Saturday, August 10, 2019

on artist-idols and collective guilt--collective guilt for journalists, scholars, consumers, and how writers talk about collective guilt in cases like R. Kelly and Sherman Alexie

Living as we do in a popular culture that is overshadowed by Joseph Campbell's monomyth it may be apt that in academic and journalistic writing we see a countervailing impulse to explore group solidarity and, more particularly, collective guilt.  Earlier eras in which judges and lawyers and scholars and theorists expressed those ideas which earned the collective guilt can be discussed by contemporary writers as to how, why, and the extent to which they earned that guilt.

Yet what can happen, from time to time, is that contemporary imputations of guilt can seem as thoroughgoing as ones from the days of old.  There could be an R. L. Dabney inveighing against public education because it would educate colored people to become worse criminals than they already were, for instance.  Yet ... at times it can seem as though there is a journalistic or editorial impulse more generally to impute complete guilt from the page in a way that can ignore the sloppier exigencies of flesh and blood people.

In cases like R. Kelly and the relatively recently disgraced Sherman Alexie, writers can present cases to the public in which the entire body politic is stated to be responsible for the injustice of a star receiving a different form of judicial treatment than the non-stars; or present a case in which we as consumers are culpable for the star status of a star who has been alleged to have used star power toward sexual misconduct.

Participation in collective guilt has always been part of the human experience but Western writers can express ambivalence about it.  After all, it's one thing to say in the abstract we all partake of corporate and collective guilt in a doctrine like original sin, and it's another thing to get more particular:

https://lithub.com/the-case-against-r-kelly-is-a-case-against-us/
...
Soulless helps readers understand Kelly as an exalted figure, something even more complicated and in this case sinister than a serial sexual predator. DeRogatis illuminates the unwavering love of Kelly’s fans despite every despicable detail of decades of predation. Ultimately, Soulless and DeRogatis’s two decades of investigating and reporting on R. Kelly indict all for whom black girls don’t matter.
*
In a book full of stories that spark discomfort, rage, incredulity, confusion, and disappointment, the discussion of this tape, the subsequent indictment and trial, and Kelly’s behavior from the indictment to his acquittal, Part II of Soulless proves to be a case against us. It is unflinching in its indictment of a culture and legal system unable to render any semblance of justice for black girls. You can feel the frustration and sadness with the outcome, an outcome that arrived six years after DeRogatis first saw what he identifies as “the rape tape” and eight years after receiving that career-changing fax.
...
The "all" is not exactly inclusive but the indictment, so formulated, is pretty sweeping.

Now for those who might doubt that the judicial system comes up with different results for people across more than just color lines, Vox has a useful introduction to the scholar who developed the term "intersectionality".  As Crenshaw put it, even conservatives don't dispute her definition of intersectionality as a concept to describe discrepancies in judicial precedent.  What conservatives, I would venture, are skeptical about is the way in which the concept of intersectionality as a scholarly concept that can be used to address problems in judicial precedent has transformed, in the hands of liberal arts students, into a tool that disguises their privilege.  Conservatives have, by and large, not been articulate enough to put the point this bluntly on the one hand or with much sense of tact on the other but that seems to be the gist of conservative concern about the way intersectionality is used as a term within arts communities.  Judicial perpetration of injustice through denial of rights is something so rampant in Native American history there's a book on the topic in which the author restricts himself merely to the ten worst cases in terms of judicial precedent rather than attempt to wade through all of the smaller cases.  In the Courts of the Conquerer: The 10 Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided by Walter Echo Hawk, if you're interested.

But there is another element that can be latent within the use of the term intersectionality, and its concepts, outside of legal scholarship.  John McWhorter got at it when he discussed the idea of whiteness being a kind of original sin.


https://www.the-american-interest.com/2018/05/24/atonement-as-activism/

... [Ta-Nehisi] Coates is a symptom of a larger mood. Over the past several years, for instance, whites across the country have been taught that it isn’t enough to understand that racism exists. Rather, the good white person views themselves as the bearer of an unearned “privilege” because of their color. Not long ago, I attended an event where a black man spoke of him and his black colleagues dressing in suits at work even on Casual Fridays, out of a sense that whites would look down on black men dressed down. The mostly white audience laughed and applauded warmly—at a story accusing people precisely like them of being racists.


