By Cherie and Vasilis
For anyone who hasn’t heard of the Ian Watkins scandal, the Guardian recently posted a thought provoking article on the matter on their website (read it here). After stumbling across the article, I invited Vasilis to come up with a few thoughts on the matter and I would publish a joint reaction piece on the blog. We both found the issue hard to wrap our heads around but in the end managed to scrape together the following responses, which you can read below.
I always thought I had a steel stomach and could withstand anything. After all, I watch Boardwalk Empire, a show that has shown a man stabbed to death with a broken bottle by a man who was defiling his wife (and shockingly, that is not even close to the grossest thing on that show). I have a pretty sick sense of humor which can include gross and severe topics, and I love to watch comedians who touch upon these topics.
Yet, when news of this Ian Watkins story broke, I was so appalled I almost couldn’t bear to read it. As I forgot about it and was later reminded of it when he was found guilty, I couldn’t believe how much more horrific the details had gotten. I realized I am not nearly as impervious to stomach-churning stories as I once though. That may be because, where the shows and movies I watch are based mostly in fiction, this story was all too real and disgusting. Even after reading the gruesome details, I find it hard to believe any “man” could be capable of such atrocities.
Reading through comments on various music blogs showed that people were in the same state of shock I was. At the time, television journalist Rupert Evelyn was live tweeting the case proceedings as the horrific specifics were announced. As a journalist who has covered some terrible crimes, the following tweet pretty much sums up how disturbing this crime was: “The details of this case are the most graphic and distressing pedophile crimes I have ever listened to.”
Many, like myself, grew up on Lostprophets. Though I was never a big fan, I remember spinning “Last Train Home” and “4AM Forever” on my college radio show and jamming along behind the board. Though Lostprophets have really fallen off most people’s radars, this is not the way they wanted to be brought back. Now, so many people are claiming they can never listen to this band’s music ever again. Is that fair? To be honest, no. It is not fair to the other members of the band who are also victims, though obviously at a much smaller level than those who were destroyed by Watkins’ deplorable act. It is not fair to the art itself, which should always be held separate from the people who make it. Watkins is not the first scumbag to make art, and he won’t be the last. And yet, I find myself joining the voices proclaiming his music dead in their eyes. The retailers have already begun heeding these opinions and pulling his music from circulation.
So why is this case any different? For one thing, I think the shock and horror of this specific act is very rare. Rape is bad enough, but raping a baby is almost unthinkable. We may never be able to wrap our heads around what would possess anyone to even think up a crime this unthinkable. Though the new details confirmed he was on some serious drugs, that is hardly any excuse and doesn’t help explain how he came to act on these disgusting ideas. I honestly could not even think of a possible crime that would rival what Ian Watkins is guilty of.
And yet Chris Brown beat his girlfriend half to death and still has a huge following. Other musicians have abused hard drugs and committed crimes but have continued to thrive. I think this takes us to the big question The Guardian raised in the end of their article: “If art is to be deemed beyond the pale, who makes the decision, and how?” I think in the end, it’s all public perception. No crime will ever be so grand that the guilty’s music will be erased by a federal law signed by the President. Nothing will universally cause every music outlet to stop covering this artist, which is why Chris Brown is still making music. If enough people deem an artist’s actions so grave that their music is null and void, then that is the reality. If enough people forgive the artist and continue to listen, then that is the reality. Somewhere, someone will still be able to listen to Lostprophets, but because of the severity of this crime, that number is quite low.
This case is in the history books. Ian Watkins will hopefully rot in jail for the rest of his days, his music a thing of the past. In the end, I think people who call a band member an “asshole” because they have an ego or because they “didn’t sign my CD when I demanded them to!” should look at this case to put things in perspective and see that they’re wrong. This guy is the true asshole, a monster and a coward.
To me, art is always an expression of self. I like to consider myself an aspiring writer, and I take inspiration in the people, places, and things that I chose to surround myself with. I mix parts of myself in with my characters but I also base many of them on people I know in real life. And while its true that most of my stories aren’t an autobiography (because I don’t live in a dystopian society where books were burned like in one of my novels), looking back at what I’ve written I can often see myself reflected in the grand scheme of things. And I think that’s true for a lot of artists as well. True art has to come from somewhere, and it has to be based on something. It doesn’t just appear on its own, out of nowhere. Its created by people and those people have an impact on their creation. That’s why its so hard for me to separate what an artist has done from their work. Because to me art is personal, and people relate to it on a personal level.
From time to time a scandal will leak that will call into a question an artist’s body of work. Just this past year several scandals were leaked involving Orson Scott Card, writer of Ender’s Game (which is perhaps one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time). Ender’s Game was being made into a movie, and Card was being placed in the spotlight more often to promote the adaptation, and many of his remarks prompted negative backlash. Card insists that his remarks, which have revealed him to be homophobic, sexist, and racist among other things,were taken out of his context (though as this article proves that isn’t quite true). When I heard the extent of Card’s homophobia I was deeply disappointed. He had been one of my favorite writer’s and to hear what kind of person he truly was, at his very core, I felt disgusted. Card has made his opinions a matter of public information; you can look up articles he’s written and published on the matter and interviews where he voices his opinions. Its not the press twisting his words or making him into a villain when he isn’t. He truly is a bigoted individual, and I for one, want nothing to do with the man. It make not make an actual difference to him that I have chosen to boycott his published works, but I couldn’t in good conscious support his lifestyle when everything he believes and promotes goes against what I believe.
Taking the matter one step further is the scandal surrounding Ian Watkins, lead singer for the band Lostprophets. Watkins was brought to public attention nearly a year ago when he was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault. Watkins has now plead guilty to eleven of the offenses including the attempted rape of a baby. The plea has shocked fans of the band and even band members themselves who had hoped that the charges were some sort of gross misunderstanding. In an official statement the band stated: “Earlier this week, we learned that the allegations of child sexual abuse against Ian were true, and that he would not be contesting them in court. Until then, we found them extremely difficult to believe and had hoped it was all a mistake. Sadly, the true extent of his appalling behavior is now impossible to deny.”
The backlash to Watkins guilty plea was nearly instantaneously. Music seller HMV pulled the band’s music from shelves, and it’s highly unlikely they were the only ones to do so. The Guardian recently published an article on the decision, using the situation to look at a much broader issue: separating an artist’s sins from their art. They pointed out that many famous artists had scandals in their lives as well but their art is still respected today. It also points out that these scandals usually came out after the fact, and were often alleged but unconfirmed.
“Lostprophets were, almost inarguably, neither real art nor real culture, and the nature of Watkins’s crimes and his admission of guilt precludes any ambiguity: these are not events that have been alleged and disputed, years after the fact; they are in the here and now and they are undeniable” the article states.
And that, I think is the root of the problem. These aren’t some allegations that have been unproved or contested. Watkins plead guilty to most of the charges against him, including, worst of all, the attempted rape of a baby. There’s no black and white here, Watkins is a sick individual who needs help. As I stated earlier, I think its impossible to entirely separate one’s self from one’s art. Just thinking about the scope of the scandal surrounding the Watkins I feel sick and know that I will never again listen to their music. The rest of the band clearly feels the same way; when they learned that Watkins was pleading guilty to the charges they immediately announced the bands dissolution.
So to me, its impossible to completely separate and artist from their work. Maybe that’s not entirely fair; horrible people can create beautiful things. But I believe that if someone is truly a horrible person, their actions will taint everything else in their life. And that includes their art.