Saturday, March 02, 2019

links for the weekend, a GFA settlement, Ruth Graham on a shock jock rattling HBC, considering a Sherman Alexie trope, and the possible end of the Art Institute of Seattle

first, Warren Throckmorton has noted that Gospel for Asia has reached a settlement in connection to the RICO suit.

In court documents filed today, Gospel for Asia settled with plaintiffs Garland and Phyllis Murphy by agreeing to set aside $37-million in a Settlement Fund to provide relief for donors as well as cover court costs and attorneys’ fees. GFA also agreed to have Dr. Murphy join the board of the organization. Murphy and GFA will also work together to designate a replacement for K.P. Yohannan’s wife who will go off of the GFA board. GFA also agreed not to appoint any other relative of Yohannan to the board.
GFA also agreed to create a board subcommittee which shall not include Yohannan in order to provide oversight for the organization’s compliance with the settlement. The mission organization also agreed to comply with Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability guidelines and seek readmission to membership.
Over at Slate, Ruth Graham, who wrote about Mars Hill back in the day, writes about James MacDonald and about how a shock jock radio host rattled Harvest Bible Chapel.
Questions about MacDonald’s leadership had been swirling for years. Problems were first raised in 2012 by two former church members who documented the church’s complicated finances on their blog, and accused it of accruing $44 million in debts. Other disgruntled ex-leaders and members later began speaking publicly about their experiences. Then a freelance journalist named Julie Roys began investigating the story in earnest last year. MacDonald and the church responded by suing the two bloggers, their wives, and Roys for defamation last fall. The church dropped the suit in January after a court ruled that documents in the case could be made public.

Roys’ devastating piece of investigative reporting was published in December by the conservative evangelical magazine World, and included details about the church’s finances along with accounts from former employees and church members who said MacDonald “fostered an abusive and fear-based culture.”

Roys’ devastating piece of investigative reporting was published in December by the conservative evangelical magazine World, and included details about the church’s finances along with accounts from former employees and church members who said MacDonald “fostered an abusive and fear-based culture.”

All of that was before Mancow Muller, who has been a fixture in Chicago since the 1990s, started speaking out. Muller has a reputation as “the wild man of Chicago radio,” known for stunts like taping himself being waterboarded and for racking up big fines from the Federal Communications Commission. Muller had also attended MacDonald’s church since 2014. The two local celebrities became close, and Muller admired the older pastor. They traveled together and spent time together outside of church. On a trip to Israel last year, Muller says that MacDonald baptized him in the Jordan River. “I was one of his dummies,” Muller told me in a private message on Twitter. “We wanted to believe that that guy up on stage was real and genuine and actually cared about us and our families and was channeling Jesus Christ.”

Muller said he grew suspicious of MacDonald when, he claims, the pastor asked him to donate $3 million to the church. “[He] told me that he would be blessed more because he gave more than me,” said Muller, who was out of work at the time. Muller also recalled that MacDonald suggested he buy a house in Florida for Muller’s retirement and then leave that house to the church. Muller said he’d grown suspicious, too, of MacDonald’s handling of the lawsuit against his critics last year, and of the way the pastor discouraged his followers from reading anything negative about the church. He broke with MacDonald publicly last month in a scathing op-ed in a local newspaper, in which he accused MacDonald of fostering “a culture of authoritarianism, secrecy, intimidation, outlandish fundraising expectations, poor financial controls and debt.” Muller described the atmosphere at Harvest as “cult-like,” and he urged parishioners to stop donating money to the church.

In February, Muller escalated his crusade by airing clips on his show that seemed to capture MacDonald privately insulting his perceived enemies in terms that would be shocking to his followers—though not, perhaps, to Muller’s own listeners. The voice in the clips refers to the idea of planting child pornography on the computer of Christianity Today CEO Harold Smith in retaliation for the magazine’s coverage of him. It calls the magazine’s editor in chief, Mark Galli, a “certifiable prick,” and jokes that Galli and Julie Roys had an affair. (Roys firmly denies this on her blog and calls the joke “disgusting.”) It calls the magazine an “Anglican, pseudo-dignity, high church, symphony-adoring, pipe organ-protecting, musty, mild smell of urine, blue-haired Methodist-loving, mainline-dying, women preacher-championing, emerging church-adoring, almost good with all gays and closet Palestine-promoting Christianity.” Parsing those epithets would make a decent master’s thesis on contemporary American evangelicalism.

Jessica Johnson's book Biblical Porn is already available so I'd disagree with Graham that anyone needs to write a master's thesis on a string of invectives credited to MacDonald.  As megachurch preachers with affectations of blue collar sympathy go I've already written Mark Driscoll and the Gospel of [escaping] white trash.  It's certainly true that MacDonald's history could offer new opportunities for mining his particular invectives for socio-political commentary of the sort that contributors to Slate would revel in reading but ... I'm getting the sense that what might be more necessary is doctoral level work on both Mars Hill and a place like Harvest Bible Chapel.

As I've beaten the drum here for years, look at these kinds of men as propagandists first and foremost and it may become clearer what their methods are and what their goals are.  That a Bolz-Weber and a Driscoll can sell gimmicky sex and marriage books across the blue/red divide is another topic but I get a sense that those in the industry are not interested in that level of criticism or analysis of the industry.  Moving along to another part of the Graham article.

The next day, the church’s leadership board fired MacDonald “for engaging in conduct that the Elders believe is contrary and harmful to the best interests of the church.” In a statement posted to the church’s website, the all-male elder board wrote that they had been considering MacDonald’s removal for some time, but the “highly inappropriate” tapes on Muller’s show accelerated the decision. Muller hasn’t backed down since MacDonald’s firing. On his Feb. 18 radio show, he interviewed a former Harvest music leader named Anne Green who said MacDonald once touched her leg near her crotch on a private plane in or around 2005. (The church issued a statement saying it had investigated the allegation last fall and failed to corroborate it.)
That things are not likely to change has been opined enough already I don't have much to add to it about the in-culture issues.  I do think it needs to be said that we live in an era in which Lance Armstrong has been found to have cheated and intimidated people who would speak up against him.  The trope of toxic masculinity could be useful if it were redefined as a trope of toxic star power.  We have enough scandals across every field of art and entertainment and sport to get a sense that whether it's an Armstrong or a Sandunsky or an Avitall Ronell or a Sherman Alexie or a Bill Cosby or a Harvey Weinstein there are allegations of gross misconduct and people using their star power to get things and use people.  In their loathing of Trump I am not sure people who hate him fully appreciate the nadir of the last POTUS election, since the Burns Strider situation was hardly a bright spot on the history of Clinton's campaigning.  

