The revival of the “Roseanne” sitcom debuted to huge numbers recently. But just as quickly as it registered as the biggest comedy hit in years, so did the backlash, because of the main character’s support of Donald Trump as president. It’s a character trait mirroring that of the show’s star, Roseanne Barr, who exacerbated the situation by taking to social media to tout a call she got from Trump, congratulating her for the show’s “huge” ratings.
What we’ve learned in all of this is that celebrities can post anything directly to millions of followers if they don’t want to go through the established publicity channels. At a time where celebrities are more accessible than ever, the lines between the work they do and their public persona has become blurred.
So, for example, when a filmmaker like Woody Allen is accused of allegedly molesting his daughter, as an audience, are we supposed to boycott his work in protest of his actions? The answer isn’t necessarily clear cut.
Celebrities are more exposed than ever before
“In 2018, celebrities are no longer just actors, musicians, athletes, or reality stars that we only see on the cover of magazines or being interviewed on late night talk shows,” explained Andrew Selepak, the Director of the social media master’s program at the University of Florida. “Celebrities are people we interact with on social media. We have formed para-social relationships with celebrities in a way that we may have once only done with sports teams. Their characters on screen are now just one part of why we are a fan, but who they are off screen when we see them on Twitter or Instagram is the character that we now connect with and want to know about.”
This wasn’t always the case.
Back in the old studio days, as recently portrayed on the hit FX show, “Feud,” movie companies were much more able to control what was released about their stars. Gossip columnists had sources, but they had to maintain a relationship with the actors to get information, so they traded information for tips. This meant that something negative or controversial could easily be killed if there was a better story that someone had to share. Also, actors were more conservative in sharing their political beliefs because it could hurt their careers.
“John Wayne’s pro-Vietnam War stance was seen as abnormal as a celebrity took an open political position, and caused a backlash among some Americans,” explained Selepak.
Don’t expect to see celebrities begin to retreat from sharing their personal lives during Instagram stories.
“This is a fact of life – the value of art is only as valuable as the signature of the artist… and name recognition builds the value of the name of the artist,” said Beverly Solomon, Creative Director at Beverly Solomon Design.
Separating Fact from Fiction Isn’t Always Black and White
As celebrities become more visible on social media, their off-screen personas become intertwined with that which we see onscreen.
“Actors, while able to play many roles, tend to choose roles which fit their values and life views,” said Solomon. “Creative artists tend to express their values, experiences and world views in their art, music and writing.”
So, while they may not be playing themselves, actors and filmmakers tend to pick projects that align with some form of their world view. Therefore, it’s easy to project our feelings of an individual actor onto their character and allow it to taint the whole project.
“It seems like the new generation of idealistic millennials is very much in the mindset of if the artist is a horrible person, then I will not support the art. However, does this mean we now take down all Picassos, Renoirs and the like?” asks Diana Stelin, an artist and owner of the Boston-based The Plein-Air Art Academy. “I’m of the opinion that we each find something in the art of these individuals that speaks to us as beholders. Artists are carriers of beauty. What they do in their personal lives is solely their business. We have to be able to separate the art from the artist.”
It is a sentiment that Solomon echoes: “In some cases – perhaps many cases – flawed humans can be great artists,” Solomon says.
In the broadest sense of artistry, it seems fair to say that the general public is not always willing or able to separate the art from the artist. Part of it becomes that the public uses its buying power to condemn or support the actions of the artist.
However, experts say that some of the best art can come from the most flawed individuals, meaning that, in the end, if we can’t separate the work of an artist from the human creating it, we could dismiss profound works of art simply because of whose name is attached to it.