All the Sad, Funny Men
I’m a sucker for the ends of things. Why else did I find myself on my couch until 1 am last night, watching David Letterman’s last late night show? I like Letterman–I even went to a live taping of the show when I lived in New York (Juliana Marguiles was the guest, and some athlete, and that terrible country band I can never remember the name of…not the most epic show, but still a fun experience). But I’m not what you would call a Fan. There were a few periods when I was a teenager that I would stay up late and watch his show before I went to bed, but that’s the most regular I’ve been in my Letterman viewership. I liked that he was weird and irreverent and didn’t always make sense. But beyond that, I didn’t really know (or care) that much about him. Nonetheless, all of the buzz surrounding this retirement drew me in and I watched, sucked in by nostalgia for a time I was barely alive for–Dave’s been on the air since before I was born. I got home at 11:30 after a night out with friends, and I wasn’t tired, so I stayed up and watched.
But while I watched, there was some nagging feeling pulling at me–there have been allegations that Letterman behaved inappropriately with female employees during his reign. Similarly, I’ve been struggling this week with what to think about the allegations against Louis C.K., a comic I’ve admired and also seen perform live. I know that just because Gawker puts up an article doesn’t mean it’s true, but I also cringe at the sheer number of males in power who are accused of taking advantage of female employees, reporters, colleagues, strangers, etc. It’s not a coincidence, and it’s especially jarring when the accusations come against someone whose work you genuinely admire.
One summer a few years ago, I watched Manhattan outdoors in Brooklyn Bridge Park, the movie that mythologized the city backdropped against the very skyline in its logo. It was one of those magical New York experiences that make living there ALMOST worth it, sometimes.
As we walked home, Joe & I talked about Woody Allen. This was before the revelations of the Dylan Farrow case were in the news (again). I talked about how much I enjoy his movies (Annie Hall is one of my favorites, or was) and how conflicted his behavior (I was thinking primarily of his relationship with Soon-Yi, his wife’s adopted daughter, who was just 17 when they began their romantic relationship) made me feel. We talked about art vs. the artist, and how one should stand separately from the other. Normally, I believe this, but where’s the line? If Hitler had actually been the talented artist he’d wanted to be, and still did all he did, would we be able to look at his paintings and think, “How beautiful”? I really don’t think so. At least, I couldn’t.
So, it’s difficult for me to look at these laughing, powerful men, and not cringe at what happens behind the scenes. And yet, I still watch Louie. I still watched Letterman’s farewell. I still read Hemingway and Updike and Roth and many other male writers who completely disparage women. And I can acknowledge their talent, even admire and enjoy it. But it makes me feel conflicted and a little dirty inside, a little ashamed. Can I watch a Woody Allen movie or a Louis C.K. stand-up routine or an old episode of The Cosby Show and still consider myself a feminist?
I don’t know, and it’s sad that it’s a dilemma faced by women everywhere. How do we reconcile our values and beliefs with those of a society in conflict?
What do you think? Are you able to separate the art from the artist?