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Paedophilia and megalomania: can we separate the art from the artist?

In these dark dollar days of relentless sun and heat, anger and conceit (gosh, that rhymes), we’re often told it helps to maintain a semblance of love for your fellow homo sapiens. But how to do it?

It’ll come as little surprise to anyone know knows me or this blog that the human attributes that I hold any real reverence for are all found within the arts: music, literature, art, film, dance. The things that celebrate humanness; the things that remind us what’s great about we mortals. Talents that can stir the heart.

Which may go some way to explaining the difficulty of completely turning on celebrities who have sexually transgressed from the norm. I mean, their work still stands up even if it appears that their morals and ethics haven’t, right?

Take Rolf Harris. Off the wall and into the shed for a bit of “time out” was how a friend described the removal of the Australian’s contributions to Kate Bush’s Aerial album from 2005. 

Rolf Harris played the role of ‘the painter’ on the conceptual side two of Aerial, known as A Sky Of Honey and contributed a quite lovely spoken word section on An Architect’s Dream as well as a singing interlude on The Painter’s Link. On the 2018 remastered edition, these parts have been replaced by Kate’s son Bertie (Albert McIntosh), who indeed took this role when Mum performed A Sky Of Honey in its entirety as part of Before The Dawn, her celebrated live residency at the Hammersmith Apollo in London in the autumn of 2014.

Harris also features on Kate’s 1982 album The Dreaming. He plays didgeridoo on the title track, though that performance appears to be intact on the 2018 remaster, even if any mention of his name isn’t.

The friend explained that Rolf’s removal machine felt like the appropriate thing to do, given his conviction for 12 counts of indecent assault on four teenage female victims during the 1970s and 1980s. In his eighties himself, the Aussie artist was stripped of many of the honours he had been awarded during his career. Like him or loathe him, Rolf Harris is great with a brush.

While others were even better with beards. Like this lovely couple.

Kevin Spacey can act. That’s no surprise. However, when multiple allegations surfaced of inappropriate sexual conduct with very young men, he was instantly dropped from Season 6 of Netflix’s outrageously popular House of Cards.

As the monstrously machiavellian Frank Underwood, Spacey is eminently watchable, though I’m gonna sound like a curmudgeonly old Brit when I say I still prefer the original BBC series of House of Cards from 1990, largely because of how it depicted the duplicitous downfall of Margaret Thatcher. And in a unbelievable case of life imitating art, the very same indomitable Iron Lady, the longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th Century, was abruptly forced out of Downing Street almost simultaneously.

The question is should I want to see Spacey act again? Given the allegations, that have yet to turn into convictions, is there a case for somehow pretending that his role in American Beauty, for example, wasn’t worthy? Can I rewrite history to negate the fact that the man can act? To effectively pay him no mind? To consider that his life‘s work is not worthy of rooting for him to make a comeback?

While Harvey Weinstein certainly changed the celebrity scandal landscape, the odious lump’s demise has rightly shifted the dynamics in Hollywood around powerful men and their inordinate control over women.

It‘s not our first time at this particular rodeo, though.

The difference this time around seems to be the very strong sense of certain sectors of the public wanting revenge around any celeb impropriety, claiming it‘s all on behalf of the victims. The glee with which some want famous heads on pikes is medieval in its desire. Does jealousy or mercenary intentions play a part?

Let‘s talk dead pop stars.

Those that can’t defend themselves any longer, and who may, or may not, be guilty of the allegations against them. Once a brilliant entertainer, MJ is fast becoming known as the posthumous paedophile, and much of the ‘evidence’ seems to support that view. As such, while the stories were horrific by any standards, they were not corroborated in any substantial way.

“And unfortunately, he’s not here to defend himself,” Boy George said of the gloved one recently.

That‘s why Leaving Neverland has been one of the more controversial releases of the #MeToo era. Jackson was brought up on charges of child sexual abuse multiple times and never found guilty, whether you agree or not with George Michael that people were paid off or not. Both Wade Robson and James Safechuck testified on his behalf while he was alive.

Here’s the question? Am I going to choose not to hear another great Michael Jackson album such as Off The Wall – either accidentally, or on purpose again? Or, do I let the almighty and all-knowing blood-hungry free market decide for me whether he will stand the test of time?

I suspect I know which one will win out.

Wacko Jacko may have succumbed to rampant megalomania and mental illness post-Thriller, but talent that immense will not just moonwalk into the night. Neither should it. Such a huge part of so many people’s lives, his reputation may be dented but it’s not scratched for ever, despite hideous acts like dangling newborn babies off hotel balconies while he was still (barely) alive. His musical record, at least until 1987, still sounds sweet. There’s no taking that fact away.

Some, I’m sure, will decide to actively ban MJ from their playlists and their lives. No more Thriller on their shelves or on the radio, they’ll discard him faster than you can say Bad, but, aurally, I won’t be one of them. I don’t believe you can rewrite history. It’s already made.

People don’t pay extortionate kidney-selling amounts of money to see monstrous Madonna hobbling about in concert because she’s a nice person. She’s not. But Vogue is still a great single. Separate the art from the artist and focus on their art. Rightly or wrongly, the dastardly deeds are done.

Yet their work lives on.

Let it be.

Steve Pafford

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