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How People Are Grappling With Art From 'Monstrous Men'


After Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual assault last month, Director Ridley Scott did a quick bit of cinematic surgery. He cut Spacey out of the upcoming movie "All The Money In The World" and replaced him with Christopher Plummer. That saved the movie studio from a PR headache. And it also saved the audience from wrestling with a difficult question - do the allegations against Spacey mean we shouldn't watch his work? Or as the writer Claire Dederer poses in an essay for the Paris Review, what do we do with the art of monstrous men? Claire Dederer joins us now. Welcome.

CLAIRE DEDERER: Hi. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: You write that for you this dilemma started a long time ago with Roman Polanski. The filmmaker pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl. He has been accused of raping other teenage girls. And he is also the director of films that you call works of genius - "Rosemary's Baby," "Chinatown." Do you watch those movies?

DEDERER: I do. I do watch those movies. And more disturbingly for some people, I pay for them. I don't just download them for free. So he actually is receiving my money. I really know a lot about what he did, and I'm disturbed by it. And yet at the same time, these are great movies. And I'm - personally, I'm not willing to give them up.

SHAPIRO: Isn't there a basic economic argument that we vote with our wallets? And if we don't want to support slave labor, we buy things that are produced under humane conditions. And if we don't want to support abusive men, we don't pay to watch the art they created.

DEDERER: Absolutely. I think that that is the right decision for some people. For me, it wavers from case to case.

SHAPIRO: With Woody Allen you write that there are some films of his that you feel more comfortable watching than others. Explain.

DEDERER: Yeah. So when I started thinking about this I watched "Annie Hall," when I started thinking about the monster who makes something great. And "Annie Hall" was no problem to watch. It was a joy. You know, I had a moment - maybe a sinking moment of guilt or discomfort, but I was also able to be transported by the film. And then I tried to watch "Manhattan," and it was deeply uncomfortable. You know, Woody Allen plays a character who's having a relationship with a high school student. It's foregrounding what we later came to know about Soon-Yi. And yet he doesn't seem critical about it at all. He makes a few jokes about it, but there's not kind of a thought-out dismantling of what's going on.

SHAPIRO: Soon-Yi is Woody Allen's wife, and she was the adopted daughter of Woody Allen's longtime partner, Mia Farrow.

DEDERER: Correct. Yeah. And so when "Manhattan" first came out, it was previous to that relationship. And the question is sort of, was it as strange and upsetting to look at his unprocessed feelings about young women at that time? And honestly, I can't really know. I can only look at the film now as it's been sort of disrupted by my knowledge of what happened with Soon-Yi.

SHAPIRO: So it sounds like for you the question, do you consume the art of monstrous men cannot be answered with a yes/no check box.

DEDERER: Exactly. Yes. Very, very fair. I sort of teeter back and forth almost on a balance beam between the rage at what has been done and the gratitude to the women who've come forward, and then this feeling that I'm unwilling to give up the art. Kind of where I end up is thinking that every audience member is responsible.

SHAPIRO: I think about - sometimes when people ask me about eating meat, the answer I kind of irreverently give is that I'll eat anything as long as I feel guilty about it.

DEDERER: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: And I wonder if consumption of these works of art can be looked at in a similar way. There will be those who say you can never consume this, but you fall more on the line of you can consume it as long as - maybe not feel guilty about it, but as long as you're consciously thinking about the implications of your consumption.

DEDERER: That's a fair point. And I think that, you know, listen. Art is there to bring us up against what's most human in us, what's most complex, and often what's most dark. And artists are people who can bring, you know, sort of news of that interior life to us. And a lot of times, given certain circumstances which have to do with access, opportunity, entitlement, the makers feel entitled to act on those dark feelings. You know, so it is complicated. I am grateful to people who make art about dark emotions.

SHAPIRO: Do you sympathize with the people who say, no, bright line, we should not consume the work by these men, we should forget it ever existed, we should focus on the victims and the work they never had an opportunity to create?

DEDERER: I do sympathize with those people. And it's important to put the focus on the victims and the people who did not get to put their work out there. But all of our woulds and shoulds and what we want and what's right and what's wrong don't affect reality. They don't affect the reality of Woody Allen having had a relationship with Soon-Yi. And whether or not you want that to affect the viewing of the film "Manhattan," it does. At the same time, you can't just pretend none of this work existed before. Do we pretend Wagner doesn't exist, or Woody Allen films, or the work of Ezra Pound or - all these great works of literature are there. I think the idea of just chucking them is not for me.

SHAPIRO: Claire Dederer's piece in the Paris Review is "What Do We Do With The Art Of Monstrous Men?" She is most recently the author of "Love And Trouble." Thanks so much for joining us.

DEDERER: Oh, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.