Should schools ban the works of those accused of sexual harassment?

I suppose we should have seen this coming—especially after the novel Huckleberry Finn has been repeatedly removed from secondary-school courses for use of the “n word” and the book’s depiction of Jim—but it’s becoming more pervasive. And now this movement to remove works of art from classroom teaching, as recounted in the New York Times article below, is centered not on racism but on sexual harassment and abuse. That is, college professors are now removing from their syllabi works by men who have been accused of sexual malfeasance. I say “accused” because most of the authors and artists cited haven’t been proven to be sexual harassers, which in my view means that they should be considered innocent until proven guilty. (Some, like Roman Polanski, however, are clearly guilty.)

But these days an accusation is equivalent to a conviction, and so people like Woody Allen and Neil deGrasse Tyson are the subjects of discussions about banning, even though neither has been convincingly (to me) shown to be sexual harassers. (I’ve read a lot about the Woody Allen accusations and counter-accusations, and I still have no firm judgment about whether or not he was a pedophile).

There are thus several questions here. Should those accused of sexual malfeasance, but not proven to be guilty, still be removed from syllabi? And what about those who committed other crimes, like murder or assault (William Burroughs, after all, shot his wife in an ill-conceived William Tell incident, and Norman Mailer stabbed his wife, nearly killing her)? Why is it just sexual harassment, and not other crimes, that mandate removal from syllabi? Or should we stop teaching anyone accused of a serious crime?

Finally, as you might have guessed, I don’t think that even conviction for a crime makes a cut-and-dried case for removing someone from a syllabus. I find it hard to fathom a coherent argument for that, save the misguided one that teaching that work somehow ‘normalizes’ a crime or abusive behavior.

If you’re worried about that normalization, though, I consider it perfectly fine to read a work of art and then have a discussion about the artist’s personal life, and whether that affects one’s evaluation of the work. It might even be good to read a work cognizant of how it was colored by the artist’s life or ideology; but remember that calling attention to such things is sociology and social justice rather than literature, painting, cinema, and so on.

In my view, works of art can often stand on their own without any biographical addenda, and be valuable and teachable even if the artist was a bad person—as so many of them were. I find it hard, in fact, to downgrade a work of art if I know the artist was guilty of any crime or was accused of sexual harassment. (It goes without saying that sexual harassment or assault is inexcusable and execrable, but we are talking about the value of art.)

At any rate, read the article (click on screenshot below). I’ll give a few excerpts (indented; my own comments are flush left):

Here’s the kind of banning that has taken place:

Two years after the #MeToo movement exploded from a social media phenomenon to a national reckoning over harassment and gender discrimination, toppling powerful figures in nearly every industry, many continue to grapple with how to treat the work of men accused of sexual abuse. The issue is especially thorny in high school and college classrooms, where young people can form deep attachments to the writers and artists whose works help shape their worldviews.

Questions have swirled on campus about what to do with certain cultural mainstays: Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby,” Chuck Close’s “Big Self-Portrait,” even Neil deGrasse Tyson’s books on astrophysics. Should they be canceled — banished from public engagement like some of their creators? Or should they continue to be studied, only with frank discussions about abuse and harassment?

One might consider studying the works without “frank discussions about abuse and harassment”. Seriously, when reading the physics books of Neil deGrasse Tyson, do we need to drag in the accusations of sexual malfeasance against him—accusations that were not substantiated by several investigations? What would be the purpose of that in a physics class? Remember, Tyson was exonerated. And even if he wasn’t, do we need to ban him? Does that provide the optimal outcome: taking his contributions to science education away from the public?

There’s more:

Savanah Lyon, a theater major at the University of California, San Diego, who graduated in June, racked up more than 20,000 signatures on a petition last year calling on her school to cancel its longstanding “The Films of Woody Allen” course, after allegations that the filmmaker assaulted his adopted daughter. (Mr. Allen has consistently denied the claims.)

For Ms. Lyon, the question of whether to stop studying the works seemed a no-brainer. But the school’s academic senate rejected the petition in a statement, citing concerns about free speech.

