Those of us who are a bit older may recall that Sean Penn used to be married to Madonna. It ended sometime after Penn tied her to a chair – for nine hours – and beat her beyond recognition with, among other things, a baseball bat. It was so brutal that even in the days before the internet allowed everyone to see the gruesome pictures and even though Penn was a bonafide Hollywood megastar, the police and district attorney charged him with a felony. Even if you're the excuse-making type for domestic violence, that can't be waved away with something like "Things got heated and he slapped her and he's very sorry." Tying someone up and beating them with a baseball bat is, in a word, fucked up.

Now. How many times have you heard someone refuse to see a movie because Penn was in it? Did anyone give you grief when you rented Mystic River or Dead Man Walking? Do you feel guilty when you watch Spicoli's scenes for the thousandth time? Do people post all over Facebook imploring you not to see whatever movie or cable series he's in these days? Perhaps you experience that, but I certainly do not.

I was reminded dozens of times, however, as a boxing fan that I was the scum of the Earth if I watched wife-beater Floyd Mayweather fight homophobe Manny Pacquiao on Saturday night (I didn't). I decided against it because I realized it was bound to be boring (It was). But I am forever baffled by why people are so insistent that people are not allowed to watch sporting events, or are bad people for doing so, if any of the people involved are Bad People. They demonstrably are Bad People in the case of this boxing match, but that is beside the point that we are bizarrely selective about when their Badness matters.

Like Queens of the Stone Age? Nick Oliviera beat his girlfriend and held her hostage with a rifle while he stood off the police for several hours. Chuck Berry was arrested in 1990 for secretly filming women in public bathrooms. Kiefer Sutherland has five DUIs. John Wayne was a horrible racist, as is Eric Clapton. Jon Voight is a right-wing teabagging lunatic who makes Pacquiao look like Bernie Sanders. Jimmy Page kidnapped a 14 year old girl he was fucking and held her virtual hostage for years. Woody Allen…where to start.

And those are the ones we know about. How many more of our favorite artists and athletes and performers are guilty of horrible, horrible things? Probably quite a few. Certainly not all, but with all that money and power and cocaine I'd have to imagine that a higher than average number have dark secrets. So I'm at a loss to explain why people were supposed to skip Floyd Mayweather's fight when I would be willing to bet any sum that no one in the history of the world has skipped Coachella or demanded that the radio be turned off on account of the equally brutal crimes of a QOTSA member.

It's hard to construct an argument that it's a bad thing to draw attention to the fact that Floyd Mayweather is a terrible human being; when Mike Tyson is like "That dude is fucked up," you know the dude in question is indeed flawed. I can't rationalize the discrepancy in the treatment of athletes and other celebrities on that account, though. Is it because they're big and (often) dark and scary? Is it because their misdeeds get more media attention? Or is it just a double standard that has no logic behind it?

My attitude is that we have no idea what kind of awful people our favorite actors, musicians, athletes, authors, etc. are when we give them our money and our attention, but if you have decided that the ones whose evil deeds are public knowledge should be boycotted you had better prepare yourself to boycott an awful lot of stuff.


  • HoosierPoli says:

    The fact that Sean Penn is a wifebeating monster is somehow actually less surprising than the fact that he was actually married to Madonna.

  • Don't leave out the part where Penn eventually released her after threatening to kill her if she didn't blow him — which she did — and then he let her go.

  • I'm guessing we expect so little from our politicians and religious leaders that the media is turning on the only gods we have left. Celebrity.

  • @Hoosier: it was the 80s man. As Ed already observed coke will make some people do some mad shit. That Ronny Raygun (props Anonymouse) was twice elected should tell you something—though I'd rather of come of age in the late 70s-e80s w the New Wave movement than say Skillex.

    At this point given what we know about Madonna, I'll try to avoid making a comment about a BDSM practice going horribly wrong o_O
    I'll just slink down to my cellar. ;)

  • I enjoy the music of Chuck Berry. Occasionally, someone will get on a moral high horse about his past crimes. My reply is that I was already aware of them, they don't detract from his talent, and whether I listen to his music or not is not going to change his behavior.

  • I wonder if this is symptomatic of your observation a couple of weeks ago on how you can't even take a poo these days without it being some kind of a micro-aggression against some form of bacterial life or another.

    Ok, so I paraphrased—a lot—but the sentiment still stands.

  • Spacegeek says:

    I don't know. Plenty of horribleness to go around. Maybe it's that Mayweather hasn't received any sort of comeuppance, and doesnt exhibit any repentance. We know he's getting away with it, and he knows it too.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Here's how I look at it:
    Usually, the closer you are to genius, the closer you are to madness.