As John Halle blogged a while back, for people who regarded Bill Clinton's conduct with women as ghastly it's not an issue to simultaneously regard both Clinton and Trump as having track records of using women.  The 2016 election could be seen as a choice between an enabler and a perpetrator of sexual harassment and assault.  Halle went to some length to highlight the dismissive ways in which people described those who brought allegations against Bill Clinton.  I won't rehearse that here so much as note that the Manichean drift of contemporary coverage and opinion-writing seems to have it that it's just "them" and not "us" doing these awful things.  It seems more plausible to say that across the spectrum among all the stars and star-making machines in the United States things are rotten to the core. The kinds of people who maybe in earlier epochs might have held themselves as examples who would battle the problems seem to be participants in the evil behind the scenes.  

It was memorable reading Sherman Alexie opine on how he wasn't like those "warrior culture" guys from the res who had Indian manly ideas or those Christian fundamentalists who had warrior culture".  He liked to think he learned how to treat women better than those kinds of men have and ... wait ... that seems to have made no difference at all to go by the allegations made about Alexie's conduct.   I already thought that a certain poem from 2017 was pandering hackwork.
I've said it's pandering hackwork in the past.

But there's a new context for understanding it as pandering, a new reception history in light of what has been alleged about Alexie in light of his riffs on "Caveman".  That the collected arts and entertainment industries helped make a C-lister TV celebriyy enough of a figure that he could leverage that into high office may be something the entertainment industry shouldn't be allowed to live down.  It's been hard to shake the question of whether #metoo and #timesup and other hashtag forms of political activism and speaking truth to power would be going on now in an alternate universe in which Clinton won the electoral vote.  Does that mean I'm happy with the current president?  No ... but I am jaded enough by the fact that it took decades and someone like Trump winning the electoral vote for people in arts and letters to abruptly begin speaking about things like toxic masculinity that I doubt their good faith as much as I doubt the good faith of people in high office.  To put things in the most polemical way possible, why did Hollywood wait until Clinton lost the electoral vote in 2016 to decide that time was up and there needed to be a reckoning?  

In the years that people opined that Trump might set off a nuclear war and we could all day I didn't see many Americans who were apt to be riffing on that theme in the last few years talking at all about Pakistan and India which, all of a sudden, they might feel like doing now (and with cause).  It may be a sign of how insular blue as well as red state partisans are in the United States that people could only imagine a nuclear exchange happening because the wrong kind of American president set things in motion.  To think like that is to think residually, perhaps, in categories left over from the Cold War.

Our political imaginations may be filtered enough through the kinds of movies we've made about politics that actual global events may not connect to us until the possibility of a nuclear action independent of the Cold War imaginaries that have guided American imaginations becomes newsworthy.

Closer to home ... the Art Institute of Seattle is facing closure and in a way where students who haven't gotten their degrees wrapped up could be in a bad way.

On Tuesday, the Washington State Achievement Council (WSAC) sent out an e-mail informing the 650 students at the Art Institute of Seattle that their school is at risk of imminent closure. Here's the opener:

As you may know, AI Seattle is at risk of closure. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the school may run out of funds to continue operations. This email is intended to provide information about AI Seattle’s current status and resources for AI Seattle students.

There are two options for AI Seattle at this point: a buyer could acquire AI Seattle and continue operations, or the school could close.

If a buyer acquires AI Seattle, the letter reads, then students will be able to continue with their studies. But if nobody's buying, then the school will close at "the end of winter 2019 or it could close before the term ends." The end of the term is March 22—in less than a month.

first comment was by Knat

It couldn't happen to a more deserving diploma mill.
A graduate of said diploma mill

memes of fanboy anger at pulp film can bring up toxic masculinity, but is that the best phrase, and how useful is t?

I found The Last Jedi exasperating. I expect characters to be some form of Mary Sue or Gary Stue and I didn't really have much of an issue with Daisy Ridley's Rey necessarily having huge amounts of power and not being sure how to use it properly or control it.  That's one of the biggest cliches in pulp fiction but it's not particularly unique.  I've seen arguments that Luke's use of the Force involved extensions of things he'd already trained to do compared to Rey just being handed powers by the Force.

That's not really all that material to me, either.  Harry Potter and other genre tales have had people just born into the ability to do things effortlessly without having tried to do it before.  The egregious laments are from those guys who say that Joseph Campbell's monomyth is more distinctly masculine when Campbell was fairly plain that his schematic could really cover the world's tales.  There isn't really an obligation that the Hero's Journey has to be a "his" story rather than a "her" story.  And, to the point, for the hero it is possible to do things like lift a mountain with a single finger that others couldn't move.  In other words, Rey's seemingly limitless ability to wield the Force is simply a manifestation of what the Joseph Campbell monomyth would require.  The Mary Sue isn't an inversion or rejection of Campbell's formula, it's merely giving 1,001 and faces to the same old protagonist. 

There are other reasons to find Rey's story troublesome.  If as some slogans have it "The Force is female" the Force has no regard for consent or ccoperation.  In The Last Jedi a frustrated Rey tells Luke Skywalker the Force has awakened powers in her she doesn't know what to do with.  If the Force is as female as the modern slogan has it, the Force forced itself on Rey without asking her if she wanted to have the powers.  What can seem like a girl-power moment, if only in reaction to the sorts of men who are aghast that Rey could have so much effortless power as distinct from any male character with comparably effortless access to The Force (and that is probably all it is), suggests that the Force, or whatever now passes for the light side, doesn't care about consent.  Ironically, the dark side of the force and the Sith path, for all its deception and use of over force, is more concerned to gain and retain consent ... to go by the way force users and initiation into the ways of the Force now seem to work across the entire franchise. 

But ... fanboy rage is still a popular explanation for why previously lifelong fans of Star Wars have turned on the newer films.  It's not explicable as too many changes to the narrative rules established about the Force, what it is, who gets to use it, how use of it is cultivated, and things like that.  That the formula itself may be the underlying problem isn't an acceptable option once inducted into the cult.  For everyone who lambasts tentpole blockbuster film the questions and debates must seem ludicrous.  Why does it matter if it's a male or female character instantiating a tedious blockbuster formula?  Rather than rabbit trail down critical theory and the identity politics of representation (which is possible and perhaps useful in some other context), let's go to a recent piece that talks about fanboy rage.

Last week, director Adam Sacks took to Twitter to announce a Kickstarter campaign to alter The Departed. No matter that Martin Scorsese’s 2006 crime thriller won Best Picture at the Oscars and earned $291 million globally, Sacks claimed it was a great film marred by a terrible final note—namely, the rat that scurries across the screen in the last shot, which is Scorsese’s cheeky nod to the human “rats” populating his undercover-cops-and-crooks saga.

Sacks argued that he needed $4,000 to erase the creature from existence, and as of today, he’s already exceeded that goal, thus ensuring that a few lucky folks will eventually own a bootlegged copy of The Departed sans rodent. In the process, he sparked a sizable social-media conflagration, inciting heated pro and con contentions about the storytelling decision in question.

