We need to lower our expectations for celebrities.
After the release of his Netflix special, Inside, discussions about the personal ethics of Bo Burnham became inescapable. Kanye West’s album, Donda, arrived on a wave of chatter about his celebrity history. Solar Power, Lorde’s junior album, was met with backlash over inconsistencies in her character over her career.
Collectively, we care too much about the illusion of celebrity. Comedians, musicians, and artists alike are in the public eye for one thing-- to share what they make. When we base our assessment of artistry on the personality of its creator, we lose the ability to enjoy art for what it is.
An easy example of this lies in the public shaming of Taylor Swift. For a couple years, it was popular to hate Taylor Swift due to rumors about her dating life. In choosing to understand a stranger as shallow or vapid and thus assuming their talent is lacking, we fail to understand the purpose of creativity. By viewing an artists’ personal life and art as innately connected and impossible to separate from their career, we severely undercut the value of creation for creations’ sake.
I don’t know Taylor Swift. I don’t care about her personal life and I am incapable of judging her character. What I do care about, however, is what she creates for her listeners. Do I like her music? Am I moved by her writing? What do her personal flaws contribute to her art? How is her lyricism shaped and limited by how she understands the world?
Holding our favorite artists and creators to the same standards we hold our friends to limits our ability to engage with work critically. I love a lot of art made by people I have no desire to ever be around in person. It doesn’t matter. Celebrities are not be the northern star we should look to for guidance of virtue and we can enjoy art much more when we stop expecting them to be.
Expecting moral perfection out of anyone, particularly those with inclinations for fame, is illogical. There is no such thing as a perfect person, especially when every aspect of one’s life becomes magnified and studied for flaws under the public eye. Refusing to critically engage with one’s work because of their personal failings and clashes with our own ideologies only highlights our own character insecurities.
In citing Walt Whitman, people contain multitudes. Every person has an equal capacity for both greatness and evil, and we all operate under the influence of each. It is completely possible for someone to be just as terrible as they are funny or talented. Oftentimes, the uncomfortable truth is that someone may be funny not in spite of their terribleness, but because of it. Art is the same.
We don’t know our idols. We don’t know the celebrities we believe we dislike. What we do know, however, is their art.