Canceling a course because its materials are controversial or seen as morally problematic, the senate said, “would undermine both the value of free inquiry and the associated rights of faculty to engage in such inquiry by choosing their course content.”

Ms. Lyon was unmoved. “When you teach works like Woody Allen’s you’re normalizing and romanticizing the culture of abuse he was part of,” she said, noting the parallels between accusations against Mr. Allen and the relationships his characters have with younger women in films like “Manhattan.” “It’s not censorship to be selective when you choose the art you teach.”

Note that the putative cancellation is based on unproven allegations. On what grounds do we cancel a course on Allen’s films, then? Because an allegation is the same as a conviction? The UCSD Senate did the right thing; have a look at their statement at the link.

As for Savanah Lyon, she is trying to ban works of art because she assumes without evidence that Allen is guilty. Teaching his films is not “normalizing and romanticizing the culture of abuse he was part of”, since there’s no proof he was part of the “culture of abuse.”  In Manhattan, Woody Allen dates a 17-year-old, which, though not age-appropriate, is legal (below 17, sex is considered statutory rape). You can talk about whether such relationships are appropriate, and I have no objection to that, but I do object to banning the movie because it shows legal relationships with age differences.

Here’s another case:

Nadia Celis, an associate professor of literature at Bowdoin College, had her “Teaching the Caribbean” class upended when the author Junot Díaz was accused of harassment and unwanted sexual contact with at least two women last year. M.I.T., where Mr. Díaz teaches, cleared him of misconduct after an investigation found no evidence of his wrongdoing, but the accusations prompted intense debate in the literary world.

News reports of the allegations spread the same week Professor Celis’s class was discussing Mr. Díaz’s novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” She had planned for her students to discuss the novel’s themes, including toxic masculinity and abuse of power. Suddenly, she said, it seemed those subjects had come to life.

Her students were disheartened. Professor Celis had previously brought Mr. Díaz to campus to address students on navigating professional success as a man of color. Now she felt torn about using his most famous book — and still has not made up her mind about whether to assign it this year.

“I’m convinced that teaching the mind of male domination is important,” Professor Celis said. “But now I’m teaching against the book.”

Again, we have not just an accusation, but an accusation that was overturned by an investigation. That’s apparently not enough to keep your book from being removed from class.

As for Roman Polanski, yes, he admitted he was guilty of statutory rape, and then fled America to avoid jail. Should we then ban Chinatown and The Pianist from film classes? Not in my book.

David Foster Wallace has also been removed from the class syllabus of Amy Hungerford, dean of humanities at Yale, for accusations of abusive behavior toward women. There are allegations against him, of course, but I’m not aware that were substantiated in an investigation. And, at any rate, Wallace was a lifelong depressive who, after repeated hospitalizations, drug treatments, and electroshock therapy, killed himself. He wasn’t “normal” by any means.

In the end, I find myself agreeing with two professors quoted at the end of the article:

Nadia Celis, an associate professor of literature at Bowdoin College, had her “Teaching the Caribbean” class upended when the author Junot Díaz was accused of harassment and unwanted sexual contact with at least two women last year. M.I.T., where Mr. Díaz teaches, cleared him of misconduct after an investigation found no evidence of his wrongdoing, but the accusations prompted intense debate in the literary world.

News reports of the allegations spread the same week Professor Celis’s class was discussing Mr. Díaz’s novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” She had planned for her students to discuss the novel’s themes, including toxic masculinity and abuse of power. Suddenly, she said, it seemed those subjects had come to life.

Her students were disheartened. Professor Celis had previously brought Mr. Díaz to campus to address students on navigating professional success as a man of color. Now she felt torn about using his most famous book — and still has not made up her mind about whether to assign it this year.

“I’m convinced that teaching the mind of male domination is important,” Professor Celis said. “But now I’m teaching against the book.”

And so my answer to the NYT article’s title question is a qualified “Yes!”



  1. Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    And so my answer to the NYT article’s title question [Do Works by Men Toppled by #MeToo Belong in the Classroom?] is a firm “No!”