Sacks’ endeavor is, on the face of it, dumb, and unnecessary, and more than a bit hubristic—
not only because there’s a vast difference between disliking a movie and actively trying to change it, but also because Sacks is just some guy and Scorsese is, you know, Martin Freaking Scorsese. However, it’s also something worse: the latest in a string of viral online campaigns waged to modify, slander, and/or torpedo a work deemed, for whatever reason, objectionable. The age of the Fanboy Troll Army is upon us.

This virulent era has no official start date, although it can be traced back at least as far as 2008, when critics who dared to dislike Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight were subject to an onslaught of (often homophobic, racist and/or juvenile) invectives from die-hard defenders. Still, it’s been gaining steam over the past three years, thanks to a series of brouhahas that have exposed the ugly underbelly of modern cinephilia, where immature enthusiasts frequently freak out over any amendment or update to their beloved childhood franchises, which they cling to with a fervor that would embarrass even the most blankie-obsessed infant.

Nowhere was this more apparent than with 2016’s Ghostbusters, the Paul Feig-directed all-female reboot of Ivan Reitman’s 1984 blockbuster. According to legions of sexist fans, the offense perpetrated by Feig was that he had the gall to reimagine this oh-so-important cultural touchstone about goofy men fighting slimy ghosts as a contemporary story about goofy women fighting slimy ghosts. Regardless of one’s feelings about the finished product (which this critic found sorely lacking), the outrage that greeted Feig’s film from a horde of predominantly male harassers was stunning in its noxiousness, culminating with racist attacks against co-star Leslie Jones (led by alt-right performance artist Milo Yiannopoulos) that forced her, briefly, off social media. Worse, it seems to have succeeded: there’s good reason to think it so soured the conversation around the feature that it eventually contributed to the film’s lackluster box-office performance ($128 million domestically).

As if that precedent wasn’t awful enough, Jason Reitman—son of Ivan—is currently in production on a new Ghostbusters film that exists in the same timeline as his father’s 1984 original, and last week, he promised that his franchise extension would “hand the movie back to fans.” That comment was heard by many (including Jones, who was critical of Reitman’s project) as a dog whistle to the anti-female Ghostbusters crowd. Though Reitman has since walked his statement back by praising Feig’s do-over (with Feig, in turn, defending Reitman), the lingering message remained clear: kowtow to the extremists, lest you face the wrath of vocal nerds who spend their days and nights online whining about how their “childhoods have been ruined” by sequels and reboots that tinkered with properties they loved as adolescents.

Fondly remembering youthful favorites is a natural and inherent part of cine fandom. Yet follow-ups don’t alter them; you can always go back to the source if that’s what you really want. Furthermore, if the sanctity of your childhood hinges on a movie about dudes shooting energy beams at a giant marshmallow man, that says a lot more about you than about any attempted cinematic update. This is a wholly obvious reality to any mature adult (or teenager). But it doesn’t change the fact that artists daring to jump into franchise waters risk endless invectives, if not ruination, if they don’t pander to these keyboard gangs. Just ask Rian Johnson, whose The Last Jedi continues to be a lightning rod for Star Wars zealots (and Russian bots!) who objected to a litany of supposed crimes committed by the writer/director, including his subversive upending of established canon formulas and his—gasp!—decision to employ a multicultural cast, including Kelly Marie Tran, who had to bolt Instagram because of the hatred directed her way.

The kinds of guys who would object that Campbell's monomyth is more masculine than feminine don't understand the formula and how universal its scope is intended to be.  That doesn't mean the formula is actually a good idea.  I doubt Campbell necessarily intended in his writings to foment the most technocratic formula of formulas in connection to pop culture.  The kinds of "young fogeys" who lament that Star Wars keeps people from really growing up may not care that Campbell's aims were to get people to reconcile themselves to adulthood and to death in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  He also aimed to develop a view that rejects egoistic nationalisms in favor of a universal conception of humanity and its best and most divine possibilities. 

In other words, the more SJW Star Wars and Star Trek get the more they are nearing a fulfillment of latent and explicit potentials in the Campbellian monomyth and cosmogonic cycle.  The people who are betraying that core ideal are not the new sorts trying to create some post-patriarchal Star Wars, they are the ones who are pretending that Campbell's monomyth isn't a monomyth, after all, but some kind of distillation of only the adventures of the male half of humanity. 

That blockbuster films peddle audience surrogate characters who are increasingly cast in the mold of a monomyth with foundations in methodology and literature that should be questioned is moot for the already initiated.  That there are guys who don't want to watch superhero movies or sci-fi adventure films with female leads could be a sign of toxic masculinity ... but couldn't this be considered, at one level, to be the culture industry finding a way to scapegoat those former consumers who suddenly realized they no longer wanted to "buy in"?  Adorno wrote that the philistine was the person who could not and would not invest in an art experience except to the extent that he could superimpose himself onto the art experience.  In that sense, sure, the former Star Wars fans could reveal they are philistines "if" we wanted to assume the Star Wars films met Adorno's criteria for art (highly, highly unlikely!).  Or, even if these films are not art, it could still be possible to say the culture industry has found ways to abject and reject those consumers who are not willing to keep the brand going. 

With that tongue-in-cheek idea in mind ... let's consider how entertainment industry coverage concerns about toxic masculinity could be read with a playful dose of critical theory.

Anyone who spends time in the online movie universe (and, especially, that amorphous realm known as Film Twitter) knows that such conduct is now par for the course. DC Comics stans lose their minds every time a Marvel installment gets better reviews than a DC-based tentpole (leading to hilarious conspiracy theories that critics are paid off by Disney). Black Panther was spammed with (ineffectual) racist nastiness ahead of its premiere, as well as throughout its theatrical run. Ocean’s 8 received the disgusting Ghostbusters-style treatment from righteous MRAs (i.e. “Men’s Rights Activists”) for putting a female spin on the Ocean’s 11 template. Lady Gaga fans launched a crusade to attack Venom ahead of its Oct. 6, 2018 premiere, which it shared with A Star is Born. And just this past week, an influx of Rotten Tomatoes-hosted vitriol targeted Captain Marvel, which upon its March 8 debut will be the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film (out of 21!) to be headlined by a woman.

The entertainment industries probably have done as much to promote toxic masculinity as any ground level activities by ordinary people.  The female led Ghostbusters film does not have to become a great movie because a bunch of men hate the idea of a remake.  I didn't like the original enough to care that there was a remake but I did notice that when authors at The New Republic could go on about what a male fantasy of rape the original film was it might be fair to ask why there would be a need to remake that film as a female-led castration fantasy.  When authors at The Stranger wrote that the female led Ghostbusters movie was "what we need right now" one of the riffs on the film's villain was that he was some guy who probably never got laid.  That guys who "never got laid" get looked down upon in cinema probably needs little explication.  What did seem to need some explanation was why journalists and film reviewers treated the female-led Ghostbusters movie like it was going to be groundbreaking because a franchise film like this with a female led was ... somehow ... new?  Like Milla hadn't been in half a dozen Resident Evil movies?  Like Kate Beckinsale wasn't in five Underworld movies?  Sure, if you ignore those movies, you could say the Ghostbusters film could have been a tentpole franchise unlike any previous genre films.   Or not. 