This brand of self-flagellation has become the new form of enlightenment on race issues. It qualifies as a kind of worship; the parallels with Christianity are almost uncannily rich. White privilege is the secular white person’s Original Sin, present at birth and ultimately ineradicable. One does one’s penance by endlessly attesting to this privilege in hope of some kind of forgiveness. After the black man I mentioned above spoke, the next speaker was a middle-aged white man who spoke of having a coach come to his office each week to talk to him about his white privilege. The audience, of course, applauded warmly at this man’s description of having what an anthropologist observer would recognize not as a “coach” but as a pastor.
...

Decades ago when the O. J. Simpson verdict was given out a friend of mine studying political science told me that in the future legal scholars would be discussing how that ruling was arrived at with some questions as to how and why celebrities could buy a different form of justice for themselves than is available to ordinary people.  It seems more and more to me that as consumers we who consume live vicariously through the idols we choose.  Some choose to live vicariously through watching films by Godard or Woody Allen or George Lucas or James Cameron.  People live through hearing music, which allows them to go to places via imagination that they could not afford to visit in reality or which, let's be plain, only exist in the mind.  There's much to commend in the arts but when we form part of our selves through the art we consume we are tempted to exonerate those artists who have given us our vicarious element of life, we defend them, perhaps, because we want to defend that part of ourselves, and the temptation can be that in so doing we forget that that person can turn out to be guilty of using people and harming them. 

The process of making this discovery is long and unpleasant and maybe to the extent that our consumption habits or our thinking habits are not diverse enough to mediate our preferred convictions through more than one or two key figures, the revelation that our heroes have been bad people comes as a shock.  For those who were once at a church called Mars Hill Church, the discovery of corruption and incompetence in the leadership was a shock and one of the reactions people had available was to impute to the entire community the guilt of the empire.  There is something to that ... but there can also be a kind of displacement at work, a process through which the "I" imputes all the guilt to "them" upon the discovery of an injustice rather than confront the full significance of the guilt that the "I" bears.  

So when I read an article like the one above from a former fan of R. Kelly who is participating in arts journalism and criticism I wonder, without meaning to say we shouldn't consider these kinds of pieces as having things that do need to be said, whether or not we have a case here in which journalists and academics who write about music are using a royal "we" and a royal "us" that implicates everyone when the guilt may be more focused an the responsibility more centrally located in the taste-makers and journalists and academics and industry figures who helped R. Kelly become a star and stay one.  Fans can impute a guilt to a literary "everyone" that may be more honestly confronted as residing in the self, at least at first.  I affirm there is such a thing as corporate and collective guilt but having seen the peak and collapse of a former megachurch I have come away from that with a sense that there's a danger in jumping too quickly from processing your own guilt to confronting the guilt you find in others. Scapegoating is in many ways the traditional refuge of those who would sooner displace their own part in collective guilt to a suitable, well, scapegoat rather than confront their own complicity more directly. 

There is a lot of injustice in society, to be sure, but it may be good to explore personal guilt in idolizing someone who turns out to have an abusive side; to explore the implications of fandom in relationship to a star in a way that doesn't attempt to process that guilt in a way that jumps too quickly to imputing guilt to an "us" that may be a literary construct. To take up McWhorter's observations on the Original Sin inherent in a whiteness presented in some contemporary discussion, this kind of abstracted guilt can relieve as much as burden.  Self-identifying white progressives can feel a generic guilt on behalf of the white race that could exempt them from participation in cultural systems that have reflected injustices (as if that itself were not a kind of construct that obliterates historic tensions between Russians and Ukrainians or Russians and  Poles or English and Irish or English and Welsh or French and Prussian or ... I trust you get the idea).  

