Lionel Shriver Lionel Shriver

A purity test for artists is the end of art

Perfect people with perfect pasts and perfect opinions don’t exist. Let’s not pretend they do

However we keep ourselves amused over the holidays this year, two sources of entertainment are off the docket. Amid the deluge of sexual misconduct allegations last month, the BBC dropped an Agatha Christie drama from its Christmas line-up after one of the actors, Ed Westwick, was accused of rape and sexual assault — which Westwick denies, slathering a layer of irony on the mystery’s title: Ordeal by Innocence. Mere hours before the scheduled premiere, the distributor of I Love You, Daddy refused to release the film, in anticipation of an ugly big reveal in the New York Times. The movie’s star, director, producer and writer, Louis C.K., now admits to having masturbated in front of multiple younger female comics (but hey, at least he asked first).

I won’t speak for the artistic merit of either work. Indeed, I cannot, as powers greater and worldlier than I have interceded on my behalf to protect me from degenerate influences. But it bears asking: who’s being punished here?

In the instance of the BBC, the licence-fee payer. We have already financed that whodunnit, and now don’t get to watch the show. Regarding Louis C.K., as a massive fan of his work, I feel personally punished. I won’t get to see his new film (reviews of which display a sharp divide, before and after the fall; the negative ones are nearly all written after the NYT outed C.K.’s serial exhibitionism, and tut-tut through the movie searching for signs that its mastermind is a perv). Worse, I am unlikely to be able to enjoy any of this comedian’s television series or stand-up sets in future. He is a bad boy who does icky things, and in this squeamish, censorious climate that means that as a performer he is probably washed up in perpetuity.

Yet this is a bigger issue than deprived-audience-as-collateral-damage.

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