Two Bright Shining Moments
This is a follow-up of sorts to something I posted last year about Philip Seymour Hoffman and Dylan Farrow--with Hoffman, the weird tendency of people to overdramatize celebrity death on social media (“I’m devastated by this” and such), and with Farrow, the even more distressing tendency of people getting really nasty in the middle of social-media discus- sions when somebody says something they don’t like, or even says something seemingly reasonable in not exactly the right way (“Go fuck yourself” and such). The big Kim Fowley story that came out last week--that he raped Jackie Fox when she was 15 and one of the Runaways--has underlined something else I hate about social media: that one of the most interesting conversations you can have, the reality that sometimes horrible people make great art, is now deemed impermissible by some people, and how really upset they get if you even broach the subject. Kim Fowley never made great art, not even close (the Runaways included). And if you’d ever seen him interviewed before this story broke, say in the Rodney Bingenheimer documentary from a few years ago (or even in the way Michael Shannon portrayed him in the Runaways movie), you already knew there was something really creepy about him. But when he died last year, you had a lot of people making note of his death on social media, and while (happily) avoiding the melodramatics that attach to someone like Hoffman’s death, what they said was usually positive--basically that this really odd character had some inter- esting connections to pop-music history. In a Runaways thread on ILM, there has been the expected and understandable dismay over the Huffington Post story. In the middle of that, one guy posted the following: “He was involved in some cool things/made some good stuff happen. He was also abusive and cruel and fairly evil. These are not mutually exclusive.” Seems fairly self-evident to me. But, it was quickly made clear, no one wanted to hear that. I’ve seen the same closing- off-the-conversation occur with regards to Bill Cosby, to Woody Allen, to Roman Polanski. And I don’t know why people want to shut down that subject; it’s complicated and endlessly interesting. I’ve been reading (for the first time) Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation recently, where she writes about Leni Reifenstahl. That’s worlds away from Kim Fowley, but she basically makes the same point as the ILM poster above. I believe--I think it was Sontag--she later changed her mind on this, and wrote a long piece saying she could no longer separate Riefenstahl’s actions (or non-actions, as the case may be) from her films. But she did grapple with the question--she didn’t shy away from it. You can’t do that on social media, or at least you can’t do it for very long. At some point, someone’s going to shame you for even bringing the subject up. Someone’s going to tell you to go fuck yourself, more or less. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Second verse, same as the first, so I'll just continue this post rather than put up a new one. I should clarify something. I applaud Sontag for grappling with the question of awful- person/great-art at the same time as I (implicitly here, explicitly in the Hoffman/Farrow post a few months back) say I avoid posting on such ILX threads myself as much as possible. Again, it's not the issue I'm ducking, it's the mindset that takes over such threads. There are people who jump on to do two things: 1) Fish for "OTM"s and all that nonsense. I think of that Seinfeld I often quote, the one where George explains why he's ogling his boss's teenage daughter: "What am I, trying to win some award here?" I swear there are people who post on message boards about contentious issues who are looking for some kind of award. 2) They're also looking for someone to pounce on, and I'm going to be exactly the kind of person who'll supply them with just what they're looking for. I've got very much a gray- area way of looking at things; at some point I'm going to shrug my shoulders, say something like "It's complicated," and it'll go from there. And again, a clarification: the gray-area in the Fowley story is not what he did, which is obviously reprehensible (and which I take as such a given, I don't find a bunch of people saying so to be particularly interesting), it's in what that poster above said: “He was involved in some cool things/made some good stuff happen. He was also abusive and cruel and fairly evil. These are not mutually exclusive.” More social media stuff ("Social media makes everything unbearable, but I'm not sure why" Jeff Pike e-mailed me recently). There's an ILX poster who now writes for Gawker. I know very little about the new kind of Gawker/Buzzfeed/Reddit site that makes so much news these days. I'm not completely oblivious--I think it was Gawker that was in the middle of the Rob Ford story, and I certainly followed that--but I only occasionally end up on one of them via a link from somewhere else. Anyway, he posted a story concerning Timothy Geithner's brother the other day that has caused a major uproar and almost universal condemnation. You can Google the details very easily. I won't lie: this poster was always one of my least favourite on ILX. He was constantly jumping into the middle of arguments and directing his particular brand of smarm at one of the parties involved, invariably, it seemed to me, whichever side seemed more vulnerable. He did that to me on at least one occasion; I remember him doing it to someone else, and I took the time to e-mail that guy off-board and say something like, "Don't pay any mind--he does that stuff with everyone." So, I have to say, I'm very much enjoying his current vilification. But I also know this is schadenfruede with a shelf life. Everything I dislike about him on ILX, and everything creepy and sordid having to do with his role in this latest episode, is perfectly in sync with the times. He'll make out just fine.