(This journal is basically solely because my facebook feed will not shut the fuck up about this one news story so fine, I’ll give you my goddamn opinion on the fucking thing long hand.
Also, this is written first thing in the morning, on one cup of coffee, so it is going to be literally all over the place, and I apologize vehemently for it.)
Pretty much the day after David Bowie died – awkwardly, a few hours after my last journal post which, let’s be honest, was more about my family than Bowie – articles like this one started to crop up, talking about David Bowie’s history as a sexual assaulter.
There are plenty of arguments to be made against discussing it now – his family are grieving, his friends are grieving, this is a bad time, yeah, yeah, whatever – but people are gonna drag dirty laundry out when megastars die, it’s pretty much the nature of the beast.
So let’s talk about the facts:
David Bowie is a rockstar god.
David Bowie also raped someone.
Okay? We cool? Like, these are indisputable facts. They can sit kind of comfortably side by side, just like how “John Lennon was one of the greatest rock stars to have ever lived” can sit comfortably next to “And also John Lennon beat all his wives”.
Now, I have, I’m going to admit, a weirdly circular attitude to celebrities, art and rape. Especially when it really only gets spoken about loudly (I’m sure Bowie’s transgression was spoken about prior, but boy, it’s getting screamed about now) post-death.
My attitude is at least partially linked to my status as an English Literature major, and it goes like this: as far as I’m concerned, by all means, feel that David Bowie’s art and music changed your life. David Bowie’s music may have done (I don’t personally know your life – it might have done). And don’t deny that his music was historically speaking desperately important.
Don’t deny that he also did something morally repugnant.
The fact of the matter is, the artist has relatively little to do with how we feel about the art. Art is a message in a bottle – once it’s out there, the artist has nothing to do with how it’s interpreted. So my attitude to both Bowie and Lennon is yes, great artists. Probably terrible, terrible men, and I’m never going to deny that they’ve done terrible, terrible things.
I do think people should know what they did…but I also think people should have the right to react to their art the way they wish. Some of the greatest pieces of ancient literature were probably written by rapists (Symposium, Metamorphoses…pretty much anything like that). Shakespeare likely cheated on his wife (at least emotionally, if his sonnets are anything to go by, and if half of them are any indication, with a man) with people not socially acceptable for him to be attracted to. Byron banged anything with legs (and probably quite a few people without), and pretty much every undergrad thinks Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Arthur Hallam were banging in spite of Hallam being married to Tennyson’s sister (they weren’t). And of course there’s Lewis Carrol…that’s a bag of worms for another day.
The point is, it’s only in the last, what, fifty years that we’ve started idolizing people like Bowie to such an extent that when they do commit morally repugnant acts, it’s considered the point where you throw out everything they’ve ever done.
Now, one person made the valid perception that we don’t remember OJ Simpson as a footballer or what any suicide bomber did prior to their death. May I make the gentle suggestion that that’s probably because most suicide bombers (and also OJ Simpson) didn’t spend 40 years creating art that changed the landscape of music? Slight apples and oranges effect there.
The problem we have is partially we live in a rape culture. But I think the actual problem with situations like this is really more that we just live in a celebrity culture, where we idolize the people who give us art.
Maybe stop idolizing people for doing the thing they’re going to do anyway, love the art they make separate from the person and when they fuck up, castigate them for it…but remember the art is what you love, not the person, so that we don’t end up defending people like Chris Brown and Bill Cosby for being fuck ups.
You can still love Ziggy Stardust and think that David Bowie is a rapist is what I’m saying. And ultimately…you kind of should.