To reformulate this idea a bit more bluntly, white progressives and conservatives alike can often imagine a kind of group guilt from which they conveniently exempt themselves as they use an oppressed group as a kind of talisman wielded in the interest of contemporary policy debates.  

Sherman Alexie used to joke about the ways in which white progressives leaned on the injustices against a Native American who was ultimately the fabrication of white progressive imagination, this was the magical Indian who lived in peace and harmony with the land and didn't own slaves and didn't kill his Indian neighbors in disputes over fishing or hunting and who never would have sold out longtime enemies to white settlers and certainly never would have felt it was okay to own black people as slaves as some of the Native American tribes actually did.  Alexie may have had too much fun making fun of the white liberals whom he described as defending the Indian of their imaginations rather than the actual Native Americans in their communities.  But then ... in the last few years there have been allegations that Sherman Alexie himself acted the way so many literary and musical rock stars have.

These allegations were disappointing, particularly if they all turned out to be true, because while Alexie was out promoting his work he had made a point of saying he was not like those guys of "warrior cultures", whether tribal men or fundamentalist Christians, whom he regarded as not being taught how to respect women:


When you grow up in a warrior culture, an extremely masculine culture, tears can be seen as a sign of weakness. ... Any surrender, any conceding of anything can also be seen as a sign of weakness. I've always been a rather androgynous, emotional person, so my emotional state, my androgyny — I was more androgynous as a youth than now — but I think all of that combined to make me a target.

It wasn't just the influence of tribal cultures, it was the assimilation into fundamentalist Christianity, which is even more warrior culture, even more honor culture, and even more suspicious of difference. So I was getting bombarded not only by the more fundamentalist aspects of my tribe, but the more fundamentalist aspects of our assimilation into Christianity. So that was going on all around us, and, in fact, in second grade we had this ex-nun teacher who put us into stress positions as torture.

On learning that his mother was conceived by rape

She told me that in my teen years as I was going to school off the reservation, as I was preparing for a life off the reservation, as I was preparing to become this person I am now. Looking back, I think it was my mother's highly dysfunctional way to tell me, to warn me, about what a man can be ... hoping that I would become a good man, a man who treated women with respect. A man who honored women and their power, and a man who would not become a criminal. I think it was her highly dysfunctional version of the sex talk

Having publicly said things like the above, which implicitly invited us to surmise that he was not like those "warrior culture" guys, it may have turned out he was not necessarily as better than them as he was leading us (and possibly first of all himself) to believe.

I'm noticing Sherman Alexie has been really, really quiet since allegations of his misconduct emerged in 2018.  Monique Laban wrote about her mixed feelings about Alexie's legacy in a piece published back in March 2018 but it comes to mind after having read the piece about how the case against R. Kelly is a case against us. 

https://electricliterature.com/why-sherman-alexies-sexual-misconduct-feels-like-a-betrayal-fe3055e035e7


I would have believed just one allegation about Sherman Alexie’s sexual misconduct, but the School Library Journal comment section that started it all had six of them (some of which he has non-specifically admitted in his strange apology). NPR reported that ten women approached the news outlet as victims of his harassment, three of whom risked their careers to go on record about these allegations.

My outrage at Alexie’s actions hits me harder than the news of other celebrities who had been accused of similar behavior. It wasn’t just that his writing was beautiful to me. The #MeToo and Time’s Up Movements have proven that magnificent things can be created by terrible men; I’ve already reckoned, many times, with finding out that someone whose work I admire is an abuser in his spare time. But Alexie’s misconduct felt like a personal betrayal because his work has been so personally significant. His work was formative in my ability to recognize and object to racial injustice.
...


