#5- “I Would Watch iCarly if its Stars Weren’t Racist”- Don’t Let Your Feelings about the Author Affect Your Feelings on the Work
Chekhov’s Gunman is a film and television blog written by Kevin Lanigan, a future writer of awesome movies and TV and some mediocre self-titled folk albums. Some mild, mild spoilers may follow. Like chain grocery store salsa mild.
We as a society put a lot of pressure on our artists.
Wait, no, scratch that. Not artists. Film and TV can be raised to the level of art, but it’s really a craft more than anything. You get better by doing it. It’s like making a chair. You make better chairs by continually making chairs. Directing Lincoln is not dissimilar to crafting an armchair. A rambling armchair with distracting cinematography, but an armchair none-the-less. Let’s try this again…
We as a society put a lot of pressure on our chairmakers. But we only put pressure on them as far as their ability to make chairs goes. As long as they can make a tidy rocking chair, we don’t care if they drink too much or have a habit of flashing their varnished junk in public. Their product is what we care about.
So why in tarnation is it any different for celebrities?
A few weeks back, Quentin Tarantino won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Django Unchained, mostly because he wrote the best original screenplay of 2012. His stories are universal and unique. His words flow off the page and hit my ears with a pleasure I can only compare to what I imagine sex must be like. His scripts are greater than his chin and totally excuse his inability to act. I daresay the script for Django outweighs explosive, vaguely/possibly Australian Tarantino.
And yet, the joy for such a script being honored was denied by many just because they don’t like Quentin Tarantino’s public persona. Here’s the thing: No one does. I totally get it. There is not a soul on this Earth or any parallel Earth in the Tarantino verse that likes that he runs around like a pretentious film student with its head cut off. We tolerate him because, and listen closely because this is my thesis statement, AN ARTIST’S WORK SHOULD SPEAK FOR ITSELF!
Did you get that? If it helps, picture me yelling it. Can’t picture me? Envision a young Mark Hammil. Hope that helps.
We expect our celebrities and our creatives to be so much better than the rest of us. We hold them to a higher standard just because they talk to us between tampon advertisements. You’re not allowed to be a jerk just because I can buy something with your face on it at Target. Looking at you, 90s era N*Sync. We deny difficult celebrities their prizes and accolades just because off-camera they’re cranky, even if their onscreen stuff is stellar.
The general public opinion of Colin Farrell prevented a lot of people from seeing In Bruges, even after everyone said it was excellent. Seven Psychopaths was the same way. Farrell is one of the most interesting and dynamic pretty boy actors out there, in the same vain as Brad Pitt or Ryan Gosling or me after I finally get that work done. And yet the public doesn’t seem to think that he’s such a good dude, so they didn’t get out their wallets for either one of those gems.
Perhaps the biggest downer in this regard is Mel Gibson. His less-than-private tirades have kind of trashed his image with the public. But does that make Lethal Weapon any less awesome? Or Braveheart any less underwhelming? Or Passion of the Christ any more of a terrible, awful excuse for a film? (I say that both as a Christian and someone who doesn’t like watching the guy from Frequency get whipped).
I struggle with this myself in regards to Kevin Smith. I love both Clerks films and think Dogma to be an underrated masterpiece, and yet I sometimes lose sight of that after Smith goes on and on about how critics don’t like him and how he’s going to go tell his mom or something. He has a whole show about how critics are dumb. It’s hard for me to separate the innovative and interesting fart artist behind Kevin Smith of the 90s from the wake-and-baking shiller of whatever the hell the Jay and Silent Bob Animated Movie is going to be, what with your favorite Dudes-who-stand-outside-of-places-in-New-Jersey squaring off against a sentient penis and a super powered lesbian. It’s fine for me to criticize his work, or question the logic of an animated film or a Clerks III, but as long as his pot habits don’t impede his work they shouldn’t matter to me at all. They do, as anyone who saw Red State can probably attest, so I’m allowed to comment on them and write him strongly worded letters.
This isn’t a new idea. Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game, comes under fire a lot in this regard. He’s on record for being a real butthole, but also for being the author of Ender’s Game– which is what we should really be concerned with. If underlying themes of his personal nonsense and homophobia are discovered in his work, then you are within your rights to put it down and go live your life. Until then, just enjoy the Harrison Ford-filled adaptation when it comes out, you dweeb.
Personal lives are not professional lives. Chick-Fil-A learned this the hard way (Remember that, Internet?). Imagine if Robert Downey, Jr.’s public life had stopped us from giving that immensely talented actor a second chance. We let Tommy Lee Jones’ notoriously taciturn public identity sour our view of him, even though I’m sure that if I followed you around constantly with a video camera I’d have plenty of shots of you flipping off cameras and there’d be numerous reports that you’re hooking up with Angelina Jolie now. Break-ups are something that happen to all of us, but because it happened to Jennifer Aniston suddenly Brad Pitt’s a jerk and his performance in Fight Club is curiously lessened and whatever lame comedy Aniston’s in is miraculously now worth our money because we like her.
Everything I’ve said here should be equally applied to good feelings as well. I could find a thousand testimonials about how Shia LaBeouf saves the cat and treats women properly, but I still won’t see his movies because it doesn’t change that he can’t act his way out of a paper bag (A curious way to get out of a paper bag, that). It’s fine to think that people are cool, but if you’re truly going to properly evaluate media, you need to turn off external filters and look at what is shown to you.
I love Community, but not because Dan Harmon was a genius or whatever the current hashtag is, but because of its innovative style and wonderful tone and compelling character arcs that Harmon happened to orchestrate. It was sad to see Harmon go and take his thorough knowledge of Robocop with him, for sure. But it’s not going to stop me from liking the show or loving the show, even if his name is now only tangibly attached to it.
Even though Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner can be a pit of a pill, that doesn’t make the escapades of Don Draper and his merry band of marriage defilers any more compelling. There are legends of the behind-the-scenes antics on Roseanne, but who cares because Roseanne is awesome? Exactly.
To bring this article full circle, Tarantino- the hated one himself- is on record for hating John Ford, even though Stagecoach rocks, and SHUT UP TARANTINO I WILL ROAST YOU ATOP A MOUNTAIN OF KILL BILL DVDS!
See? I’m doing it myself. It’s hard to separate the producer from the product. I do it to Tim Burton, the smarmy git. Of course, it helps that I also don’t think his movies are very good, but that’s really besides the point.
Should we find out Picasso was sexist, that wouldn’t affect the greatness of his work. If Ben of Big Ben fame were racist, is it still not a cool clock? If we found out America was founded by a bunch of awful people who killed everyone and took land that wasn’t theirs, does that make America bad? No? Then don’t let cameras stalking Lindsey Lohan prevent you from thinking Mean Girls is the best movie ever.
And lay off Colin Farrell, everyone. He’s fragile.
Kevin is currently celebrating not mentioning Die Hard in a column for once and is a pretty awesome dude with a sweet taste in self-titled folk albums, skateboards, and his own Twitter feed. Be sure to follow Chekhov’s Gunman for every update, including our regular running reviews of Community. We’re starting a new feature soon called “Mexican Standoffs.” Curious? Then stick around, George. That was for all of you George’s out there.