The Canadian pop-country singer known for her girl-power anthems, tragic childhood, and "perfect" face, Shania Twain, recently said in an interview with the Guardian that if she were a U.S. citizen, she would have cast a ballot for
Naturally, her remarks spurred public outrage, which prompted Twain to issue an apology on Twitter. "I am passionately against discrimination of any kind and hope it's clear from the choices I have made, and the people I stand with, that I do not hold any common moral beliefs with the current President," she wrote. She claims her words in the interview had no context; she was trying to show how ignorant she was about the U.S. election. "I make music to bring people together. My path will always be one of inclusivity, as my history shows." Sure, Shania. Sure.
While Twain tries to make amends, this exchange raises a question that for centuries has been bugging the shit out of decent, kind people with good intentions: Can you love someone's art if their politics stink? Here are some answers:
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Is the person supporting another person doing bad things as bad as the main asshole? You might say there's a huge difference between maintaining loyalty to the art of Shania — who publicly declared her support of an alleged sex offender — and continuing to enjoy the work of predators such as Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, or Nicholas Dixon, the artist who pulled his work from ICA Boston after it came out he was a harasser. But when you're in a position of cultural power and you support systems that hurt and even kill innocent people, you're as big an asshole as the miscreants. You're an accomplice. Sure, we're all victims of the patriarchy — both men and women — and some weren't taught integrity or justice, so they just give in to it. It's clear there's an alternative to supporting evil — we can fight it and resist it too.
Because Shania Twain isn't singing bigoted songs and Woody Allen is making fine films, do we stop supporting them anyway? We simply cannot help what art moves us, and I can't erase the past joy I felt when first watching Allen's Mighty Aphrodite. And, frankly, I don't want to. Yes, it will take more emotional work on my end to love the creation and not the creator — but it's worth it to me as a cultural appreciator. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, "Hate the disease not, the person," or in the Bible where it says children shouldn't be punished for the sins of their fathers. We can find ways to punish the bad people but still appreciate our feelings toward the beauty they create. Art is worth that effort if you want it to be.
What about the works of the past that actually have bigoted themes. I see a lot of talk by people in "progressive" Facebook mom groups that discuss the acceptability of reading their kids Dr. Seuss books, some of which show racist and stereotypical imagery. These parents even have the well-meaning but wealthy-white-people luxury of worrying about how to dispose of his books in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible. (If you give them away, someone else's kid will grow up with racist images of Japanese-Americans ingrained in their psyche.) Seuss later regretted that imagery and tried to make amends by making work that was inclusive and not racist. The fact that he regretted it means something. Seuss was a product of his time, and thus his work represents it. There's also Agatha Christie's classic mystery novel, And Then There Were None, which was originally titled Ten Little Niggers after a popular nursery rhyme that was central to the plot. The list of people making art that reflects shittier times sadly goes on and on. We can cast aside all art that reflects past eras of ignorance. We can simply choose not to expose our children to them. We can use them as learning tools for our children, to show them about how terrible life can be.
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The sad truth is that we still live in a time when racism and even rape are considered acceptable by those in power. Though I think we should understand art in its historical context and not try to erase the ugliness of the past, I don't, however, think it's proper to further the careers of those whose crimes against humanity have come to light, such as R. Kelly and that guy from Crystal Castles. We can make an effort to stop funding their successes. Shania, on the other hand, I like Shania. I dressed as her for Halloween several years ago. Would I do it again after her latest comment? Probably not. I'm a white woman who's ashamed of white women who support Trump. I hate him so much that it sometimes ruins my day. But I can't deny that I will always love my "That Don't Impress Me Much" costume. I'm not deleting my photos.
Just like Shania changed her tune in her tweets, there's room for redemption in this life. The thing is, not everyone will forgive the repentant. They don't have to. Forgiveness is a very personal decision based on many factors, including our ability to empathize, understand, and believe others when they say they're sorry.
Will Shania always be tainted by her Guardian interview? For me, yes. That doesn't mean, though, that I won't ever sing along to her songs on the radio. I just won't support her by going to a concert or paying for her music. If even for a second, she supported a man like Trump, somewhere inside of her, she thinks not all people deserve the same autonomy, civil rights, and protections under the law. And that don't impress me much.