The essence of my struggle, and surely many others’, is in navigating the complexity of Alexie’s immense power and how we enabled him to exercise that power. We stand to lose much more in a conversation that focuses only on Alexie’s disavowal from the literary community and not how we, that literary community, allowed him to consolidate power in a way that hurt Native women writers.
We’ve let this apology cycle play out before, and we’ll see it happen again unless we learn how to stop concentrating power among just a handful of writers from marginalized backgrounds. Had it not been for our willing, enthusiastic praise of Alexie’s efforts in fighting racist norms, this labor could have been distributed among many other systemically silenced voices, and we would all have been better for it. The pain of these allegations, while repugnant and unforgivable no matter how powerful and talented Alexie is, wouldn’t have been so acute had we given more room to other Native writers.
This is part of the ugliness of living under a white patriarchal system as a person of color: when we’ve been taught to listen to white authority all our lives, it’s often difficult to hear other people of color from communities that aren’t yours. Alexie understood this dynamic well, but he betrayed our trust and hurt a community whose voices we need. However sincere he was about creating a more diverse literary landscape through these conversations between different communities of color, this work can and must continue without him.
What makes Alexie's alleged conduct seem as terrible as it seems is that he explicitly set himself up as morally better than both the Catholic culture he grew up with and the "warrior culture" of the Native American tribal context he grew up in and, after all that preening and posturing in 2017 in interviews, it turned out he'd spent the last decade being a literary bro like the white bros who write the standard issue great American novels where the liberal white guy bangs the young hot student and resents the small-mindedness of his parents' generation.

Laban shared how she recognized herself in the character Alexie wrote in his novel.  That may get at a seed in this sort of veneration of artistic and literary or political or religious heroes.  We identify ourselves in the hero, recognize some element of ourselves in the hero, and invest and define ourselves in relationship to that sense of recognition.  That's probably not just a symptom of the ugliness of living under a white patriarchal system, it's how humans work and who humans are.

 That the corruptions and abuses possible within the star-making machinery of the current moment in the United States come from institutions that were set up and managed by old white guys can be granted without going so far as to believe that if the machinery was managed by people of color, women, gays and others that the possibilities for abuse and exploitation within the star making and star selling machinery would go away.  R. Kelly and Bill Cosby might seem like examples that warn us that it may be hasty to say what they were able to get away with was due to a white patriarchal system; it may have been due to the accumulation of wealth, status, prestige, and a kind of cultural capital in which their roles as heroes meant that those who vicariously lived through their work were loathe to question whether or not that star power gave those men opportunity to indulge the desire to use people.

Let me put it this way.  Years ago a friend of mine was saying that people at Mars Hill were defending Mark Driscoll.  I proposed an idea he immediately and strenuously disagreed with, I suggested that what we were seeing was not so much a defense of Mark Driscoll, that's what it certainly looked like on the surface in terms of behavior, but what defenders of Mark Driscoll were actually defending was their own investment of their selves into his brand.  If a person were to make a case that people could hold to the ideals they were trying to live out but do so in a way that disengaged from Driscoll in particular, people could begin to see that maybe he no longer (if ever) stood for the ideals he talked about from a stage. But my friend said, basically, "No, they are absolutely defending Driscoll."  Yes, but the point I was trying to make is that hero worship needs the personal investment of worshippers.  That can happen in all kinds of ways.  It seems a necessary part of an R. Kelly or a Sandunsky or insert-hero-here.  Many of the debates that have emerged about particular people and associated discussions seem set on debating whether X deserves to be the star that X is rather than looking at whether or not the kinds of abuses that stars are being reported as perpetrating are possible because of the star system, or that the process of transforming X into a star is what helped make X into a monster.

I have my doubts that white patriarchy is necessarily or automatically what causes this dynamic.  To have read even two or three books by Alexie and read interviews with him is to learn how pervasive slavery and caste systems were in Native American populations and how un-Edenic Native American tribal interactions were prior to conflict with white settlers and the United States government.  One of Alexie’s contributions to Native literature was to work steadily to demythologize Native American mythologies that were, as he so regularly noted, formulated by a condescending white liberal establishment--Alexie used to joke that white progressives helped massacre American Indians and then, from guilt, fabricated the kind of perfect American Indian who could be deployed as a way to promote progressive policies.  And now it seems Alexie himself has managed to behave like other literary bros and this despite having said he was brought up to behave by a different standard.  