    It's the rare genius who's "normal."
    That's why I'm glad I'm not a genius.

    Now, all I need to do, is work on the "normal" part…

  • My argument against watching the fight is that thee is something creepy about paying to watch two guys try to inflict serious brain damage on each other. That would be pretty close to paying to watch Penn beat up Madonna — except for the whole "willing participant" thing.

  • I really gave it to Steve Jobs for years when I learned he always parked in the handicapped spaces outside his offices. No doubt he suffered cause I wouldn't buy any of his stuff. So, there! Oh, wait: guess he did alright anyway. Maybe he'll come back next time needing those parking spaces but won't be able to find one cause of pricks like he was. Who knows?
    William Stafford's poem on reading to each other is as good as anything regarding this.

  • I'll take a shot: I think watching boxing is immoral for the same reason watching football is: it is fucked up to watch men give each other permanent brain damage and calling it entertainment. Other sports may have risks of those things, but a KO is when a guy has a fucking concussion and his brain literally shuts down to prevent further damage. Calling that entertainment is fucked up.

  • Let's not forget Roman Polanski, celebrated film director and admitted child rapist.

    @Alex: That's the whole question. We can agree that enjoying the violence of a boxing match decided by KO is somewhat fucked up, regardless of the personal qualities of the boxers.

    But some famous boxers (Reuben Carter, Muhammad Ali) have been brave, decent guys. Is it worse when the boxer is a violent criminal; or does it make no difference?

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    At the time, people were much more generous toward "Bad Boys." Axl Rose is another example.

    Believe it or not, the world is a less misogynist place than it used to be. We're at a point at which one Hannibal Burress quip could get Penn dragged out and humiliated.

    In *special cases", there's some guilt projection involved, among the Hollywood insiders who breathe gossip like oxygen, among the BBC personnel who let Jimmy Savile run free for decades, and among hipsters who would be inconvenienced by turning against QOTSA or Modest Mouse and so take out their aggression on celebrities they never particularly cared for.

    But generally, overall, this sort of shit is much, much more heavily policed than it used to be. Perhaps the next generations of male stars will never know a world in which they can get away with it.

  • This extends to so many things. When all went dark in Wisconsin around the time of the protests it was a big thing not to buy products made by the Koch Brothers. Then you realize that leaves you basically with home-made toilet paper and nothing else. If you REALLY wanted to avoid buying from corporations that are doing terrible, horrible things… well… you're out of luck. Have fun living off the grid eating tree bark, because they ALL do terrible, horrible things.

  • to be fair, josh did kick nick out of QOTSA over his drug abuse and said girlfriend beatery. so at least there's that.

    and it's "oliveri"

  • Talisker, didn't Carter end up charged with rape after his release? I'm with Alex as to boxing, although I don't think it really resolves the question Ed poses. Celine was an amazing, ground-breaking writer, who wrote novels about his flight to Germany with his retreating Nazi bosses, still rife with anti-Semitism. But he's dead, so at least reading him doesn't act as some sort of encouragement. Or does it?

  • The SF writer John Scalzi has some relevant thoughts on this topic. An excerpt:

    Art originates from people. People have opinions and thoughts and actions, many of which are largely unrelated to their art. In learning about those largely unrelated opinions, thoughts and actions, you may find some of them, some the people they are coming out of, offensive, obnoxious, insulting or even dangerous. They may eventually keep you from being able to enjoy the art these people produce.

    When and if that happens, that’s fine. If it doesn’t happen — if you can totally divorce the art from the human who created it — that’s fine, too.

  • I can confirm wetcasements assertion, but I'd go a step further–much further–and assert that ALL literature–indeed, all ART is the result of the work of assholes. We need to be very, very grateful that there weren't Iphones in the 17th century, because Shakespeare was almost certainly a sonofabitch. (Name me one theater person who ISN'T. I mean, Wagner. Holy shit, WAGNER.)

    Graham Greene said that every writer must have a splinter of ice in his heart–maybe when you spend your life interpreting the world, you forget how to live in it–when you create worlds of word and color and sound with an audience in mind, you start to think of that audience–of people–as yours to do with as you please.

    Mozart, Beethoven–Michelangelo, Picasso–look, just pick random names out of the canon and you'll find at least one quality that is at best downright contemptible (Wordsworth) or full-on evil (Ezra Pound.) People are capable of horrors–and the more freedom we have to indulge in them, the more horrible those horrors become.