    Given the tenor of your post, it looks like you mean the opposite.

    • Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      The answer is to the title of the post.

      • Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        Yes, I suspect a typo, i.e. it’s not the answer to the NYT headline question, but to this post’s headline 🙂

        • Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:52 am | Permalink


        • Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          Yeah, I fixed it. Thanks.

          • Deodand
            Posted October 9, 2019 at 1:18 am | Permalink

            It still seems to be showing the same quoted comment (from Nadia Celis) twice. And I’ve seen an opinion piece in the British free newspaper ‘Metro’ which was arguing that if an author is found to have views that no longer accord with ‘modern sensibilities’ then their books should be thrown away.

  2. Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Uh-oh. Bang go Plato and Muhammad.

    • Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      &… Hallelujah! – the bible!

  3. Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Another “firm no.”

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    My answer is also no. The ignorance surrounding sexual harassment seems to have no end in this society. This is kind of like wiping out the history of our first several presidents because they were slave owners.

  5. Dominic
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    “below 17, sex is considered statutory rape” – I thought that ‘children’ could get married at a lower age in the USA?

    What about Jerry Lee Lewis who married a girl of thirteen?


    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      I believe it depends on the state. Also, sexual harassment is not rape. That would be sexual assault.

  6. CJColucci
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    We teach books, not authors. We would soon run out of books to teach if we inquired too deeply into the character of the authors. That said, I don’t see why these particular books ought to be part of a standard high school curriculum. I don’t think they were written for high school students, and the case that they are so obviously meritorious or important that they should be taught to high school students anyway seems thin to me.

    • Dominic
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Wars involve all too much murder, racism & rape to be taught…!

  7. Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I’ll be looking forward to the creation of a full listing of banned thinkers so I may add them to my course syllabi.

    Or perhaps my next course proposal will be for a course on banned thinkers, where we’ll explore/evaluate their works on the merits of their work.

    Let’s admit that banning these thinkers will make them even more popular among the new class of anti-conformists that will surely follow the current generation.

  8. Roo
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I 1) Think this is ridiculous and 2) Think it’s inevitable pendulum swinging from a time when these same circles seemed to fawn over vile behavior, because it was Sew Artistic or whatever. I think postmodern nihilism got the better of some people and now they seem to long for an environment where they can be un-ironically shocked and outraged about things again, hence the sudden Puritanism.

    I think it’s positive that people are not lionizing Roman Polanski as a victim of oppression at this point (as they seemed to a decade or so ago.) That is just a return of common sense and decency, to my mind. That said, I think they’ve taken it way too far and are now getting into censoring Galileo type territory.

  9. Mark
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Jerry, at the end of your post, you meant to highlight the “two professors quoted at the end of the article”, but you’ve duplicated the Nadia Celis quote instead.

    Thanks for drawing our attention to this controversy.

  10. BJ
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    If we go with this policy, all it takes is one accusation to completely destroy a person’s (OK, a man’s) life. Something 5% of people are psychopaths. It scares the hell out of me that my nephew is going to grow up and possibly live in a world where someone who wants his job, or someone he broke up with, who someone who simply doesn’t like him simply has to accuse him of something terrible and likely take his job, his reputation, and possibly his friends and his private life from him.

    Read this article to see how scary this is. A famous author had his life’s work destroyed, his job revoked, and ended up in a mental hospital because of false accusations:

    • BJ
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      It’s a long article, but not only was he falsely accused, there was also a cover-up by the accusers and those adjudicating the case to keep the case going despite knowing it was false.

  11. Barry Smith
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I’m reminded of Shakespeare: ‘The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.’

    I’m for celebrating their good and condemning their evil – lest we forget.

  12. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    There was a fine example of this in an earlier post this morning. Two people (perfectly justifiably) got a half-share of a Nobel for their major achievements in locating and characterising exoplanets in the last 20 years. And an astrophysicist who I’d never heard of, who did no doubt sterling work in the 1970s, and some interesting stuff since.
    But, the leading light of the other exoplanet hunting technique? He’s not mentioned at all, becoming all the more glaringly obvious by his absence if you know anything about the topic of exoplanets. Nope, it looks as if Geoff Marcy has become an unperson.