It may not have been a bad film but the whole franchise seems too of the 1980s to translate.  Star Wars and Star Trek, let's keep in mind, had a lot of novels and comics and other things going on continuously over the last half century, give or take a decade.  The distance between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace wasn't as big as the span between Ghostbusters 2 and the 2016 film.  There were the Ghostbusters cartoons, of course, but that may highlight a difference between conventional entertainment journalism and fan bases.  Journalists can't be bothered to highlight all of the cartoons and comics and spinoffs because, for many of them, the only things that count are prestige releases on the order of feature length films or prime time TV shows. 

For fans of pulp genres that's never all there is to the franchises.  If you get a creative team that is attentive to dozens of comic book timelines and the history of films and television shows you can get something like, oh, Into the Spider-verse.  That a superhero story spanning films, comics, TV shows, movies and legacy character comic book spinoffs from a what-if inspired by a movie and that such a film can do well suggests that the people who make these films and the people who watch them have an understanding that many journalists aren't interested in keeping track of. 

There was a piece at The Atlantic recently from an author who suggests that the term "toxic masculinity" may be something of a shibboleth that doesn't help us understand some, let alone all, of what's going on with men who react to things around them.


This claim of a singular, real masculinity has been roundly rejected since the late 1980s by a new sociology of masculinity. Led by the sociologist Raewyn Connell, this school of thought presented gender as the product of relations and behaviors, rather than a fixed set of identities and attributes. Connell’s work described multiple masculinities shaped by class, race, culture, sexuality, and other factors, often in competition with one another as to which could claim to be more authentic. In this view, which is now the prevailing social-scientific understanding of masculinity, the standards by which a “real man” is defined can vary dramatically across time and place.

Connell and others theorized that common masculine ideals such as social respect, physical strength, and sexual potency become problematic when they set unattainable standards. Falling short can make boys and men insecure and anxious, which might prompt them to use force in order to feel, and be seen, as dominant and in control. Male violence in this scenario doesn’t emanate from something bad or toxic that has crept into the nature of masculinity itself. Rather, it comes from these men’s social and political settings, the particularities of which set them up for inner conflicts over social expectations and male entitlement.

“The popular discussion of masculinity has often presumed there are fixed character types among men,” Connell told me. “I’m skeptical of the idea of character types. I think it’s more important to understand the situations in which groups of men act, the patterns in their actions, and the consequences of what they do.”

As this research was popularized, however, it was increasingly mischaracterized. By the mid-2000s, despite Connell’s objections, her complex theories were being portrayed in ways that echoed mytho-poetic archetypes of healthy and destructive masculinity. In a 2005 study of men in prison, the psychiatrist Terry Kupers defined toxic masculinity as “the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.” Referencing Connell’s work, Kupers argued that prison brought out the “toxic” aspects of masculinity in prisoners, but that this toxicity was already present in the wider cultural context. (Kupers told me that he believes critics of his study incorrectly assumed he claimed masculinity itself is toxic, though he acknowledged the article could have explained his position in greater detail.)

Toxic masculinity could be thought of as a maladaptive reaction to the recognition that the idealized standards of masculinity presented are unattainable or in some way fraudulent; once a guy figures out that he will never be able to attain X then he rejects X or shifts to Y or Z.  Or, they double down on the basic viability of a range of criteria that define social manhood even though they don't live up to any of those ideals in their own lives except for maybe one or two, or except, perhaps, in their fantasy lives or in the vicarious attainments of the arts (which could include video games).    For many men the surrogates of idealized manhood come through media figures, and this doesn't have to be Sly or Arnold or Brad Pitt.  It could be a Jordan Peterson or a Noam Chomsky or a James MacDonald or whoever is lionized as having some heroic qualities.  The kinds of people who get unattributed quotes on the internet as memes about righteousness can suffice. 

It may be philistine for men who invested their lives in cosuming Star Wars stuff to suddenly decide, because they cannot relate to a Rey having the power of the Force, turn their backs on the franchise.  For progressives this sign of toxic masculinity is that ... men won't keep buying tickets to see blockbuster fantasy adventure films that have female leads ... although under other contexts people who watch those movies would be considered fools and losers who aren't engaged with reality.  Thinking of British journalists who lambasted the popularity of Tolkien films as not being about the real world.  You can be damned if you do enjoy the films and damned if you don't enjoy the films based on what journalists with increasingly precarious job stability decide to say about you, or what writers in the even more precarious "gig economy" of online journalism have to say about you, the reader, if you did or did not enjoy The Last Jedi or if you did or did not enjoy Into the Spider-verse.  I thought Spider-verse was a sugar buzz fun ride.  I have some concerns about it but they are less with the film itself and more with what I've called a gap between axiom and action, but that's something for some other time and place.

Since I have been on an Adorno binge in the last few years I can imagine him writing that there is an aopira of rejection and acceptance formulated by the culture industry.  If you don't want to buy the illusion of freedom and power they are selling then it finds a way to abject you.  The accusation that men who are no longer buying these things have demonstrated "toxic masculinity" could just be an insider gambit to scapegoat the men who had in earlier generations of pop culture made for the most loyal consumers of the culture industry's wares.  Perhaps the owners of the industry miscalculated as to how truly "universal" the monomyth is and how truly monolithic the understand is of its monomythological nature.  In theory the hero with a thousand faces could be a Force user who has an endless range of faces and demographics and people should be willing to buy it every time, right?  Why wouldn't they?  Or, if they don't it's because they have lives that are comfortably bourgeois enough in real life that they don't need some vicarious fantasy tale of power and influence because they already have their hierarchy of needs a la Maslow sufficiently met. 

But if there is possibly a liberal double bind there's also a conservative one.  By that I mean there is what reader chris e once called a "young fogey" tendency in some conservatives.  It's possible for a conservative sort to complain that Star Wars and things like that keep people from really growing up but then turn around and write thousands of words about how troubling it is that a female character in a Star Wars franchise displays traits that in traditional lore would be masculine traits and to opine on the problems of the "strong female character".  If it keeps people from growing up why would the sort of social conservative who claims that pay close enough attention to these franchises to lament the strong female character?  Wouldn't the grown up thing, by the standards of this kind of conservative perspective, be to not be writing about Star Wars in the first place?  Some calls to be grown up can be paradoxically juvenile. 