    Should we apply a moral litmus test to what we enjoy? Good luck getting a definitive answer to THAT question–or an intellectually consistent one. From what I've seen (and done), we'll bend over backwards to justify the artists we love, while freely condemning those we don't. I have zero interest in sports, so I have no problem saying that Michael Vick should be sent to an island inhabited only by wild dogs, but oh man will I go into contortions over how you have to put T.S. Eliot in context. (Which is bullshit, to be clear.)

    But maybe that's the point. Look, moral consistency is overrated. If you have a blind spot, or two, or twenty, but you generally do your best and don't MIRROR the behavior of the wickedly talented, I'd say you can have a pass.

    Caveat: But maybe don't give them your money. I avoided the movie of ENDER'S GAME because Orson Scott Card does not get my money. I would NEVER fork over anything to Bill Cosby these days. Just…maybe wait 'til they're dead and can't profit from your economic endorsement. (Checks clock, waiting for Polanski to be dead so he can purchase CHINATOWN.)

  • @Alex: Don't know about Carter — I'm not a boxing fan, I must admit I'm working from the film with Denzel Washington. That's kind of the point. How much research should you do before deciding you can enjoy an individual's performance?

    What if it's a team effort? What if a member of the sports team you've supported since childhood is a wife-beater? What if you're a huge fan of an actor who makes a film with Polanski? Tricky questions, and (like Scalzi above) I don't think they have objective answers.

  • > …but if you have decided that the ones whose evil deeds are public knowledge should be boycotted you had better prepare yourself to boycott an awful lot of stuff.

    And that's OK, if a little inconsistent.

  • dharma_dream says:

    A lot of oversimplification here …. Starting to sound very partisan- apologetic, as if taking a cue from the crowd who decries the work needed to something better than the status quo. Hmmm …

    Now make fun/dismiss, etc., as if that will improve one's position.

  • All of a sudden I'm feeling a little more justified in just downloading fucking everything off the internet. Piracy is morally justified now because everyone's a fucking asshole and I can't stand the thought of putting my money into their pockets.

    Thanks, Ed!

  • I've tried never to tell anyone not to be offended by someone's misdeeds. No trying to dispel, excuse, mitigate, compare to another, or anything like that when anyone expresses hate over something hateful someone did or is alleged to have done. Paul Reubens and the principal guy from Ferris Beuller had child porn collections? (And Ferris Beuller actually killed a guy.) Jackson Browne beat Darryl Hannah? Bryan Singer had underage sex orgies? I won't drag someone to see or hear something. No discussion of whether or not I'll enjoy it, since there's really no point in justifying what I'm willing to overlook or even in some cases choose not to believe some accusations.

    But no, I don't buy the "greatness comes with madness" stuff. I've seen plenty of madness that doesn't have any sort of greatness, so I'm not going to believe it. Lots of great artists are completely boring, detached from pretty much everything, and really not special outside of some well-developed talents. I'm not at all certain what makes Yo-Yo Ma much better than the cellists at any city orchestra in any part of the world, since they're all pretty much crippling themselves by practicing constantly whether they're internationally famous or giving ten-year-olds lessons to make their rent checks not bounce. Chances are they're all equally boring to a non-musician like myself.

    Still, some people create new definitions of crazy. Michael Jackson? Whacko Jacko? The prosecutors tried to convict him as someone who diddled a boy, saying no one of his age would invite boys over for a sleepover. But that case didn't end in a conviction because Michael Jackson is exactly the person who at that age WOULD invite boys over for a sleepover. Hell, he did it all the time with lots of boys. The D.A. forgot to prove that he diddled that particular boy, and lost the case. MJ was a special case of out-of-the-ordinary, and trying to convict him of being a freak was redundant. Yeah, said the jury, now prove something we don't know.

  • Josh kicked Nick out of the band, and we all suffered the consequences. QOTSA have put out terrible music ever since.

  • Led Zeps best days were pre-Stairway to Heaven….that was over 40 years ago. The idea that someone would still buy tickets to see him to play lifeless versions of his worst music is almost as bad as paying to see him knowing his misogynist child-fucking past.

  • @Spacegeek

    "Maybe it's that Mayweather hasn't received any sort of comeuppance, and doesnt exhibit any repentance. We know he's getting away with it, and he knows it too."

    Did Penn receive any comeuppance or exhibit repentance?

  • r. clayton says:

    Or to put it really succinctly:
    "Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole!"

