Is it possible for the audience to separate the artist’s personality from their art?
Within the entertainment industry, there is probably no story repeated more often than that of a popular, talented, and brilliant artist who is revealed to be a ‘bad’ person. Artists often experience a love/hate relationship from fans, who sometimes turn into anti-fans when they perceive their idol as tainted. It is common to hear people saying that they stopped listening to a certain artist’s music after they were involved with a certain scandal. Others cannot seem to enjoy an artist’s music after they have been involved in some ‘shady’ issue. Media personalities, artists, and other personalities working in the entertainment industry have been accused of com/2017/11/28/learning/can-you-separate-art-from-the-artist.html”>sexual misconduct and had their projects suspended. Film directors who have been involved in sex scandals in the past have had their films removed from the box office. Take, for example, Harvey Weinstein. After the New York Times published a report in October 2017 on details of his continued sexual harassment, it triggered the #metoomovement.
Dozens of women came forward with accusations against the Hollywood film producer, who was also the co-founder of the entertainment company, Weinstein Company. After the allegations, the company dismissed Weinstein and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences banished him. Apart from the women who came forward and pressed more allegations, the public went as far as persuading people to boycott Marchesa, which is a fashion company belonging to Harvey Weinstein’s wife.
In a case such as Weinstein’s, the only singularity that could probably rival the absolute pervasiveness of the masses is probably the people who respond with a rejoinder on the importance of separating the art from the artist. Unfortunately, this group of the audience represents only an insignificant minority group, which cannot defend the artist or sway the opinion of the majority. For instance, when Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment, some celebrities went online and attempted to defend him. However, due to the backlash they received from audiences online, some of them withdrew their comments. One such person was Lindsay Lohan who expressed her support on Instagram and even uploaded supportive videos in her account but was forced to take them down due to the audiences’ backlash. Ultimately, this raises the question, what influences the audience to view the artist the way they do and what could possibly lead the audience to separate an artist’s personality from their art.
Harvey Weinstein accused of sexual harassment
Throughout the past couple of weeks, we have learned about audiences, what influences audiences, audiences in the news, in power, as objects, and their involvement with media personae among others. Today we will focus on an artist’s audience and the various factors that influence them to view an artist the way they do. In particular, we will focus on the factors that prevent the audience from separating an artist’s personality and their art, with a special focus on Harvey Weinstein’s case.
Constructing audiences through history and theory
Some scholars assert that it is hard to understand audiences without deconstructing the notion and categories of audiences. This means instead of viewing the audiences as individuals or masses, it is important to see them as a construct. Drawing upon Sullivan’s (2013) notion of audiences, the author provides a theoretical abstraction, which views the nature and element of audiences as one determined by the cultural, political, and social environment of the audience. In this case, because audiences are abstractions, they are likely to change more often. Audiences are viewed as pragmatics invoked in an individual’s perspective. In order to have a clear understanding of audiences, we rely upon three models of audiences, which include audiences as an outcome, audiences as mass, and audiences as free agents.
Firstly, audiences as outcome view people as influenced by the media. It reflects the power of the media to influence people and generate negative outcomes about individuals. Relating this to an artist’s audience, media has the ability to influence the way the audience perceives an artist based on the way they report the issue.
When viewing the audience as mass, it means the audiences are viewed as a large collection of individuals who are in different places and location and have no knowledge of one another. Utilizing this model poses various questions such as, how might specific groups of individuals respond to a certain issue. When this model is used, it becomes hard to predict how the audience will perceive an artist. Nonetheless, Sullivan explains that the media has the potential to broadcast damaging information for the public, which can influence the public. For instance, when reporting about an issue concerning an artist, the media is likely to exaggerate their headlines to attract more audiences. They are also likely to twist the truth, which can end up tarnishing the image of the artist. When the media reports about issues concerning an artist, they are likely to link the incident with the artist’s line of work as a way of creating hype and to attract more audience. By doing this, the media can affect the public’s view of the artist.
The third model is the audience as an agent, which views audiences as free agents who cannot be influenced by the media, bring their own interpretive skills, make their own meanings, and use media to fit their perceptions. This group of audiences selects specific media and content to fit their needs and interpret the information from their personal perspective. Audiences under this category choose what to think, and cannot be influenced by others. For instance, if an individual believes that an artist’s personality should not be different from their art, then it becomes hard to sway them to the other side.
