It’s that time of the year again, isn’t it? When curling up on the sofa with a box set, your favourite film or a good book is more enticing than ever. A snuggly jumper, a glass of red and House Of Cards. Perfect! No, wait, sorry. A cosy blanket, a hot chocolate and Annie Hall. Lovely! Whoops, not that either. How about a Christmassy cinema visit then? Book the fancy seats and catch Murder On The Orient Express. It stars Johnny Depp! Oh.
As allegations continue to surface, it’s becoming increasingly impossible to enjoy any pop culture. If a project isn’t already tainted by the involvement of a predatory or exploitative man, it seems only a matter of time before we find out it is.
Harvey Weinstein. Louis CK. Brett Ratner. Woody Allen. R Kelly. Roman Polanski. James Toback. Kevin Spacey. Johnny Depp. Dustin Hoffman. Bill Cosby. Dr Luke. Casey (and Ben) Affleck. Ed Westwick. Chris Brown. This list is probably already out of date.
Until we collectively work out the answer to the eternal question of whether we can separate art from the artist, these men (and countless others) will continue to infect everything they create. And, while their fingerprints might not be where they belong – in police reports – they are all over the arts and entertainment industry. “Problematic faves” doesn’t really cover it any more.
Women are already being called on to answer questions that aren’t their responsibility to answer: why didn’t we speak up? Why did we allow it to happen? Why didn’t we warn others? It’s a bit rich to add the big philosophical question of the ethics of artistry to the list, an issue that has been debated for centuries without an answer. It’s not up to us to call it, but it is on us to take care of ourselves and interrogate the culture we consume.
And, although it is impossible to avoid everything tarnished by unethical and abusive acts perpetrated by powerful people, we can draw some boundaries to insulate ourselves from the perpetually sour taste in the mouth.
Showing that we do not endorse the hiring, casting or commissioning of men whose behaviour we do not condone is powerful
It is unrealistic to cut ourselves off from all forms of artistic expression (what a joyless existence that would be), but it is possible to safeguard against the common threads – powerful men and the suppression of women. While the news is full of sexual assault, abuse of power and inappropriate behaviour in workplaces, it can be a temporary salve to spend your downtime making space for women’s voices.
So, swap your House Of Cards for Alias Grace; line up Top Of The Lake, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Happy Valley for your weekend viewing; forget about Justice League – and cough up at the box office for Professor Marston And The Wonder Women.
Instead of watching Blue Is The Warmest Colour (in 2013, actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos said “they felt like prostitutes” during the filming of sex scenes that lasted days), try Mustang, the gorgeous coming-of-age story of five Turkish sisters from director Deniz Gamze Ergüven. And sack off another Woody Allen film normalising the behaviour of sleazy old men attempting to seduce vulnerable young women. Wouldn’t you rather be creeped out by The Babadook? Or A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night?
It’s a bit on the nose, but watch Girlhood instead of Boyhood, see the new exhibition from The Great Women Artists Instagram account, or catch a project by an up-and-coming female director at the Damsel Develops fringe-theatre festival.
Finally, if you’re going to slog through a rewarding but intense novel, do it with Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life instead of Jonathan Franzen.
And we can be critical of these works, too – there are no invisible rules that dictate women must love all art created by other women. If you struggle to find options (entirely possible, given the lack of recognition for women’s work), subscribe to Women And Hollywood’s newsletter to see which films – written by, directed by or focusing on women – are out soon. Or, pledge to watch a film by a woman every week for a year with Women In Film’s #52FilmsByWomen project.
There is no way to know all the details about everything we consume – this is not Whole Foods Market. But we can go with our gut feeling. If something or someone makes us feel uncomfortable, complicit or angry, we needn’t engage with it as an audience. The system is toxic and plenty of art – even work created by women – will have been contaminated along the way by corruption, immorality or discrimination, but by expanding our horizons, at the very least, we’ll be swallowing something different.
One friend of mine decided this year that she was no longer going to read books by white men: “I just realised that the majority of books I had read were written by white men and there were all these other voices that I wanted to hear and learn about.” It’s a subtle rebellion, but one that could ultimately elicit real change as audience numbers drop, viewers switch off, subscribers tumble and sales decline. Showing that we do not endorse the hiring, casting or commissioning of men whose behaviour we do not condone is powerful, and our pennies are less likely to end up in the pockets of anyone who might use them to fund nefarious hotel-room bookings or an army of lawyers.
By consuming a women-centric diet of pop culture, we’re more likely to see better representation of women racially, physically and socially. We’re less likely to see stereotypes – and we’re more likely to see stories that resonate with us, instead of another Brett Ratner wanting to direct another Hugh Hefner biopic. How clichéd.