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Morgan Wallen, The 1975’s Matty Healy and the Separation of Art and Artist

Morgan Wallen, The 1975’s Matty Healy and the Separation of Art and Artist

We all make mistakes. But that doesn’t excuse people from making racist or otherwise hateful comments — especially big-platform celebrities.

1975’s Matty Healy invites controversy with him on tour, from eating raw meat on stage to consensually kissing fans. But his racist and hateful behavior has also gained momentum online. Earlier this year, he poked fun at multiple ethnic groups on a podcast.

“1975 fans will bend over backwards to wholeheartedly defend Matty, even if it means they end up having to defend a racist,” wrote one Twitter user. Another added: “I don’t love Matty healy anymore! Being racist isn’t funny.” USA TODAY reached out to a rep for The 1975 for comment.

Elsewhere, people haven’t forgotten when country music star Morgan Wallen was caught on video two years ago saying a racial slur; Wallen apologized, and his career has since skyrocketed.

Can you separate art from the artist?

In recent years, with the rise of the #MeToo movement and a more public reckoning with stars who behave inappropriately, fans have been faced with the question: Can you separate the art from the artist? The answer requires self-examination and should be treated on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s critical for fans to actually engage with these situations themselves and not let political or religious leaders and organizations decide their positions for them,” said Glen Robert Gill, associate professor of classical studies and humanities at Montclair State University . “These judgments should not be made immediately or by proxy.”

What should be considered when separating art and artist?

Healy and Wallen aren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last.

“These cases are simply the latest chapters in the recurring global novel of white men who publicly engage in racist behavior and are positively rewarded for doing so,” said Melvin Williams, associate professor of communications and media studies at Pace University.

If you’ve loved an artist since you were young, chances are your memories of them are difficult to unravel.

“People say that one should be able to separate the artist from the work, but I cannot deny that my enjoyment of The Smiths and definitely Morrissey’s work was marred by his words, just as I was not about Harry Potter I can enjoy books and movies just as much as I used to,” says David Schmid, associate professor of English at the University at Buffalo. “At the same time, The Smiths are such a big part of my life and especially my youth that I can’t stop loving them hear even if I wanted to.”

There are also levels of engaging and disengaging from an artist’s work. Just because you’re obsessed with a song by a controversial artist doesn’t mean you accept their views.

“The idea that listening to, reading, viewing, or paying for someone’s art makes you complicit in all of its effects is probably a form of scapegoating,” Gil says.

Still, “one’s moral compass and tolerance/intolerance of racist behavior affect whether one feels ambivalent, guilty, or indifferent to supporting a controversial artist,” adds Williams. “However, if we pay attention to history, there are far more commercial success and support stories for artists like (Healy) and (Wallen) than failures and public rejections.”

Time will tell if Healy’s comments will make a lasting difference to his fan base. “Indie musicians like (Healy) are arguably kept at a different/higher level, not least because the majority of his fans are perceived as more liberal and something like that could potentially do more damage to their careers,” Schmid says.

Announce culture and accountability

Schmid believes we need to move away from the “breakaway culture” and focus on accountability.

“It’s more useful/productive to focus conversations on this topic on accountability,” he says. “What does accountability look like? Who/what are you accountable to? Answers to these questions can actually advance the conversation about artists and racism.”

Perhaps that is why some are proponents of the notion of accountability culture to the long-maligned “cancellation culture.” “If the move toward accountability helps clarify what the intent is to cancel someone, I’m all for it,” Isabel Araiza, associate professor of sociology at Texas A&M, Corpus Christi, previously told USA TODAY.

However, when it comes to accountability, the lines might get a little blurred — depending on who you ask.

Gill says: “Where people once tended to drop every Dixie Chicks song or Kevin Spacey role, we’re beginning to realize that an author like JK Rowling can hold social views with which we may disagree, and still produce an esteemed series of books, and that a comedian like Louis CK can do disgusting things and still be incredibly funny.”

More on the culture of abandonment

It’s time to cancel Cancel Culture. Call it “accountability culture” instead.

Is it even real to cancel someone? Joe Rogan. Oops. Awkwafina. Chapel. None have been cancelled. Is this a new cultural relaxation?

The antidote to the ‘abort culture’:Is this the way to bypass the “cancel culture” and be friends with everyone? Perhaps.

Flashback:Morgan Wallen used a racial slur, but his popularity skyrockets. how did we get here

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