The trouble there is that in order to opine in such a way about a Rey and a monomyth you have to grant the Campbell formula is legitimate, which I don't think you have to do.   Another problem is that, as I've noted before, there's really no reason for the Campbell monomyth to not be as social justice warrior and woke as people who want to invest in the monomyth and the cosmogonic cycle want to make it.  That doesn't mean that people who tire of the formula are necessarily guilty of "toxic masculinity".  It could be that those christened with the term "toxic masculinity" are bigots and nasty losers who don't measure up to contemporary post-industrial ideals of success in what many call a neoliberal society ... but then it could also be suggested that the kinds of people with the affluence and cultural access to write online about toxic masculinity probably exempt themselves from it.  Wagner could have an emblem of toxic masculinity in Alberich and how many might consider Wagner's views on race and gender to be, well, terrible?  Probably quite a few by now.  If even Richard Wagner can make his Alberich, the villain of the Ring tetralogy, a vision of toxic masculinity we might want to stop short of thinking that simply being able to identify those sorts of vices in others doesn't mean you can't have them in yourself.

Ironically, a certain Mark Driscoll used to say that men often get tempted to take shortcuts to achieving the standards of social and cultural success that are on offer to them in society.  Driscoll used to say, circa 2000-2001, that it was important that men not take the shortcuts and yet by 2012, well, he sure seemed to have taken some shortcuts.  But merely embracing whatever seems to be the opposite of what Driscoll might stand for is not a successful counterexample.   Within Seattle cultural history the healthy alternative to a cult of Mark Driscoll was not a cult of Dan Savage. 

To recapitulate thoughts about toxic masculinity, there's a possibility that bigotry and racism as identified in social media activity can be thought of as distinct from whatever toxic masculinity is.  If the concept is defined down to a set of social cues then it will be possible to imagine in a very lazy way that a vision of toxic masculinity defaults down to other ideological prejudices in the red or blue taxonomy or the left or right.  Beria doesn't become a good guy because he wasn't "right".  Redefining him in some no true Scotsman form to no longer be "left" won't really work, either.  I am concerned that journalists are moving the criteria of what a proper scapegoat is without looking at the scapegoating behavior more broadly.  Men who embody some kind of toxic masculinity, if they're the kinds of losers who can't get laid or be more gainfully employed, are not the kinds of people who, by ranting against popcorn movies, are going to damage "culture".  The kinds of people who can make these movies have that kind of power, though.  That the Force can force itself on Rey, who had no choice or consent about the power that was forced upon her, suggests that for all the complaints about "strong female characters" from young fogey quarters, and for the lip service paid by some to a more diverse Star Wars (in top billing leads, if nowhere else), the Force forcing itself on a young woman may just be a sign that the new Hollywood is more or less at its core like the old Hollywood.  You can't drive any kind of Model T you want as long as it's black.  You can have any kind of heroic face you could want as long as the monomyth and the cosmogonic cycle predetermine the steps. 

For those of us who were fans of the old Star Wars films the problem with Rey isn't who she is (Ridley does fine with Rey, and I liked her voice acting work in Only Yesterday). The problem is that it seems that people in Hollywood believe that a Force that is now female can force herself on Rey whether she wants the power of the Force or not and this is taken to be a newer, more enlightened Star Wars in which toxic masculinity is being rejected though, if you think about what the Force has done to Rey, probably nothing distills what toxic "masculinity" is thought to be than what the Force forced upon Rey.   The film that some have said does the most to reject toxic masculinity introduced Rey's account of having the Force forced upon her ... there's a bitter irony in that, made the more ironic by how the people worked on the story for The Last Jedi seemed so oblivious to it.

My complaints about the last Star wars film was less about the diverse cast than that the black guy and the Latino are made to look like idiots so white girls can save the day and Holdo's conduct as an officer seemed un-officer-like.  If Rey had been invited to wield the Force her journey could be truly heroic but the new film just tells us she didn't have a choice, the Force forced herself upon her (if the Force is female).Maybe Luke is right to say the Force belongs to everyone but with this new version of the Force it's not so impossible to understand why Luke might choose to disconnect deliberately from a Force that gives someone like Rey no choice as to whether or not she has been "awakened" by the Force. 

In that deeper sense, Campbell's Hero's journey gets betrayed.  The hero has the power to refuse the call to adventure but the Force apparently won't give Rey a choice.  

Friday, March 01, 2019

Charles Dickens and his wife, newly analyzed trove of letters confirms Dickens became a bad dude on the issue of his marriage

Scholars have long known that Charles Dickens was cruel to his wife, Catherine. In their early letters, the novelist addressed her affectionally—“my dearest Life,” “dearest darling Pig,” he’d write—but that tone changed dramatically some two decades into their marriage once he met and began an affair with then-18-year-old actress Ellen Ternan. By the following year, Charles had divided the marital bedroom in two and taken the highly unusual (for Victorian England) step of legally separating from Catherine, who, in turn, had to move out of the family home.

At the time, Charles wrote a letter to his agent suggesting it had been Catherine’s idea to live apart and accused her of having “a mental disorder under which she sometimes labors.” The letter didn't stay private for long. As Victorian scholar Patrick Leary details in "How the Dickens Scandal Went Viral," it soon became public (likely with Charles' approval) and helped shape the narrative around the couple's uncoupling. Catherine's side of the breakup tale has remained mostly obscured from history until now.

Her rarely heard perspective comes back with vengeance thanks to a trove of 98 previously unseen letters that show Charles, to use a term floating around in the cultural milieu today, was actually gaslighting his wife as they separated.


Trove of Letters Reveal Charles Dickens Tried to Lock His Wife Away in an Asylum

Catherine’s side of the breakup tale comes back with vengeance thanks to new analysis of 98 previously unseen missives

Scholars have long known that Charles Dickens was cruel to his wife, Catherine. In their early letters, the novelist addressed her affectionally—“my dearest Life,” “dearest darling Pig,” he’d write—but that tone changed dramatically some two decades into their marriage once he met and began an affair with then-18-year-old actress Ellen Ternan. By the following year, Charles had divided the marital bedroom in two and taken the highly unusual (for Victorian England) step of legally separating from Catherine, who, in turn, had to move out of the family home.

At the time, Charles wrote a letter to his agent suggesting it had been Catherine’s idea to live apart and accused her of having “a mental disorder under which she sometimes labors.” The letter didn't stay private for long. As Victorian scholar Patrick Leary details in "How the Dickens Scandal Went Viral," it soon became public (likely with Charles' approval) and helped shape the narrative around the couple's uncoupling. Catherine's side of the breakup tale has remained mostly obscured from history until now.

Her rarely heard perspective comes back with vengeance thanks to a trove of 98 previously unseen letters that show Charles, to use a term floating around in the cultural milieu today, was actually gaslighting his wife as they separated.