  13. Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    A person’s other pursuits play some role when deciding whether a particular work is useful in certain contexts. I am against promoting Jesus’ teachings, even the ostensibly good ones, because the Bible is such an amoral, nasty piece of text. Nobody should pretend otherwise by cherrypicking some out-of-context bits, which might make the other stuff acceptable.

    I also don’t think we should use the landscape art of the famous artist A. Hitler as examples of such art, if there’s other comparable art to choose from (there is).

    That does not mean that such works should be banned. There’s a place for them, but just not in certain contexts.

    In my view, it’s not always that easy to decide and comes down to many specifics. “Huckleberry Finn” is important art. Hiding away the past does a disservice to education. You don’t remove Shakespeare from the classroom because it comes out from archeological findings he was a bit of a knob.

    But for not so significant art, I’d say “tough luck”. Is it unfair that people get “re-evaluated” because of hearsay? Absolutely. I also want the world to be fair. But it isn’t. So, yeah, too bad for these millionaires, and everyone who is evaluated based on BS, hearsay and superficial reasons.

    • CJColucci
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      Context is certainly important. While I would support, defend, and even attend, an elective class devoted to the problematic aspects of Taming of the Shrew and Merchant of Venice, I would stand with Jewish or female students and their parents who thought that, for a general Shakespeare unit in high school English, studying two plays, it would be a good idea to choose two different ones.

      • Raymond Cox
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        I totally disagree. These plays could be used as material for a discussion of changes in attitudes since the time of Shakespeare.

        • CJColucci
          Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:30 am | Permalink

          I don’t think we do disagree. I’m all in favor of a discussion like the one you suggest. I said as much. But if you’re planning the general Shakespeare unit, picking two plays for a general introduction, rather than a discussion of specific issues, like changes of attitude since Shakespeare’s day, there is no good reason to select those two plays in particular.

          • Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:49 am | Permalink

            But you will run into problems with most of Shakespeare’s plays, so … then what?

            For example, Macbeth and Hamlet are violent (and involve mistreatment of women, etc.); Romeo and Juliet involves violence and teenaged sex, Othello is about a black man (thus ticking off those who insist that non-minorities shouldn’t write about minorities), The Tempest has been said to be racist re: Caliban, …

            I am not saying the policy is totally nonsensical, but it does seem to be fraught with difficulty.

            • CJColucci
              Posted October 8, 2019 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

              That’s true in theory, but in fact people have gotten terribly worked up over assigning Shrew and Merchant in ways they haven’t gotten worked up over other plays Unless the point of your course is to deal with problematic stuff, which is a worthy purpose but not the usual purpose of the general Shakespeare unit in high school English, then assigning plays that are known to piss people off when there are alternatives that don’t seems like gratuitous provocation.

        • John Crisp
          Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:34 am | Permalink

          Yes indeed. In fact, Shylock’s speech in Merchant of Venice –

          I am a Jew. Hath
          not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
          dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
          revenge? –

          is probably the most remarkable expressions of our common humanity to be found anywhere, and could be extended to any racial group.

          More controversially, the French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline was probably one of the most remarkable writers of the last century, both as a prose stylist and as a novelist. He was also a rabid antisemite and Nazi collaborator, and in fact never renounced or expressed any kind of regret for his antisemitism after World War II.

          It is the complexity of this kind of paradox, the coexistence of beauty and ugliness in the same person, that young adults (and children, though I would not recommend Céline as an introduction) need to learn about. Great art, as Jerry says, may not be “another way of knowing”, but I know of no better way of introducing young people to moral complexity, of developing empathy, of entering into “other minds”. In this increasingly black-and-white world, that is important.

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      But who decides what is ‘significant’? Would you be happy to banish Caravaggio or Benvenuto Cellini because they were violent and trigger-happy; or Gesualdo because he murdered his first wife and her lover (and went back afterwards to make sure they were dead); or Schiele because he painted teenage models in their underwear?

