With the uprising of the MeToo movement follow exhortations to separate the man from the artist.
This debate is raging in the United States as well as in France, though these passions are somewhat dampening, particularly in reference to Roman Polanski, Bertrand Cantat or XXXTentacion.
I will only voluntarily speak of artists facing legal proceedings – because one must remain cautious when it comes to facts, presumptions and newsworthy cases. As a lawyer, I can only subscribe to the principle of the presumption of innocence of which we all benefit.
Is the question of the separation of man and artist relevant? Yes, of course.
Can this question elicit a simple answer? Certainly not. To answer the question, one must examine it from at least three levels of analysis: judicial, socio-cultural and moral.
With regard to judicial aspects, and for the record:
Polanski, a Franco-Polish film director, accused of rape by Samantha Geimer in 1977, pleaded guilty to sexual relations with a 13-year-old minor against the withdrawal of other much more serious charges (notably: statutory rape, sodomy, offering a prohibited substance to a minor). Sentenced to 90 days for psychiatric evaluation, he was released for good behavior after 42 days. Fearing that a harsher judicial sentence would eventually be imposed, Polanski fled the United States in 1978 as well as his trial, fleeing to France, which refuses the extradition of its citizens. To this day, he is considered a fugitive by Interpol.
Polanski and Samantha Geimer put an end to the civil lawsuit in 1993, by a settlement. However, this closure of the lawsuit had no impact on the criminal action, since the latter was introduced in the name of the American people – in the general interest, in short – which explains why this last action is therefore always in progress.
Irregularities were suspected in the 1977 proceedings, though these were ultimately discredited.
In 2009, Polanski was arrested in Switzerland and was imprisoned for two months before being placed under house arrest for eight months. He was not, however, extradited by Switzerland because the United States refused to transmit a document to the Swiss judge apparently stipulating that in 1977 the judge had considered his sentence served.
Bertrand Cantat, singer of the iconic French group Noir Désir, killed his partner Marie Trintignant in 2003, in Lithuania. In 2004, he was sentenced for murder with 8 years in prison, served half his sentence in prison. In 2007, he was on parole and since 2010, his sentence has been considered fully settled.
XXXTentacion, the late American rapper, has had an intense judicial life, including three convictions for domestic violence. He was imprisoned in 2016 for kidnapping and violence against his then pregnant partner.
To summarize the legal aspects: three men, artists, who have been convicted of violence and sexual abuse of women.
From a socio-cultural point of view, I cannot help but examine the question of the separation of man and artist in its socio-cultural context:
I see that the question only arises with regard to men and abuses committed against women.
I also note that the question only arises with respect to artists.
Finally, I note that the question primarily pertains to contemporary men.
Why these three observations? Because the question of whether we can separate the man and the artist was born in the flurry of the MeToo movement, whose first blaze is that of the world of cinema and whose spread takes with it many artists, from the worlds of cinema and music.
The great celebrity of those involved, emerging from cinema and music, may explain the global resonance of the movement. A MeToo movement from the International Dentists, would probably have had less of an impact (and that’s a shame, because I believe abuse exists in all professions).
And for this same reason, the echo has global effect because it involves men alive today, men of our generation, and that of our parents or our children. Men living in the same century as us, subject to the same socio-cultural standards as us, with whom it is easy to identify or compare.
The scrutiny and judgment are likely more tempered toward artists who are no longer alive, differentiated by historically different social standards. Or because of lack of awareness of social issues in previous eras. Or because of ignorance about the abuses committed by the deceased artist who were appreciated in their heyday.
The question of the separation of man and artist is quite relevant regarding artists, because if it is, in fact, a profession – a vocation, I should say – which feeds on human dimension, it is indeed the profession of artist. Whether they are directors, writers or composers, their great work is nourished by their lives, their emotions, their loves and their failures – in short, their humanity. Polanski does not say anything else when promoting his film “An Officer and a Spy”, in which he draws a parallel between Dreyfus, his own judicial path, and the underlying injustice he sees in it.
