Anne T. Donahue on the Difference Between Problematic Faves™ and Problems

Men like Louis C.K. or Woody Allen or Kevin Spacey are not problematic, they are problems—and we need to accept the consequences of labelling them as such

Problematic Faves: Louis C.K. wearing a black shirt and holding a mic, with barf emojis in the background
Yesterday afternoon, the New York Times released an exposé about Louis C.K.‘s alleged history of masturbating in front of—and on the phone with—women who hadn’t consented to such, ultimately confirming rumours that have been circulating for half a decade. Add to this last week’s downward spiral of allegations against Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Piven, Ed Westwick and Harvey Weinstein (to name a few), and the summation seems obvious: our faves are, were, and always will be problematic.

As people, we are flawed and messy and complicated and disastrous. We make mistakes on a regular basis, we hurt people, we say stupid things and we succumb to privilege and ignorance. The celebrities we love do the same: they say insensitive things, defend the wrong standpoint, make bad jokes. They, like us, are not perfect. But there’s a difference between f-ck-ups and those who engage in sexual assault, racism, xenophobia or homophobia. The former may be people we’d do better not to invest our time loving so much. The latter are problems.

And there’s a difference between the two. When a favourite is revealed as problematic it’s annoying and shitty and disappointing. It tells us that instead of investing their money and their time in educating themselves or engaging in valuable discourse, they opted out. They chose ease, they chose blinders. And by making that choice, they proved to not be worthy of our adulations. They were never better than us, our sentiments were wasted on them. In their ignorance, our problematic faves became just as big a letdown as everybody else, and as a result, to consume their art (their music, their movies, their TV shows) becomes far less appealing. And for good reason. Why would you want to invest in something made by someone who is willingly ignorant? Happily obtuse?

But men like Louis C.K. or Woody Allen or Kevin Spacey are not Problematic Faves™. They are predators, they are hunters. They are beacons of sexism, misogyny, manipulation and even violence. The allegations made against them connote a lust for abuse of power, a joy found in instigating a sense of helplessness. Those who assault and abuse use their reputations as a means of targeting, trapping, willfully hurting. They are not “problematic,” they are problems. And when we’re asked whether we should still engage with their art, the answer is “no.”

To separate the artist from what they create is a debate most of us have engaged in. To suggest boycotting men like Johnny Depp or Woody Allen tends to invite conversations about men like John Lennon and Sean Penn, who have histories of domestic violence and assault. Which sucks, since, when you unpack the histories of many famous people, theirs are riddled with incidences abuse and assault. Everyone is the worst. So what are we supposed to do?

I guess that’s your call. What are you comfortable with? Is it fine for an actor to make a racist joke? Do you feel okay throwing your money down to see a movie starring a man who beat his wife? Can you sleep knowing you still spread the gospel of the comic who whipped his dick out in front of multiple women? Do the jokes in Annie Hall outweigh the exposé written by Woody Allen’s stepdaughter a few years ago? Is it fine to give Mel Gibson another chance because he hasn’t made any anti-Semitic remarks in a decade or so? Are those things you feel good about?

It sucks to have to build a moral compass. To recognize that our actions—whether they be defending predatory men or paying to see them star or sing in things—have consequences that can help keep them afloat despite dangerous natures. It sucks that what’s supposed to be an escape (pop culture) has become an exercise in determine one’s own complicity. It sucks to not see a movie, to not watch a TV show, to not know what you can and cannot do lest you be hypocritical in your beliefs. But that’s where we are.

Everything has always been shit. Our faves have always been human at best and at worst, our nightmares. So now it’s up to us what we’re okay tolerating. Can we explain away something that happened before we were born? Can we turn a blind eye for the sake of a two-hour film? That isn’t for me to tell you—you’re the one who ultimately decides who’s “problematic” and who’s The Problem™.

Even though, for the record, Louis was always just an okay show.

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