The missives were unearthed by University of York professor John Bowen, who specializes in 19th-century fiction. He first became aware of their existance when he noticed them listed in an auction catalogue from 2014. He recently sorted through them himself at the Harvard Theatre Collection in Cambridge, where the letters ended up. "As far as I know, I was the first person to analyse them. I've not found any other reference," he tells in an email.

The letters were written by Dickens family friend and neighbor Edward Dutton Cook to a fellow journalist, and they include details about the couple’s separation, which Catherine shared with Cook in 1879, the year she died.

In them, Cook recounts: “He [Charles] discovered at last that she had outgrown his liking…He even tried to shut her up in a lunatic asylum, poor thing!”

Writing about his discovery in the Times Literary Supplement, Bowen says he believes that Catherine’s allegations against her husband are “almost certainly” true and makes the case that they deliver “a stronger and more damning account of Dickens’ behavior than any other.”

This isn’t the first Dickens scholars have heard of Charles' bad behavior as the marriage soured. Researchers were previously aware of an account by Catherine’s aunt, Helen Thomson, that stated Charles had tried to coax her niece’s doctor into diagnosing her as mentally unsound. However, Thomson's record was long dismissed as a forgery (though it was ultimately shown to be authentic). Now, it adds more supporting evidence to Cook's newly resurfaced sequence of events.


For Dickens aficionados, Bowen acknowledges, the confirmation that Dickens attempted to have his wife locked away in an asylum might make for “very uncomfortable reading.” After all, Dickens enjoyed tremendous public affection during his lifetime and is remembered today as an advocate for social reform thanks to his sympathetic depictions of the plights of Britain’s poor and exploited and for establishing a safe house for homeless young women. He also visited insane asylums both stateside and in Britain and wrote appreciatively about the more humane treatment patients were receiving, in contrast to the “chamber of horrors” such facilities had historically been.

But none of this negates his treatment to Catherine. Announcing the discovery of the letters, Bowen links Catherine’s story to today’s stories of sexual misconduct and abuse of power, writing that it shows just how far “the power of elite men to coerce women” goes back.

Only that far?  Nothing about Amnon and Tamar?  As if men mistreating their wives only goes back a few centuries?  That, of course, is a response to an article of this kind in keeping with the time. 

It might be more appropriate to say that celebrities with enough clout felt at liberty to do these things going that far back.

It's not hard to wonder whether artists (or people in general) who regard themselves as thoroughly just in one realm.  What may be presented (and not entirely without cause) as the conduct of men, can be the conduct of the rich and/or famous. 

It can seem there's temptation to a moral licensing among those who make a point of campaigning for battling an injustice in public in which they cut themselves what many would consider an inordinate amount of slack in some area.  We hope, and it seems with a commonsense cause, that people who are good are good all around, even when we keep finding out that someone who is estimable in one realm is nasty in another.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

at Slate, Carl Wilson's "It's Too Late to Cancel Michael Jackson" discusses allegations of Jackson's behavior in relation to his art canon status

By the early 1990s Michael Jackson was starting to become a creepy punchline in some comedic routines.  By the later 1990s this range of jokes that something was amiss with the King of Pop became much more overt.

It's tough to say that "we" were collectively unaware of the concerns or allegations.  The positive things that fans of Jackson's music can say his music stood for was more important than the things he was alleged to have done.

That may continue to be the case.  If in classical music the pinnacle positions are taken up by the likes of J. S. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, in Anglo-American pop contexts Michael Jackson is, even if in a self-designated way, still the King of Pop. 

The trouble is that like other canonic artists before him, like Dickens, there's the very high probability that there are skeletons in the closet.

But the trouble is that unlike work by Bill Cosby or substantially lesser figures, there's no way to "cancel" the legacy of Michael Jackson in popular music and popular culture.   This is the subject of a long-ish piece by Carl Wilson at Slate.  The lead opens with recent discoveries confirming that Dickens was ... :

It  was an ugly rumor that circulated for years, but fans of the great artist were in denial until evidence emerged that seemed impossible to refute. I’m talking about the research that came out last week showing that when Charles Dickens was dumping his wife of a quarter century, the mother of his 10 children, in order to pursue his affair with an 18-year-old actress, he tried to have his spouse shut away in a mental asylum. It wasn’t an uncommon cruelty for men in Victorian England to commit against perfectly sound-minded partners. Dickens only failed in his efforts because the humanitarian-minded doctor friend he approached turned him down. Disgusting as the tale is, it’s hard to believe it will do more than glancing damage to Dickens’ standing. Scholars took decades to come around to the truth about his long-running dalliance with the actress, but once they did, few communities chose to shut down their annual productions of A Christmas Carol. Dickens remains too central to literary culture, while the people he hurt (he was also a crap father) are way back in the 19th-century London fog. None of which makes what nearly befell Catherine Dickens less awful.

For all the emotions and issues that will come up as HBO broadcasts the harrowing Leaving Neverland documentary about Michael Jackson’s alleged child sexual abuse this weekend, it’s a stubborn, inconvenient fact that Jackson was to modern popular music and dance what Dickens was to the Victorian novel—a parallel you’ll find strange only if you don’t care for modern pop music. Thriller continues today to be the best-selling album of all time around the world, and estimates of between 66 million and 100 million copies sold don’t account for the unimaginable numbers of cassette-taped and file-traded versions in people’s collections, from Boston to Botswana. Nearly a decade after his death, there are weeks when half the acts on the Billboard chart sound like they’re doing MJ imitations. In terms of global reach, recognition, and influence, no one but the Beatles and Elvis can compare. And John Lennon physically assaulted his first wife, and almost beat a man to death for suggesting he was gay. Elvis started dating his wife-to-be when Priscilla Ann Wagner was 14 and he was 24.

I’m not raising these cases to excuse Jackson of the horrifying allegations that are made against him in the documentary, not to mention the charges he evaded in court during his life. The stories of the two alleged abuse survivors in the film are extremely detailed and convincing. They’re especially disturbing if, like me and many others, you once performed Olympian mental gymnastics to sustain some faith in Jackson’s relative innocence.

Still, I put Jackson alongside the likes of Lennon and Dickens to point out that some cases test the limits of righteous dismissal. It can feel like swift and satisfying justice when people on social media reacting to reports of bigotry or abuse, for instance, declare the accused “canceled”—persona non grata, never to be spoken of again except to mete out further censure. But to embezzle a phrase from the 2008 financial crisis, are some figures too big to cancel? Too consequential to write out of the record, especially when they’re deceased, and beyond any effective sanction? When I mentioned to a friend that I was writing this piece, she remarked, “I’ll cope with Michael Jackson when I’m finished processing Charlie Chaplin.” Which, her tone implied, might be never.