    I first became aware of Arianna Huffington when her book on Picasso started a debate over her thesis that because Picasso led a reprehensible life, he produced reprehensible art.

  • I remember learning that Lovecraft – my single favorite writer- held absolutely horrendous views about certain subgroups of humanity. Those subgroups include both of my husbands. That was difficult, but the fact that he died decades before I was born made it less so. Listening to Miles Davis or Frank Sinatra was harder. I knew about Penn and Madonna, but not actually enjoying anything that Penn had done professionally helped.

    I definitely think that there factors that mitigate certain people's reactions. The continued support for Polanski disgusts, but does not surprise, me. If he had buggered a thirteen year old boy, I think he would not be receiving it.

  • Man, these posts about sexual politics, particularly as it relates
    To celebrity, really bring the tone down a few notches around here. From ed's lazy, easy slippery slope to the usually impeccable Dryden's conflation of reprehensible, criminal acts and the much spongier 'being an asshole', to a whole pile of reverse-engineered positions to justify commenters' pre-existing behaviours ('it's not like my choices will change the way they act!', 'I now feel better about stealing content'), I must say I'm pretty disappointed. Even more so, given that I usually feel like many of you think and express yourselves on a much higher/ deeper level than I. Maybe we should all go back and examine our positions on this vexing topic from the ground up.

  • Well, I guess I'm lucky; knowing someone is a woman or child beater, or a MURDERER, really does ruin their art for me. I also do not personally need to see people injure themselves for my amusement. What is this, Ancient Rome? All you sports lovers out there: sports are meant to be PLAYED. Get out there and play the sport you love with some friends. You can even drink while you play- you'll get some exercise and human interaction.

  • To me, a lot depends on my personal comfort factor. Does the guy who fixes my brakes beat up his girlfriend? Is that restaurant run by an asshole? I'm more likely to go to a different car place or dining establishment than worry about who directed what or wrote whatever else. Granted, if I think it might make a difference, I'll consider boycotting, but it usually doesn't make much of a difference.

  • Think about it. There were about 1,000+ people credited in making Age of Ultron, and that doesn't include the folks in marketing and sales or the folks at the theater who don't get screen credit. If you sit through one of these endless scrawls of roach wranglers, security guards, matte painters, best boys, camera helpers and so on, you have to wonder if any of them are child molesters, neo-nazis, wife beaters, gang bangers, racists, tax cheats and the like. Even movies without a fifteen minute scroll, you know that there were at least hundreds involved. An awful lot of them have got to be scum.

    Do you own a car or smartphone? How many people worked on it? There were probably 100s on the design team, 100s more in the factories, and then there are the shipping clerks, the guys who load the airplanes or trucks, the pilots or drivers and so on. Even if I were a pure Pollyanna regarding human nature, there would have to be a few reprobates beyond reasonable redemption. Does that mean I can't drive a car or use a smartphone or eat a hamburger in a restaurant?

    It's not that I won't refuse to buy something or use something, but it has to be about making a point, ideally a point visible to the public.

  • @Kaleberg: we can only act on what we're aware of. That doesn't mean someone should get free pass for acting heinously because someone, somewhere might be doing something as bad or worse that we're not aware of.

    I think those whose detractors would have us call SJW feel that there is an opportunity right now to bring some much needed attention to the issue of male on female violence. I don't think, as Ed claimed, that it's about making fight fans feel bad. It's about making sure Mayweather's history isn't swept aside, like the similar histories of so many male celebrities of all stripe. Mayweather might just be a victim of his times. Poor guy. My heart bleeds.

  • dharma_dream says:

    Eau, exactly the points I was trying to make, but perhaps too succinctly. This is not a difficult issue on which to set and abide by moral standards and yet so many here seem to have loopholes/exceptions/excuses to apply. I too am surprised.

    Act on what you know. Apply the same standards to others, including the famed and celebrated, as we would to ourselves and the company we keep. Not knowing everything is no excuse to not act on what is known (a bit like saying I won't help the starving child in front of me because there are too many things wrong in the world and I cannot fix them all … Yes, but how much better the world will be if we just do something rather than taking this lazy and intellectually-challenged pitiful excuse to do nothing.)

    This "since we cannot fix it all, let's do nothing" attitude is really not a mature Outlook and not one that most apply to their own lives … If examined thoroughly, it is a sieve.

  • Just – fuck humans. Seriously, what a bunch of sick trash pigs we are. A tiny sliver of comedians is about all I can take of the world anymore. And of course I’m ready for even them to be exposed as rapist cannibal animal-setters-on-fire too.


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