What comes with contemporaneity, is the financial dimension: separating the man from the artist, going to see the man’s films or buying the man’s records adds to the artist’s legacy. Not to mention the films that are financed with public funds or the concerts that are organized with the approval of public authorities.
The question of financial gain or loss also occurs with the boycott (or not) of certain artists on musical platforms. Coming back to XXXTentacion, he was banned from playlists highlighted by Spotify in 2018 for hateful content, only to be reinstated on Spotify, two weeks later, following pressure from another artist – Kendrick Lamar. Within two weeks, XXXTentacion’s viewing rate had dropped by 17%.
From a moral point of view, the following is now very personal:
I read assertions that these men have served their sentence and that their actions ought to be forgotten. Once again, a little nuance: Polanski spent 42 days in psychiatric evaluation, two months in prison, then eight months under house arrest. Of note: the last two sentences were imposed because he fled his trial.
Cantat has served 4 years in prison and 4 years on parole.
XXXTentacion has served time for some sentences and violated the terms of others. His general behavior towards women and his behavior during concerts spurred the recurrence of violence.
Right to be forgotten? That is a little too simple for my taste, at least in the case of Polanski. This is not even the lawyer in me responding, but the human being. Spending 42 days in psychiatric evaluation for a rape, is hardly a sentence (but it is the whole US plea bargain system which is questionable here). Even if I consider the Swiss sentences, and culminate in less than a year, I still find it just as insufficient. Fleeing from trial and posing as a victim of criminal injustice in such circumstances just seems petty. Had he faced the consequences of his actions would have rendered him more dignified – in my opinion.
In the same vein, pardoning an artist, as in the case of XXXTentacion is also too simple for my taste. This is because doing so will increase the risk of recurring violence (whether violence against women, violence during his concerts, violence embedded in his lyrics or his music videos). These issues have absolutely not been treated and the underlying message of violence sent to his many fans is still problematic, even after his death.
I also hear, here and there that the audience should be provided the choice to consume the work of an artist. Here, I refer in particular to the statement by Laurence Bloch, director of France Inter radio, on the Polanski film “An Officer and a Spy”, in which the public service station is a partner: “it is a partnership of recommendation, that is to say that the partnership service of France Inter and the management consider that the film, by its purpose, by the quality of its staging, by the exemplarity and the quality of its actors, must not only be brought to the awareness of its viewers, but also recommended. There is no exchange of money. There is obviously no request to the cinema critics of France Inter to recommend the film and I believe that viewers know that the editorial critics do what they have to do“.
Still a bit simple, in my opinion. Everyone has their own free will and everyone will choose whether or not to see the film or attend the concert in dispute. Nevertheless, France Inter is a public service, financed by public funds (therefore indirectly by each of us in France), and the fact remains that the promotion by a station with a large audience such as France Inter offers it visibility and an unequaled impact in terms of pure communication. And thus we return to the financial dimension of this issue.
The contemporaneity of the people concerned deeply disturbs me. Because they are subject to the same socio-cultural standards as I, because I deeply believe in the internal dialogue between the human being and the artistic being which cannot be disconnected, in my opinion.
It’s very personal, but I have no desire to financially endorse, by purchasing my cinema or concert ticket, people whose behavior I deplore, because I fundamentally believe in the consistency that must govern our thoughts and actions. To separate someone in two – the man and the artist – makes no sense if we replace the debate on the ground of human coherence.
However, the treatment must be egalitarian: why ban from society only a Bertrand Cantat – who has served his prison sentence for killing Marie Trintignant but who can no longer perform on stage as the boycott is still strong – and not a Roman Polanski, who served a paltry sentence, who fled the United States before his trial, but whose films are distributed in 545 theaters in France alone? Why remove XXXTentacion from the Spotify catalog and reinstate it two weeks later?
This is a case of big money and influence peddling, probably. Let’s not cloud the issue.
January 17, 2020
Dolce & Gabbana dress – Vintage heels
At the Lancaster hotel – Paris