What to Do When Good Actors Act Badly
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes bygones won’t be bygone.
By Eugene S. Robinson
It gets harder and harder to avoid what writer William S. Burroughs pegged as Naked Lunch moments. Moments when your usual flow of half-mindedness is interrupted by looking at the full measure of what it is that’s speared on the end of your fork: something dead that you’re consuming heedless of the fact that, in general, smart people are usually more careful about what they put in their mouths.
But we’re in the age where we’ve considered what we shovel into our mouths, eyes, ears and noses … and have voted with our entire beings, minus the conscience: Give us more, more, more. So, how do you like it now?
If accolades are any indication at all, quite fine.
Can you separate T.S. Eliot’s anti-Semitism from the women who came and went talking of Michelangelo … or Donald Trump’s pussy predations from the fact that he’s now our president?
In 1993, the case was closed on allegations that Woody Allen had molested his daughter. Since the case’s original close and Allen scooting off and marrying his ex-lover’s adopted daughter, he has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, ultimately winning one for 2011’s Midnight in Paris. And that’s just Oscars. He has also had five BAFTA nods and one win. Four Golden Globe nominations and one win. And even some wins after the charges resurfaced in 2014, courtesy of the now-adult daughter. Innocent until proven guilty, sure, but those are not the thoughts that intrude when trying to embrace the witty Woody of old.
And the list of hard acts to swallow continues: Bryan Singer, sex abuse allegations; Roman Polanski, rape; Mel Gibson, domestic violence backed with drunken anti-Semitic ranting; Johnny Depp, alleged domestic abuse; Robert Blake, found liable in a California civil court for wrongful death of his second wife.
But beyond that, even beyond the lists that would get you on the list and would have resulted in any of us non-famous folk going to jail, there’s something else: the continued acclaim and hidebound Hollywood assertion that there are two sets of laws, one for thems that buy the tickets, and one for thems that sell the tickets. All gloriously academic when you don’t have any skin in the game. But when you do? Much harder to high-horse it.
Which is to say: Casey Affleck. Damn. I liked the guy.
I mean, if you were one of those that traditionally identified with Cain versus Abel, the inexplicably least-loved brother, you’ve been pulling for Affleck the Younger for years. Without the flash-bang of his older, more decorated brother, Ben, Casey embodied a great body of underdog appeal in stunning performance after stunning performance. Try to look for a learning curve like you might find in Sean Penn from the early years and latter-day Sean Penn, who finally figured out the game, and you don’t find it with Casey. He hit the ground running, all I’ll-show-you bravado. And he did, turning in several performances not one of which could be classed as sucking.
Until 2010, when he was sued by two separate co-workers for sexual harassment. In a post-Cosby age, crawling into bed whilst naked, married and smelling of booze is not as sexy as maybe it once was. Not when it continues in the face of marked disinterest, or curdles into hostility, withholding of pay and credit, and what easily amounts to raw abuse of power. Allegedly.
And especially not when bookended with Nate Parker kamikazing into total career irrelevance by ignoring Oprah’s advice on how to respond to the uncovering of college rape allegations, thus destroying whatever chance his The Birth of a Nation had of doing any kind of box office/award business at all.
So what do you pay attention to, what do you ignore and why do you ignore it? And for how long? Can you separate T.S. Eliot’s anti-Semitism from the women who came and went talking of Michelangelo? Or Ezra Pound’s fascism from The Cantos? Or H.L. Mencken’s racism from his witticisms? Or Donald Trump’s pussy predations from the fact that he’s now our president?
Seems like separating the art from the artist should be easy, and seeing Affleck win a Golden Globe for Manchester by the Sea, or staring at six nominations apiece from both the Academy and BAFTA, it seems easily apparent that some already have. Manchester by the Sea deserves the notice. Guess it’s just easier to stomach the dark horse than it is the golden boy, quivering as it is on the end of your fork. Because, very possibly, we want the golden ones to taste as good as they look, and watching Affleck on Saturday Night Live last year, him, the shtick, the jokes and the generalized merriment seemed anything but. Call me sensitive like that.