To suggest the abuses possible within the star system and machinery of American arts and letters reflects a white patriarchal system raises questions as to how people like R. Kelly or Bill Cosby fit into that white patriarchy.  There's a point at which cross referencing to old leftist and Marxist criticism of the culture industry makes more sense.  It might be the system includes skin color but the abuses reported as being done by entertainers suggest to me that skin color is a variable but that the sexual exploits or exploitation taken up by rock stars is most likely a function of the star system, whether or not it's run by old white guys.  

Rather than locate the seed of the abuse of celebrity in the nature of American celebrity regardless of skin color there’s a temptation on the part of writers of color to assign the guilt to a white patriarchal system … despite the fact that we can look at the lives of artists of every skin color, which has come to include, apparently, Sherman Alexie, and come to another conclusion--in a world where an R Kelly or an O. J. Simpson can be alleged to have done many things and still have stable public roles that there might be a patriarchy but it’s not necessarily strictly a white patriarchy.  Alexie managed to convey that patriarchy was also an element in Native American traditional cultures, the “warrior culture”. 

And here we are in 2019 and has Alexie attempted to stage the kind of comebacks a white male like Louis CK seems to have?  It doesn’t seem like it … Alexie may (I hope!) be attempting in good faith to chart out a different path.  Laban reached a conclusion that her idolizing Alexie was part of the trouble in his stardom.  
In the midst of this scandal, I’ve found myself returning to the time when I first read Part-Time Indian and felt recognized. My nostalgia is burdened with the fact of Alexie’s harassment, but more than that, I wonder why it took until adulthood for me, a person of color, to feel connected to a young character of color. The lessons in Part-Time Indian were ones I didn’t have access to until I had already been inundated with experiences that taught me I wasn’t important enough to read about. In perpetuating Alexie’s legacy, even in infamy, by failing to question the way he rose to power, I let his victims and the communities he hurt feel the same way I did before reading his book: ignored and insignificant.

Rather than waiting for apologies from my heroes, I need to reexamine whose voices I myself have felt were worth reading and who I’ve left out. I don’t plan on reading Alexie’s work anymore, nor recommending it to friends. Part of my reasoning is because of these allegations, and part is simply because I should’ve been reading more widely all along. Instead of viewing this as a loss to myself, I see this as an opportunity to look down the path that Alexie should have provided to other Native writers who create outside the comfort zone of the white establishment — writers whose stories are far riskier, far bolder, far more reflective of that community’s myriad narratives.
If we hadn't made Alexie a star, those of us who bought his books, could he have been tempted?  That's a pretty big hypothetical ... but one to consider.  If there's such a thing as group culpability for a star being able to wield stardom to use people that's something consumers of work and admirers of stars do have to wrestle with.  The era of social media and commentary on artistic heroes who create works through whom we can live vicariously can force us to consider the ways in which the star couldn't be a star without us, even if we grant that there's a star-making culture that sells us stars. I think that's a more compelling observation to make than the suggestion that, perhaps, Alexie's stardom was indicative of a white patriarchal system. 

It's not that there aren't a bunch of white guys who run things, obviously, it's that Laban's account of her idolization of Sherman Alexie reveals that the kind of star-power that can be granted by fans can emerge in any context and that stars, all too predictably, show us what they are willing and able to do with their star power.  When you at least partly live your life vicariously through the art you consume then you don't really immediately (or ever) want to consider the possibility that the artist you admire may be a partly or thoroughly bad person.  

A week or so ago I was writing about how the early Reformers were set against the ars perfecta style of the Latin polyphonic mass.  In his Oxford History of Western Music Richard Taruskin pointed out that this opposition was due to opposing the system of indulgences, of which the polyphonic mass could be seen as an overt symbol.  It can be easy in contemporary writing to imagine that clergy are against art and if we don't dig a big more deeply into the economic and political and cultural contexts of polemics against specific arts as reflections of arts patronage systems then we can mistakenly take it as given that person X was against art Y because person X was just against art.  That so many clergy are so lazy about how and what they discuss about the arts makes it easy to succumb to this kind of temptation.  We might need to be careful enough to recognize that in century after century something that might be presented as "against art" might, on closer historical inspection, turn out to be objections to something else.  

