned from him. It was never successfully reverse-engineered, at least in the West.

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  70. wr says:

    @Kathy: And apparently ether was used for years as recreation by doctors before anyone thought of employing it as an anesthetic…

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  71. Guarneri says:

    I think Mataconis made the best point of the thread. Reynolds (and Schuler) correctly observe that to mingle character straits with work product is problematic.

    But Doug partitions those of little public consequence from those with impact. It’s a fact, and a subset of leadership and public responsibility. (And let’s not litigate if people are crazy to impute values to TV characters)

    In my world, (owning companies and sitting on boards) if you don’t understand that from the very moment you walk into a room management and workers alike view you through a different lens then you are a fool. And with that come responsibilities.

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  72. Stormy Dragon says:

    @DrDaveT:

    The bottom line is that my emotional reaction to learning these things about artists is not something I can control.

    Not something you can control? Or not something you do control?

    The idea that people have absolutely no control over their emotions is certainly common belief in modern society, but one I’m not sure is true.

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