We live in a world in which we may have to just grant that some brilliant and innovative poets in the English language in the 20th century were anti-Semites with royalist and fascist sympathies in the form of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.  Igor Stravinsky was openly sympathetic to Mussolini and also had his anti-Semitic tendencies.  It may turn out that Michael Jackson, for his part, was a predator.  One of the reasons I have been skeptical about expressions of skepticism toward art canons is because the history of humanity is so long and storied we're going to run into artists who can be inspiring in one realm of life and horrifying monsters in another realm of life.  Do we just ignore the entire legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. because he perpetrated plagiarism in his earlier works and was a philanderer?  We can disapprove of those things while considering that he did have some positive influence and was certainly right to confront injustices. 

Wilson's point seems hard to cast aside.  Some people are "too big to cancel".  We can't just erase Michael Jackson from popular music and popular cultural history if the things he has allegedly done were things he actually did. 

It may also be a reminder that the canonic figures of pop could be just as terrible as human beings as the canonic figures of the highbrow artistic canons that have become the foundation of teaching curricula.  Dickens and Jackson may be apt comparisons.  Novels, to be sure, were not highbrow back in their day and the last century's pulp can become this generation's old-fashioned "high class" nostalgia.  Ragtime comes to mind, a musical style that was considered transgressive and daring and dangerous in the 1890s that is considered staid and respectable and nostalgic in 2019.

Wilson continues:

Alternatively, you may call to mind Miles Davis. Or James Brown. (Bill Cosby, though still living, might also stalk your thoughts, but while his was a watershed career, I suspect his comedy relied too heavily on personal likability for it to rebound from all the repellant revelations.) Not to mention the groundbreaking white feminist writers who were nonetheless racists, such as the eugenicist Charlotte Perkins Gilman, or Virginia Woolf, whose record is marred by early anti-Semitism.
It’s one thing to blacklist the music of someone like R. Kelly. He’s alive, and so far unpunished for his alleged multitudes of crimes. It’s necessary to undo the complicity that so much of the music industry and the media indulged him with for so long. But additionally, while his music loomed large in 1990s and 2000s R&B, it’s in the end not indispensable. I don’t mean that Jackson or the Beatles get a magic “genius” pass—that title, so freighted with Great Man archetypes, obscures more than it illuminates. At best, it should be used to describe the momentary visitations of the sublime that arise in a particular creative act, not as a label affixed permanently to a person, removing them to an untouchable sphere. Still, there are points where the apparently irresistible force of moral outrage runs into immovable objects of cultural history.

What seems to be happening in arts and entertainment and within journalism and academia is that people are discussing what is problematic about the legacy of canonic figures.  There's a need for that, but the challenge is that while there is a need for this, there is some struggle with the reality that we will always need to do this.  Not everyone believes that artists are no better than regular ran and file people who can say and do horrible things. 

To put this in a far more polemical way, those for whom art is a religion expect the priests and prophets and stars of this religion to be divine, to act like gods rather than devils.  I'm not particularly eager to claim that art of any kind has within it the divine anything, however beautiful the arts can often be.  I prefer to not think of art, however high or low the brow, as a sanctifying sacrament.  There is no certainty that an artist is a better person than you or I am.  It is often the case they could be a worse person than either you or I tend to be.  The stars that we are able to make act in the entitled ways that stars can tend to act and people can be tempted to make sacrifices to be close to that perceived divinity.  It's how cults of devotion form and sometimes the cults of devotion get canonized, as with Michael Jackson, or J. S. Bach.  If the canonization is retroactive the canonized has not necessarily had a choice over the appointment.  Michael Jackson, by calling himself the King of Pop had at least "some" say in his reception history.

We can't un-release Thriller

But what journalists and musicians can do is desacralize existing artists who are not divine enough to pass muster for a religion of art, or who have not been firmly enough established in the art religion firmament to have their stars knocked out of the sky.  It is too late to remove a Charles Dickens or a Michael Jackson, but it is not too late to remove an R. Kelly (if need be), and it's certainly not too late to remove a Louis C. K. or a Sherman Alexie.  It would seem that removing these sorts of people from the firmament of art and entertainment stardom is what is being undertaken by journalists and scholars.

But ... if art doesn't have to be thought of as coextensive with what Frankfurt school authors regarded as bourgeois art religion, is it possible we can "keep" artists and musicians and poets and novelists whose work we regard as valuable and worthy of enjoyment and study while ALSO remembering they were apt to do awful things?  Is the positive for which artists labored to work and present positive enough that we can hold on to one thing about them without letting go of the other? 

If you didn't catch the reference to Ecclesiastes I'll spell it out, I'm thinking of the paradoxical warning to not be overly wicked nor to be overly righteous.  It is good to hold on to one and not let go of the other.  Since elsewhere in Ecclesiastes 7 we can see there is no one who is blameless and never sins , so the admonition to not be overly righteous or wicked is not necessarily about being too blameless.  The best way I can try to describe where I understand this passage to be going is a warning to recognize that you are neither a god nor a devil but that goodness and evil dwell inside you and that one who fears God will recognize this about themselves. If you think you are better than you actually are you shall one day be dumbfounded by the discovery that you have more evil in you than you think you do and if you decide to go out and be bad to prove that you're not a goody-two-shoes you will likely come to a bad end.  There is a kind of evil that can be perpetrated by those who insist to themselves and others about their innocence, yet their innocence can be a sham.

Wilson closes the article with some thought for the star system that made these alleged abuses possible.  It's been noted this week at a variety of places that you can't exactly defame the dead, but it's as good a time as any to point out, as Wilson does, that the star system aggregates a kind of power and influence that can make terrible things easy to do.

These families’ stories reflect the whole culture’s relationship with stars, and their relationships with us—stories of idolization and exploitation, of projection and possession, of opportunism and rationalization. And of the wreckage left behind. When you love a star, inherently you’re loving a person who doesn’t exist, a figment of image creation and your own manipulated yearnings. In Jackson’s case, that goes double. He seemed so dissociated in the ways he presented himself through the last half of his life that it’s hard to guess how much of reality he was experiencing. Was he a person who didn’t exist even for himself?

The star system may be the aorta in the heart of what Adorno and others called "the culture industry".  The artist enacts or plays out a kind of "freedom" that admirers can drink in through art, the vicarious mode of living that allows us to live lives that we cannot, in fact, live at all.  We look to artists to be for us what we cannot be ourselves, and we emulate those stars in such ways as to, if possible, mimic what they have and do.  Humans are imitative and conformist by nature and by socialization, although plenty of us stubbornly insist that there must be more to humanity than just this, and that is also true. 

Wilson references a piece by Claire Dederer, who wrote, among other things, the following:

I took the fucking of Soon-Yi as a terrible betrayal of me personally. When I was young, I felt like Woody Allen. I intuited or believed he represented me on-screen. He was me. This is one of the peculiar aspects of his genius—this ability to stand in for the audience. The identification was exacerbated by the seeming powerlessness of his usual on-screen persona: skinny as a kid, short as a kid, confused by an uncaring, incomprehensible world. (Like Chaplin before him.) I felt closer to him than seems reasonable for a little girl to feel about a grown-up male filmmaker. In some mad way, I felt he belonged to me. I had always seen him as one of us, the powerless. Post-Soon-Yi, I saw him as a predator.
My response wasn’t logical; it was emotional.