Until the wrongs become so egregious they can't be ignored one of the things that can happen in arts coverage and discussion can be that people err on the side of not believing the worst about the artist-hero.  That might be all the more reason to remember the wrongs perpetrated by arts patronage systems past ... but without any sense that we're better.  The old patrons of the arts centuries ago backed kings and barons and slave trade and the like ... but we can't ignore that contemporary arts patronage can come from people who profit off the sale of nerve gas, can we?



In the popular imagination, calling someone a “modern Medici” is a synonym for “visionary patron of the arts.” That association itself shows how much good PR art patronage buys you. You don’t think “the Pope’s banker.” You don’t think “hated oligarch.”

By the late 15th century, the Medici banking empire had amassed so much power that they and their cronies essentially ruled formerly republican Florence. Amid broader political chaos on the Italian peninsula, when Lorenzo the Magnificent was succeeded by his talentless and unlikable son Piero, the Medici capture of power became so unbearable that a movement arose to cleanse Florence, led by crusading populist friar Girolamo Savonarola.
By that time, Medici rule had fixed the association of artistic ostentation with injustice in the public mind. So when the family was exiled and Savonarola declared a more broadly enfranchised government in 1494, art was caught in the fallout. Savonarola would preach the need for a “Great Renovation,” a return to the austere truths of the Gospels. Art, books, and cosmetics alike were torched in his “Bonfire of the Vanities,” on Shrove Tuesday, 1497.
The inequities of Medici rule had made Savonarola’s message of the need to purge the city of corruption so convincing that even numerous artists – including Botticelli, who had made his name via Medici patronage with paintings that gave sensual life to pagan antiquity – signed up for his moral crusade. Legend has it that a number of Botticelli’s paintings were sent to the flames.
This story about the ur-patrons of the European tradition is worth remembering as scandals about art patronage pile up today. It is easy to say, “oh, art has always been supported by dubious wealth.” But it has to be remembered that when injustice accumulates and society starts to come apart, history tells us that the system will break, and art will not be spared.
...
Perhaps populist dissent is not exactly what's going on in more contemporary concerns about museums being bankrolled by big oil and weapons firms.  One of my concerns about arts writing and arts coverage since Trump was elected is that there have been variations on an assertion that populism is bad, populists want authoritarian governance, and that populist impulses reject intellectual activity.  What's the ideological incentive for such a conflation, though?  I will just say I don't accept the claims that all populist concern can be explained simply in terms of people who don't care about intellectual issues or are somehow not supportive of the arts.  It's possible that, as the author I'm quoting will put it, the cumulative effects of neoliberal policies created an impasse to which some populist rejection of arts cultures might be an explicable rejection. 
...
Just to give a sense of how little potential negative symbolism matters compared to the structural realities of art patronage: Kathy Fuld remains a fixture of the MoMA board to this day. She is most famous for going on $10,000 shopping sprees while her husband, Dick Fuld, crashed the world economy as CEO of Lehman Brothers. In 2009, she “purchased” a $13 million house from her husband for $100 in what was widely seen as a brazen asset-hiding deal – even as Lehman’s chaotic bankruptcy and the shady mortgage market that it had enabled caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose their own homes in the foreclosure crisis, touching off a world-historic economic disaster whose effects have shredded the social fabric.
Even the new, beloved National Museum of African American History and Culture, a government-run branch of the Smithsonian Institution, opened boasting copious private support. In addition to funding from firms like Boeing and Walmart, this included $10 million from David M. Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group – a company that was in the news for a blip last year when comedian Hasan Minhaj connected the dots to show how it profits from components for the Typhoon fighter jets used by Saudi Arabia in its butchery in Yemen.
How did we arrive at this parlous point? Concerns over ethical funding aren’t new in the US: Hans Haacke’s On Social Grease is from 1975! That work, a classic of institutional critique, presented itself as a series of ceremonial plaques, inscribed with quotes from businessmen and corporate types on the good PR value of arts patronage.
Since that date, bipartisan neoliberalism in the United States has led to tremendous increases in social polarization, precarity, and just general anger at the unfairness of the country’s economic and political life. Supporting art has been seen as an unqualified good, more or less. But particularly in the period since the 2008 financial crisis, its ability to play that role has dimmed as the ugliness of the system is ever more plainly exposed.