The Spiral Theory of Silence
Most often human beings become silent when they hold the minority opinion. The phenomenon restricts individuals from using their freedom of speech for fear of sounding controversial in front of the majority. The spiral theory of silence posits that individuals when individuals are faced by a controversial situation, they continuously gauge their stance before responding to the opinion of the majority (Neubaum & Kramer, 2018). When people feel that their opinion resonates with the majority, then they are more likely to express it, as opposed to when they feel that their opinion resonates with the minority. A key concept of the spiral of silence theory is the fear of isolation, which posits that fear, is the driving force behind a human behavior when faced by a controversial issue. For instance, people are likely to support a controversial discussion for fear of expected sanctions from the society. Relating this to an artist’s audience, people are likely to lean on the majority side and fail to view the artist as an individual who has a personal life and with flaws just like them. Such people are likely to be influenced by others to view an artist’s personality together with their art. In essence, it becomes hard for some people to separate an artist’s personality from their art. In their effort not to be isolated by the society, individuals are likely to follow the majority and punish an artist based on their conduct and let their art suffer the consequences. Being able to stand up, defend an artist, and probably convince the public to separate an artist’s personality and their art means that the individual risks being isolated if the majorities are condemning the artist. For instance, when Harvey’s sexual allegations were exposed, some people even persuaded others to boycott his wife’s fashion company in a bid to punish the couple. People who felt like this was an injustice and a bit exaggerated were unable to speak up and preferred going with the majority.
The dynamics of big data
With the era of big data, it has emerged a paradigm of innovativeness and aggressive information management. For instance, YouTube is an exemplary medium designed without content (Athique, 2018). The medium relies on users to supply it with information or data at no cost. The current era has become predominant with media production that is facilitated by cheap technology and a liberated media distribution avenue. The other source of data that has made it easy to access data is social networks. The necessary convenience of social media networks allows them to operate a vast realm of information and reaches out to a high number of audiences, especially internet users. The social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube provides an extensive source of big data allowing audiences with a vast source of information. In this case, due to the availability of big data, audiences can easily access information, which was otherwise not easily accessible during the traditional media era. In the case of Harvey Weinstein, the news about his sexual allegations was broadcasted in several media outlets including social media platforms and websites. Due to the ability of the audience to access information about Weinstein facilitate by the dynamics of big data, it became easy to influence the audience and helped other women who had been assaulted by Weinstein to come out and join the #metoomovement.
In the entertainment industry, good people sometimes make bad decisions, which end up tainting their image to the public. However, when the audiences fail to separate an artist’s personality with their art, it raises several questions. For instance, does an individual’s personality, behavior, and attitude affect their art? Should audiences view an artist’s work from the lens of their personality or should they separate the two? This puts the audience in an awfully uncomfortable position of judging art not only for its artistic merits but also the person behind it. Evidently, several factors influence an audience and determine their perspective concerning an artist. Before the New York Times published the sexual allegations concerning Harvey Weinstein, a majority of the woman who had been molested did not speak up. However, like the exposure, the #metoomovement saw a substantial number of women coming out to say that Weinstein molested them. The whole issue represents the four models of constructing an audience as outcome, mass, and agent. Besides, it also brings out the spiral theory of silence, where the minority would prefer not speaking up about a controversial topic. All these theories including the dynamics of big data tie into each other. Until next, I am sure if you had not read extensively about Harvey Weinstein, you are probably looking him up. Thank you for reading and look out for the next issue.
Athique, A. (2018). The dynamics and potentials of big data for audience research. Media, Culture and Society, 40(1), 59-74.
Brennan, S. (2017). ‘She supports a sexual predator’: Now Harvey Weinstein’s British WIFE comes under fire as fans urge a boycott of her label Marchesa – loved by the stars of her husband’s films. Daily Mail. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4965804/Fans-urge-Marchesa-boycott-Harvey-Weinstein-scandal.html
Kantor, J., & Twohey, M. (2017). Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harvey-Weinstein-harassment-allegations.html
MacDonald, B. (2017). So who has dared to defend Harvey Weinstein? Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/la-et-mn-Harvey-Weinstein-defenders-20171013-story.html
Neubaum, G., & Kramer, N. C. (2018). What Do We Fear? Expected Sanctions for Expressing Minority Opinions in Offline and Online Communication. Communication Research, 45(2), 139-164.
Proulx, N. (2017). Can You Separate Art From the Artist? The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/learning/can-you-separate-art-from-the-artist.html
Sullivan, J. L. (2013). Media Audiences: Effects, users, institutions, and power. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications.
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