Insignificant and occasionally interesting contributions to the cognition of reality
Errors are not in the art but in the artificers. Isaac Newton
Everything Ive written non-Pimp wise has in some ways always sought to uncover the character or the essence of the subject. The subjects are often just main characters in a larger story. Last year I started writing a book about a relatively famous hockey player (Doug Harvey). He was a great player, but my interest was in his character. He was a fascinating figure who suffered from alcoholism and manic depression and beyond that was a bit of a unique figure who shunned the so-called normal routes in life. I didn't really have problems talking about his off-ice life with former players, but I did get the sense that the prevailing belief was that Harvey should be judged only for what he did on the ice, not off. I faced a similar issue a few months later when I wrote a piece about the actor Sterling Hayden. Again, I didn't care much about his films (hell..neither did he!), I was curious about his iconoclastic behaviour (yes...he was a boozer too). Most recently, there was the Pete Townshend/child porn incident. Townshend was, I dunno, the guru of my teens. His words and music about the struggles of identity and the anger and frustration of the music definitely provided me with an outlet for my own fuckedupness. Closer to home, most of us now know that Norman McLaren had some issues with drugs and booze and it's been said that Eve Lambart often covered up many of McLaren's timing screw ups. Yuri Norstein is a misogynist twit. But heyas much as I try to find empathy with my subjects, I still speak from a nice safe distanceat least until recently. In March, distance was obliterated when I learned that an animator/friend of mine might have committed a pretty violent assault.
The Full Picture
Yes...okay. There's a big difference between committing a crime, having an illness and just being a basic prick. You can very likely fully enjoy Tale of Tales still knowing that Norstein thinks that women are subservient to men and that his wife remains an unacknowledged contributor to his work. Same with McLaren. How much of his success was due to Eve Lambart? Why wasn't it fully acknowledged? I dont think it takes much away from McLarens achievements. I guess my beef with guys like Norstein and McLaren, and even assorted troubled hockey players I know about, is not that I, for one, want to exploit and destroy them...but rather to just acknowledge the completeness of who they are. Doug Harvey was a fantastic hockey player, so I find it even more incredible that he achieved this while battling manic depression and eventually alcoholism. Harvey's illnesses were a part of who he was...no different from Norstein and McLaren. But they should be known. Generally we read these superficial hagiographies that exist only to celebrate the subject. So ya know we get the charitable deeds, the setbacks that they had to overcome (generally financial or academic)...but umm...WHY is it okay for us to know how great some figure was with charities or kids or old farting ladies but NOT that he was alcoholic, depressive or had violent tendencies toward small animals? Artists, no matter what they might say, do not exist on islands. Everything they create is tied up with the society that surrounds them. You simply cannot escape that. As I've noted before...what happens when we get these sanitized visions is that invariably we get the opposite extreme: the gossipy, scandal ridden piece that seeks only to dish the dirt on the subject. These too are generally crap because they just dish the dirt without any deep contextualization. Take Cartoon Capers, a book about Canadian animation history. The author talks about both McLaren's and Ryan Larkin's addiction problems (and Arthur Lipsett's battles with depression) but doesn't even attempt to explore it. As a kid, I was stupid (more so) and I figured every celebrity/hero/artist, whatever, was perfect. They were angels. It made my imperfections that much worse. From the get go I just figured I was a fuck up destined to hell (I was right of course)...but what I'm saying is how many kids are getting fucked up by trying to emulate the illusory perfection of their heroes? I mean shit...I sure as hell would have loved to have known that from the start that these hockey players I worshipped were dysfunctional screw ups like you and me. Wouldn't it be more comforting to know your heroes are like you? Ironically...teenagers seemed to get it. I was drawn to Pete Townshend's music because it evoked anger, frustration, tension while his words articulated a variety of conflicts within each of us. Kurt Cobain is of course another example.
Too Much Information
But okay...these are slightly different issues. What does one do when someone they respect and admire has committed a serious crime? If this animator has committed a violent crime, how do I deal with that, not just as a friend, but as a programmer? It's one thing to program the films of an alcoholic or a downright prick, but do you programme the films of someone who might be a murderer, rapist or wife-beater?
Certainly I will look at their films differently, with their act in the back of my mind. But then again, in this case, it was likely a rare moment where the person lost control of themselves. Do we punish a person for life because of a single moment?
If I refuse to show this persons films again am I not saying not only that the person is bad, but that they are pure unadulterated bad, that there is no in-between, that they were good solely because they made films but now that doesnt matter because they committed a crime? Does committing a crime mean youre a bad person? What if tomorrow that person commits a good deed? Is it a moot point? What about all the unknown crimes? Those that were never discovered or only thought? Should this even be a consideration for a programmer? When I choose retrospectives or films I sure as hell dont analyse the character of the filmmaker. So why should I now reject films because of character? And what about my character? Ive certainly had my share of violent, drunken, misanthropic moments. Who am I to judge the morality of another? Hellthere are people in animation who dont like me yet still attend the Ottawa festival so who am I to refuse people because of their character or their supposed immorality?
We never really know anyone. That's obvious. We always think we do. We think we know some people inside and out, only to discover that we know very little. I guess most of what we project to people is an illusion or a dreamworld to begin with. We all wear masks, even those who think they are open and honest. We, generally, choose what we want others to see. Conversely, we also define those around us. The person we see is in a lot of ways a projection of ourselves. We create the other person.
As for my friend, the artist remains, but the friend, or at least the image of the friend, is gone. And that really sucks.
Chris Robinson is but a man. His hobbies include squirrel taunting, goat thumping, meat dancing and elderly peeping. You can find the results at http://asifa.net/robinson