Except it doesn't really work like this, does it? All over the world, in every stratum of society, we see the same pattern. Whether it is embezzlement, questionable use of funding, kiddy-fiddling priests or the seemingly endless torrent of #metoo victims, there is one constant: men who wield power will abuse it. I too grew up in a culture that was at the very least supportive of this blotted hierarchy. In secondary school I had several teachers who were known to be "into" teenage girls. The first thing our English teacher told us in the first lesson was this joke: "Do you ever smoke after sexual intercourse?" "I never looked." Funny, but maybe not entirely appropriate for a group of 12 year olds. I also remember a moment, walking to the next classroom between lessons, when I spotted our Dutch teacher snogging one of my classmates - in full view, in the hallway. Admittedly she was a rather buxom & voluptuous lass, well-versed in the arts of make-up, but she was probably around 16 by then, and he must have been around 50. There were more girls with crushes on teachers: one history teacher comes to mind - even my sister got the hots for him at some time. So when we went on a school trip to Budapest, accompanied by these two (plus two more, equally libertine) teachers, it wasn't much of a surprise that they dumped us one evening in a disco and then went to a sex club themselves. It was normal, and for us teens even kinda cool: we all preferred their sleazebag ethos to a boring & dusty old fart who probably meant well (we did have some of those too). Our future behaviour thus seems dicktated by the moral landscape of the society we grow up in.
In the world of art, it has become normal by now to read disenchanting articles about our heroes. David Bowie fiddled with teenage groupies. Do I hold that against him? Not really. I still adore his musical genius, plus it happened in the 70s, where sexual mores were simply much looser (Led Zeppelin, Queen... everyone was having a blast, and groupies formed an ineluctable part of the scene) - which emphatically doesn't mean I condone it! But I can understand how a rock star, faced with a fawning fan, might be tempted to take up the offer at hand. Should Bowie really have asked about her actual age? She would have lied anyway. And as long as it is 100% consensual, I don't really see a big problem, to be honest; the age limit of 18 is a social construct anyway. On the other hand, I roundly condemn Mohammed for marrying the 9 year old Aisha. (But then, maybe she was actually deliriously happy of becoming a wife to the legendary prophet, so it would even have been consensual.) Am I using a double set of standards here? Quite possibly. Doublethink continues to permeate all of our lives. But if a man's creative output is of sufficient quality and personal value to me, then yes, I might be willing to overlook some of the more unsavory details of his personal life. Does that make me inconsistent, a bad humanist? You decide. Art and personal life are two different categories, as far as I'm concerned. (Good thing Hitler was a lousy painter, eh?) Things change if art is used as propaganda for insalubrious ideas: I refuse to listen to any music of people that I know to harbour nationalist sympathies, like the German rock band Böhse Onkelz. Comedian Dieudonné will forever be on my blacklist on account of his stance on Jews. Is political ideology more important to me than misogyny, then? Not at all, please don't get me wrong. But I am willing to concede that, having grown up in a certain culture, I might sometimes accept too easily a slightly warped image of the world as normative. A scary thought, but then, self-reflection is one of the reasons I write these blogs, so there you have it.
I know that Roald Dahl was a racist; I still like his books and especially his gloriously weird & dark short stories. Ezra Pound flirted with Nazism, which doesn't stop me from performing (and liking) songs set to his poetry. Mahler was apparently an absolute ass, horrible to his wife. Schumann couldn't handle the fact that his wife was a composer too - perhaps even a better one? Wagner was so disgusted by the Jews that he even wrote a pamphlet (Von den Juden und ihren Lügen - of the Jews and their lies). And yet their music remains amazing and unique. In the world of opera, it has become a running joke that, in order to make a career, you have to suck up to whimsical directors. (Lana del Rey's song "Fucked my way to the top" isn't that far off the mark, really.) I stopped working for an opera company because I didn't want to be a serf to the directors. Famous conductors too, like James Levine: everywhere, we encounter endemic and systematic abuse & humiliation of women.
In the shade of Hollywood, the rot seems to have spread even wider. Actors, producers, directors: anyone with power won't be averse to abusing it. Quentin Tarantino, Roman Polanski, Harvey Weinstein... It becomes especially poignant if the person caught doing it is actually part of an organisation that does a lot of good: the whole name of the organisation will suffer from it (Oxfam, Unicef). The recent scandals around physicist Lawrence Krauss prove this as well: he is one of the most outspoken advocates for humanism and atheism, a well-known face in the "atheism movement", if you can call it that. Will I consign his books to the dungheap? No. Krauss was especially targeted for having made a bad joke: he apparently told a woman he would buy her anticonception pills so that he didn't have to pay her maternity leave. Is that too much? I think there is still a big difference between a joke and wilful abuse. An acquaintance of mine once told this joke: Why does a woman have one braincell more than cow? To stop her from shitting in the kitchen. As he told this, his wife was sitting next to him, laughing: boys will be boys. Obviously the guy wouldn't wish for his wife to sit at home all day, and I know he was really proud of her and her achievements; he just didn't see that his joke was sort of demeaning to women. (I have to admit though: I loved it at the time. Perhaps we need more female comedy, like Sarah Silverman? How about this: what is the definition of a man? A life support system for a penis. Tadaa.) We should be able to laugh at things; if we can't do that we're doomed. Humor is sadness vanquished, after all. Every culture mocks its neighbours (the Belgians in Holland, the "Ostfriesen" in Germany, the Scots in England...), always portraying them as stupid, greedy, suspicious etc. - should we not allow any of this any more? It's like the annual Sinterklaas discussion in the Netherlands: we are becoming hyper-PC but very, very boring. Where to draw the line between goodnatured fun and harmful/racist/misogynist? Children love all things crude & gross, but of course they should learn differentiation. Part of the fun of these jokes is knowing they cross a line, like saying "I'm gonna put Nelson Mandela on the train" when you go for a shit. Dutch comedian Hans Teeuwen keenly realizes this and often pushes boundaries in his shows, like in his pedophile sketch. Clive Barker's early plays use the same tactic: everyone in the audience should decide for themselves whether to be amused or disgusted (visual artists like Milo Moiré or Marina Abramović also like to work in this grey zone). I for one think it is important that we as a species have every possibility to daily hone and calibrate our individual sense of morality, but - vitally - rethink boundaries too.