What To Do When Your Childhood Hero Turns Out to be a Terrible Person: a Guide to Celebrity Worship

Trigger Warning: This article mentions sexual assault, sometimes toward children. Although I will avoid going into detail, please proceed with caution.

So, the world is full of problematic characters.

The biggest names in music have abuse allegations flying left and right, and most of our politicians have attended a party or two in Blackface.

It’s easy to get nihilistic. It’s impossible to hold everyone accountable, so the simple answer is to hold no one accountable.  After all, are we really expected to turn off that movie if Kevin Spacey pops in out of nowhere 45 minutes in? Similarly, Harvey Weinstein has a hand in many major motion pictures behind the scenes. Even the most vigilant ally will have a hard time navigating the large network of abuse that plagues Hollywood.

The age-old “separating the art from the artist” question is important and layered but I’ve come to the conclusion that most people are set in their ways about this. While I have my own opinion (short answer, no you can’t), it’s more valuable to question the mindset that surrounds abusive behavior in Hollywood. Why have we become so defeatist? Often, the easiest defense is that everyone has done something. This answer is deeply entrenched in celebrity culture and the idea that prominent white men are somehow entitled to fame and recognition.

Over the weekend, I watched the first episode of Farrow V. Allen––a documentary series that chronicles Woody Allen’s sexual abuse of Dylan Farrow and later his inappropriate marriage to Soon Yi Previn (both essentially his stepchildren). While discussing the film online, I learned––much to my disgust––that Allen’s legacy is alive and well. When I pointed out that Allen was a pedophile, one person immediately pointed to Mia Farrow’s (Allen’s then-girlfriend and mother of the victims, who was also a well-known actress) connection to Roman Polanski. This defense, I believe, was to say that everyone in Hollywood has pedophilic connections.

There is, of course, a conversation to be had about rampant abuse within the entertainment industry; however, one person’s wrongdoing does not excuse another one. This person seemed to believe that I would defend Farrow unconditionally. That my hatred of Allen stems more from a crazed, feminist Social Justice Warrior standpoint than a legitimate concern about abuse. I am more than willing to critically look at Mia Farrow’s wrongdoings, however, I will not derail a conversation about Woody Allen to do so.

When we talk about celebrities, we seem to accept that they come with some problematic actions or attitudes in their past. While, of course, celebrities are people too and everybody’s said something they’re not proud of, abuse (verbal or physical) is not acceptable no matter what your IMDB page says. However, abuse Rather than hold them to a higher standard, we slip into a state of complacency, or, if it’s someone who we really admire, we defend them blindly. It’s safe to assume that no one I argue with knows Woody Allen personally. They don’t owe him anything and he’s certainly not going to turn around and award his fanboys with a pat on the back or a Golden Globe. Maybe we can’t stop horrible people from doing horrible things, but we don’t have to reward them with our constant defense.

Celebrity culture––the idea of elevating someone beyond normal personhood and transforming them into our most ideal version of themselves––is, unfortunately, just another weapon of destruction within capitalism. If we worship celebrities, we grant them the power to act however they want. Simultaneously, we are sold the idea that if we’re just smart enough, just funny enough, just attractive enough, we can make it too.

It’s not going to happen. No matter how much we worship that awful guy who puts out a mediocre movie once a year, he’s not going to like you any better.

Though problematic figures like Woody Allen can make us feel utterly hopeless, there are some things we can do to regain power. While I won’t stop anyone from singing along to Chris Brown or turning on a Woody Allen movie, I can at least ask you why you’re defending these men.

Ask yourself: do you see pieces of yourself in this terrible person? If we held a microscope up to your actions, would we be having a similar conversation? Are you defensive of this person because, somewhere deep down, you know you’re guilty of similar abusive tendencies?

If the answer to all of these questions is no, easy! Stop defending terrible people, they don’t care about you. It really is that simple. Sure, it’s hard to untangle ourselves from celebrity culture at first, but you can still admire an actor or director’s work without blindly defending them. Of course, I’m still working on this one too, but it’s as simple as deleting that hateful comment to a stranger on the internet about some guy who wrote a song once. Give it a try.