It does not, in fact, matter that all of this soul-searching is happening during a Trump presidency, because had Hillary Clinton won the electoral college vote would all of these things done by stars and idols of art and entertainment have been different?  What's different in the era of Trump about things said to have been done by Michael Jackson decades ago?  What are the arts and entertainment industries trying to atone for now that could make anything about the election of Trump relevant to what the empire of Hollywood and other media empires have done, are doing, and will do relevant?

Is it possibly because the industry that made Trump part of its lower-tier pantheon can't realistically speak out against anything he's done until they come clean about what they've allowed just about anyone else about as famous as Trump do?  How can the pantheon of artists and entertainers really speak up against this man when they have done so many of the same things he is said to have done, or looked more or less the other way when others did similar things?  Injustice and evil should be confronted, certainly, but cases like what is alleged about Michael Jackson may force "us" who love the arts and are interested in them to ask how bad the faith really is in which we express anxiety at what stars think they can get away with. 

It's not that if we get rid of all the art made by monsters we'd have no art left, it's something more insidious than that.  We have to sell ourselves on the idea that the beauty of whatever it is the artist positively stands for is greater than whatever evils we suspect or know or maybe heard maybe the artist did.  That John Lennon could be an abusive drunk who nearly killed someone despite singing about giving peace a chance doesn't even seem ironic or paradoxical--it's not unheard of in the least for artists to aspire to a state within art that they cannot possibly hope to attain in their own lives.  That aspirational element in the arts can be why so many early rockers sang as if they were striving for a spiritual purity and love that is belied by the grime and debauchery they lived in flesh and blood--but on the stage, the sublime music expressed hope, even a certainty, that something grander and more beautiful is possible.

As Dederer put it, she felt like Woody Allen, or felt like what she thought and felt Woody Allen thought and felt like.  People invest a part of themselves into and derive a sense of self from those they admire.  In Jewish polemics against idolatry the Psalmist and prophets warn that those who worship idols become like them.  Maybe it should be horrifying to discover what your hero has actually been like so as to force a reconsideration of their mortality.  Does it mean their best and highest ideals are a sham?  It is at this point that, not wishing to think of art as a sacrament of any kind, I would say "no".  Should an artist's vision of racial reconciliation and harmony be cast off because he was a user of children, by recent accounts? 

This is where debates about art canons seem to be in egregiously bad faith.  If Michael Jackson did what he is alleged to have done then the sins of dead white guys may have been more or less the same as the now dead Michael Jackson, give or take some contexts.  As the Teacher warned in Ecclesiastes, there is no one who does righteously all the time and never sins ... but it may be that in a bourgeois art religion there is a strong, strong desire to believe this could be true.  To put things another way, part of the horror of what may have been done is a realization that socially progressive ideals can be part of the mask that permits a kind of moral licensing for private conduct that is grisly and this ... this seems to be almost a norm for those artists who are lionized as great thinkers and feelers and moral observers, whether a Charles Dickens or a Michael Jackson. 

We can't really escape dealing with the questions and answers of what Michael Jackson did to kids and that's not ultimately separable from his place in the pop culture canon.  As Wilson has put it, Jackson's influence is too big and too pervasive within popular music to be retroactively "cancelled".  People who admire Jackson's music are going to keep admiring it, just as people who admire Woody Allen's films as art are going to keep doing so.  Art, in so many ways, is vicarious living and we can't un-live that vicarious living we have done through the art we enjoy and return to. 

If the positives that fans believe Michael Jackson's music distills and embodies outweigh the negatives of what he has reportedly done, the case is for the fans to make.  I liked Thriller when it came out at the time but I'm more a Stevie Wonder fan than a Michael Jackson fan myself.  But I could read Terry Teachout's Duke and see how Ellington was nicknamed "Monster" by Billy Strayhorn and see that one of my musical heroes could, in a few contexts, be a not-so-very-great-guy. 

Although I don't think of art as really being a religion or a stand-in for religion there is Ivan Karamazov's question, is that vision of a beautiful harmony worth the suffering and abuse of a single child?  Ivan Karamazov's answer was "no" but to go by the artists whose work we venerate in spite of their abominable behavior it's possible that in the realm of what some have called the bourgeois religion of art there may be people form whom the only possible answer to that Ivan Karamazov style question is "yes". 

We're clearly in a moment where many people are asking, of necessity, to those who would stake out such an implicit or explicit position, "Are you sure about this?"  Is the fact that someone makes something venerated as art sufficient reason to keep enjoying and watching what they do even in spite of what you are pretty sure you know to be the truth about their conduct?  Is passing muster as having made "art" good enough?  Why? 

It may be one thing for those artists whose struggles with their inner demons were fairly open (i.e., to pick a personal favorite or two, folks like Johnny Cash or Dostoevsky)--it's possible to recognize that there are artists who openly struggle with their lesser selves.  Its more galling when artists who strive to present a potentially perfected humanity in some way, or indict fellow humans for their selfishness like a Jackson or  Dickens, who seem to have more egregiously betrayed some kind of tacit or implicit covenant with their fans.  It may be more terrible when those artists who, in however it may be they do it, present themselves as the "grown ups" in the room, are revealed to be as venal or worse than those artists whose selfishness or vice is more openly displayed. 

One impulse, the cancellation impulse, advises us to purge from the art canons anyone whose life was full of enough atrocity to preclude them from being an artist-hero.  If art is the way to vicariously live through the art of an artist then that's a real option, and perhaps the best option. 

Another possibility, one I've stuck with, is to substantially demote the arts across the board as beautiful and sometimes beneficial but not necessarily indicative of who we should be.  Great art does not really have the power to make us great people, regardless of how we might decide to define greatness and even more so in spite of any attempts to ignore that we as humans can't help but call things great.  If there's no such thing as greatness in what may be called good why do people have such an easy time imagining greatness when something seems evil?  Greatness is not necessarily always a measure of "good", after all. The priests of art can be just as venal and evil as priests and preachers of another kind of religion or two, obviously.  If the cost of this approach can be a kind of literal and figurative critical distance, there is an advantage to it, in that I can admire artists for their craft and vision without considering them to be actually good or decent people. 

Compartmentalization may be how people live with their capacity for monstrosity, cordoning it off in some way so that they can think of themselves as being good enough at A through W that a few indulgences in X, Y and Z ultimately won't hurt too many people. That may have been how artists like Dickens or Jackson rationalized things to themselves. We can't be sure but at this point it does not seem like a completely baseless speculation.