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The Light Went Out

I have trouble letting go, even if it means compromising my values. I cling to bad friendships, bad relationships, and, yes, bad celebrities until I am forced to my breaking point and I have to shout- from the trenches of emotional pain- “no more.”

I want to talk about J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter gave me an escape as a child. It was my obsession, perhaps the best piece of art I will ever consume, but the author hurt my trans+ peers as well as femme identifiers who do not menstruate by publicly defining womanhood as somebody with a uterus. I often think to myself “it should be easy to let go. I can stop being a Potterhead, I cannot stop being nonbinary- am I a traitor to my own community if I still love Harry Potter?” I feel as though I cannot let go, even if loving Rowling’s work makes me feel terrible about myself.

Like many sixteen-year-olds I feel a spiritual connection to Morrissey. The Smiths have pushed me to evaluate how sound works and informed the choices I make in my creative life. I want to give my attention to the Smiths, and by extension Morrissey, so badly because I want to live in that soundscape for all of time. But by doing so, I indirectly give Morrissey a platform, who’s xenophobic and sexist comments have not only sparked controversy but broken the hearts of the punks and the queers and the outcasts who loved him, especially those like my mum who were teenagers in the 1980s.

Diego Rivera was a wife beater. Bowie exposed himself to Debby Harry. Several of the Velvet Underground’s lyrics are racially insensitive. John Lennon had sex with a waitress in a restaurant bathroom while Yoko, distraught, waited at the table for her husband to rejoin her (Lennon told Yoko he was upset about Nixon’s reelection as a justification for his behavior). Marlon Brando sexually assaulted Maria Schnieder on the set of Last Tango in Paris. The Violent Femmes wrote lyrics that were extremely objectifying of women. My favorite composer, Benjamin Britten, was rumored to be a pedophile. Do any of the wrongdoings of these great artists directly affect me? No. Are these people great artists, despite having done terrible things? Absolutely; yet I’m so conflicted. I am sixteen. I am trying to get an education. I am trying to develop values, values which will take me a lifetime to articulate. Are my values compromised if I idolize the work of people who have violated them? How do I learn from the great rock and rollers and the great writers and the great artists if they have put evil into the world as well as beauty? How do I separate the art from the artist?

The fact of the matter is that people do bad things every day. *Good people* do bad things every day. And not for nothing, you don’t have to be a good person to be talented. But regardless, there are some things that you just cannot forgive. I have a problem- I don’t forgive but I still hang on. This problem bleeds into my personal life and into my life as an aspiring artist, as well as my life as a consumer. Lots of fans who have loved Harry Potter and the Smiths and the Beatles for so long have my same problem, while others may have no issue with letting go of artists who have done bad things.

This is the part where the Rules of Writing have declared that I need to wrap my rant in the ribbon of a final statement, but it’s all so complex. If I say to the world in print that “I appreciate the art, but not the actions of the person who made that art,” the pit in my emotions would grow deeper, even if that statement is true. I am much too conflicted, and I should have waited to sort out my thoughts before catapulting them into the world. The only problem is that I don’t know if I will ever sort out these thoughts. I hold these things to be true: I am desperate to seek and create beautiful things. Beauty can be born from darkness, it’s true, and sometimes it is important to acknowledge that darkness. These polarizing aspects of art are what condense our tastes as well as our anxieties. Above all, loving beauty does not make somebody weak. You can see a person for their beauty, but keep your distance from them if they hurt you. It’s the same with art: you can appreciate something- even love it- without feeling close to the person who made it. Love of beauty does not make you weak; understanding your values makes you strong.


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