Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey: Rebuked. Now What Do We Do With Their Work?


On Tuesday, for instance, Dylan Byers, a senior reporter for media and politics at CNN, waded into a roiling sea of outrage in the usual way people do these days, on Twitter. “Beyond the pain/humiliation women have endured (which is of course the paramount issue), it’s worth taking stock of the incredible drain of talent from media/entertainment taking place right now. Never has so much talent left the industry all at once,” he tweeted.

The reaction was immediate and angry. “What Dylan Byers meant to say” is that he was disappointed “that sexual predators are finally getting punished for their actions because he really enjoys binge-watching ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Charlie Rose’ reruns,” one woman wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Byers hastily retreated. “I’ve deleted my previous tweet. It was poorly worded and didn’t properly convey my intended observation,” he tweeted.

Wrestling with what to do with the product of tainted executives, artists or news figures is not that far from the eternal issue of how (or even whether) to separate our views of art from our views of the artists. Wagner was blatantly anti-Semitic. Alfred Hitchcock abused actresses who worked for him, so openly that you can see his dysfunctional psychosexual power dynamics right onscreen. Roman Polanski was convicted of having sex with a 13-year-old, but does that mean “Rosemary’s Baby” should have been pulled from circulation?

Those were generally seen as rare cases that (perhaps) could be overlooked because of the men’s particular genius, or because times were different then. What has changed now is the unveiling of evidence that sexually predatory behavior is pervasive and that it has flourished in hierarchical, male-dominated industries that have at best ignored, and at worst enabled, such behavior by powerful and once-untouchable men.

In the current period of reckoning, some are arguing that a wholesale expunging or erasure of work by sexual harassers is a small price to pay if it results in a thorough rethinking in creative industries, where the use of sex and power are particularly ill-defined and open to abuse.

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Nate Parker, left, and Colman Domingo in “The Birth of a Nation,” which collapsed at the box office.

Credit
Jahi Chikwendiu/20th Century Fox

“We all have an instinct to instantly try to figure out how to redeem all these people and still be able to enjoy all this work, and it’s a very selfish instinct,” the producer and director Judd Apatow said. In his view, what happens to their work is “the least important question” on the table.

“All our energy should be with the victims,” he said. “What happened to them? How did people handle this? What could we do going forward to support them in a productive way?”

The moves to yank television shows, to cancel future projects or — in the case of “House of Cards” and “Transparent” — to consider envisioning popular series without actors who are central to the works’ success, are hardly just a matter of simple morality. In the case of those two programs, there’s also the question of whether audiences would even want to watch them without Mr. Spacey and Jeffrey Tambor, their stars.

And it’s difficult to discern to what extent these decisions are being based on matters of principle or economics or publicity or audience interests. Many companies contacted for this article, including Sony and Netflix, refused to comment. And though Netflix continues to show old episodes of “House of Cards” as well as stand-up specials by Louis C.K., another network, HBO, not only eliminated Louis C.K. from its “Night of Too Many Stars” comedy benefit on Nov. 18 but also removed his past work from its website.

In a statement, the network explained that his comedic material too closely resembled his non-comedic actions. “In looking at previous HBO shows, we also made the decision to no longer make them available as material in them skirted uncomfortably close to his own admittedly repugnant behavior,” the statement said.

Some people, like the feminist scholar Camille Paglia, argue that art — no matter who created it — should be beyond the scope of punishment.

“The artist as a person should certainly be subject to rebuke, censure, or penalty for unacceptable actions in the social realm,” Ms. Paglia said via email. “But art, even when it addresses political issues, occupies an abstract realm beyond society.”

But there’s a vast middle ground, and many people pondering the issue now fall within it. Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University and the author of “Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus,” cautioned against trying to apply a one-size-fits-all punishment to offenses that are so varied.

“In situations where you get these serial cases with Weinstein or Wieseltier, we’re on safe ground to say, yes, we feel comfortable making the guilty charge and acting accordingly,” said Ms. Kipnis, speaking of the producer Harvey Weinstein and the literary critic Leon Wieseltier, who both face multiple accusations from young women they worked with. She compared their cases to the smaller number of allegations against Mr. Tambor, the “Transparent” star who has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

“In cases where standards have changed because we’re sensitive to things at the moment where we weren’t 20 years ago, or you just have one or two accusations, you want to act carefully,” Ms. Kipnis said.

“Where I would draw the line might be someplace different from where someone else draws the line,” she added. “If someone’s an adulterer, do we pull their work? Are you going to take all of Hitchcock’s films out of circulation, and those of every other person who’s been accused of being a sleaze?”

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Jeffrey Tambor, left, and Alexandra Billings in “Transparent.” Mr. Tambor has vehemently denied accusations of sexual misconduct; one academic said that in the case of his show and others, “You want to act carefully.”

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Amazon

It’s been less than two months since the cascade of harassment scandals began, and when (and if) some of the men caught up in them will ever work again is anybody’s guess.

“Will we see these people again in five or 10 years? I don’t know,” said Ben Travers, the television critic at IndieWire. As proof of the culture’s ability to resurrect even people who at one point seemed beyond redemption, he cited Mel Gibson, who became toxic in Hollywood after anti-Semitic and misogynist behavior but who eventually rebounded as a director and actor. He’s currently appearing in theaters now in “Daddy’s Home 2,” a hit family film.

But, Mr. Travers added, that might not even be the most pertinent question. “A lot of people are hoping this is more of a turning point, that the work that’s being lost won’t be missed because the work that’s being gained will be better,” he said. “The people who were silenced and thrown out and kept from working by these predators will be able to go forward and thrive.”

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