There is probably no innocent and fully benevolent empire of arts patronage.  We shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking there can be one but we should work to reduce the level of harm and exploitation in the systems we have.  Part of doing that will involve resisting a temptation to be self-exonerating in scapegoating.  For those of us who in some way helped make someone into a star, confronting that we have in some small way done such a thing may have to be corrected less by talking about the sins (however often real) of star-making cultures for all sorts of other people than by doing a lot of difficult work to deconstruct the grounds for the celebrity of "our" or "my" favored figure.

You or I, as ordinary citizens may not have to confront guilt over the ways in which we've made someone into a star in quite the same way that a scholar, a journalist, a marketer or someone else more directly involved in an industry that creates and sells culture does.  I have been wondering whether one of the temptations those people can face is to diffuse their sense of responsibility and guilt to a royal "we" that has never been in a position to assign books for reading; declared this or that artistic figure "vital"; or been part of the promotion and veneration of an artistic figure beyond the small act of parting with our money to buy that figure's work.  Part of #MeToo may involve some confession on the part of the star-making cultures as to what it was they were participating in, even if they may not have realized it at the time. 

But ... maybe what I've been trying to say at such length is that the priesthood of the art-gods might need to feel more of the guilt over what they may have "let" their gods do first than  to quickly transfer or diffuse that responsibility on to the rest of us, even those of us who never were fans of their gods.  If there was something I learned writing here at Wenatchee The Hatchet about the former Mars Hill Church and its problems, it's that it's much easier to write criticisms and shed light on things said and done by people you don't think of as "my team" than it is to discover that your team has let some bad things be done, let along bring those things to light.  When we live through others, even through the art of others, it somehow makes sense that when they turn out to be guilty of evil we can feel guilty through our regard for their work.  After all, if we've lived vicariously through an artist and the artist turns out to have been a monster, who's to say we don't have some share, however small it might be, of guilt? I need to be able to grasp a sense of guilt at having supported what turned out to be a corrupt empire than to jump straight to telling people who supported it they are bad people for having done so. 

As a person who loves to write and loves music I don't think it's a good idea for me to shift to others guilt I feel over who I admired and respected in the past.  The era of internet activity and social media use has some unique temptations to group scapegoating that we need to resist more steadily now that the temptation is so much stronger.  If you enjoyed or enjoy R. Kelly's music I don't relate, because I hate his music, but there's a difference between admiring the work of someone who has turned out to be a monster and abetting their monstrosity in direct ways.  The Sherman Alexie case may be the most grimly instructive, since Alexie made a point of speaking about how he was raised to treat women more respectfully than, by implication, the men of the "warrior cultures" of fundamentalist Christianity and the tribal culture he grew up in ... and yet it turned out he was accused of having behaved much like other literary bros.  Maybe that's a sign that he took on the vices of a white patriarchal literary bro culture of some kind ... but it might also be a warning for us to consider that there can be a kind of scapegoating in which artistic stars talk about the guilt others have as a group that is a stand-in for a guilt that the speaker may turn out, on further investigation, to have themselves.  There seems to be a kind of scapegoating in which acknowledging the real harm done by others lets us feel we're off the hook because, whatever we've managed to do, maybe it's not as bad as "them".  It was easy enough for Alexie to talk on the record about how different he was from those other guys until people spoke up to share that he wasn't. 


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