It’s an age-old question, and it re-emerges with the revelations about sexual predations that men with power inflicted on women and, in some instances, other men: Can we appreciate art even if it was created by someone who behaved deplorably?
The actor Kevin Spacey is accused of sexually assaulting boys and young men. The political writer Mark Halperin faces allegations of past sexual misconduct with women under his authority at work. Similar accusations have been made against the actor Dustin Hoffman, who has apologized for bad behavior.
As a result, the following has happened: Netflix shut down the Spacey star vehicle “House of Cards” and shelved a film called “Gore,” which was in postproduction and in which Mr. Spacey plays the writer Gore Vidal. HBO scrapped a planned mini-series and Penguin Press a book on the 2016 presidential election, which Mr. Halperin had written with his collaborator of recent years, John Heilemann. And suggestions have been made in print and pixels that Mr. Hoffman’s films, past and present, should be boycotted.
No doubt, the corporate suits at Netflix, HBO and Penguin decided it was simply bad business to proceed with those projects, given how toxic the men are right now. That’s understandable. But isn’t it also reasonable to ask what ultimately should be the fate of these works (and not just because deep-sixing them hurts many others who also had a hand in creating them)?
Mr. Spacey is widely recognized as one of our most accomplished actors. Whatever his sins, many audiences would want to see how he portrays Vidal, one of our most controversial writers. The Halperin-Heilemann team, while not an art master, has produced important records of recent presidential elections. Its insight into the 2016 race would probably have qualified as a must-read. As for Mr. Hoffman, do the allegations against him negate his talent, including his starring role in “Tootsie,” ranked No. 2 on the American Film Institute’s list of the funniest American movies ever made?
It will come as no surprise if, in time, there’s a reassessment of some of the men now justifiably shamed in the dock of public opinion. We have seen the phenomenon plenty of times. Many figures in the arts were people who committed terrible deeds or held reprehensible views, and yet came to be admired, even revered.