      Once the work is created, it enters into its own life, separate from the artist. It should then be judged on its own terms, and not necessarily by the standards we have (justifiably) adopted today.

      • Posted October 8, 2019 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        Someone decided to include certain works, and they can decide to exclude or replace works, too. For me the criteria would be merit, and immediate context. Hitler would have to be an outstanding artist, who contributed to art history to merit his inclusion, because his extra artistic activities loom too large. This test tells me that art and artist, or person and their actions are not entirely separated, because the activities and artifacts are a stand-in for them into the Hall of Eternity. I concede that generally, society is highly hypocritical about this. Americans love John F. “Napalm Death” Kennedy. Here in Europe, we built statues for genocidal, maniacal kings and conquerers.

        But the argument from Jerry only makes sense in regards to the criteria for inclusion (or exclusion) in the class room. I find the term “banning” misleading, as it enlists dramatic imagery that isn’t adequate.

        Here are a few more intuition tests:

        (1) What if you change the story so that each year, they make a new list of books. Usually, they carry over most of the books from the previous year, but this time they decide to categorically not carry over any #meToo controversial authors.

        (2) What if they change the books without telling why exactly, or replace books at random, and what if the effect was the exact same: #meToo controversial authors are now missing.

        The first scenario removes the misleading “banning” imagery with a routine turnover. If that still rubs you the wrong way, then you can drill deeper why exactly. The second scenario removes the apparent reasoning, but keeps the exact outcome. If that‘s still an issue, perhaps you find that these authors are so great that they must be part of a canon.

        My point is that everybody’s work (or they themselves) get a benefit or a pass all the time. I feel an artist should be “free” in an idealistic sense to compose their work, and I dislike woke attempts to intimidate and bully artists. But why should this freedom end there: the curator can decide what they include or not. For curricula or entire canons, it’s a much broader discussion, and here I think that people can also negotiate what “counts” when deciding on what’s of import or not.

        I prefer to decide on the merit of the art, to a high degree, but I also recognise that the context matters. Say, Charles Manson said something really wise. Would we share it, as if he did nothing else? Or is it here that he’s famous for something else and the wisdom would come secondary? What if he was first famous for calendar mottos, and then founded a murderous cult? Would this change something?

  14. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    This really doesn’t come down to either yes or no. Polanski anally raped a thirteen year old girl after drugging her, and just recently a film awards festival gave his latest film, a kind of reflexive, self-pityingly allegorical recap of the Dreyfus affair, a standing ovation.
    He has never been punished for his crime and has continued to make huge sums of money and live a jet-setting life, all while whining about his ‘mistreatment’ by the bourgeois, prudish* Americans.

    His works might be considered great(I’m not much of a fan) but it’s the constant reinforcement of his stature as an artist that has given him so much latitude and allowed him to justify his skipping out on justice. The argument that he is a ‘misunderstood genius’ and jailing him would deprive the world of great art was frequently wheeled out to defend his buggering off every time the law turned up. There is an argument that by teaching his work and compounding his reputation as a great artist you(however inadvertently and indirectly) help shield this man from the consequences of his actions.

    And you cannot entirely separate an artist’s work from their actions. We tolerate a certain amount of bad behaviour, and we tolerate more of it the more talented the artist, but there is a point beyond which that snaps, and we say ‘no’. If anyone thinks there isn’t such a point I reckon they haven’t thought about it hard enough. Should we teach Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will? What about her other films? I’m sure they have been taught, because they are technically impressive. But should we?

    It’s frustrating, but sometimes there isn’t a blanket answer. Sometimes as an educator you just have to look at the artist involved and make a decision based on your conscience.

    *I always thought describing his critics as ‘prudish’ took a lot of chutzpah.

    • Blue
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      +1, Mr Sorrell – Till. I utterly concur.


    • Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Yes, I really think that Riefenstahl’s films should be seen, both as superb examples of propaganda and for their innovative filming methods. I’ve watched them several times. I’m not worried about people watching them becoming Nazis.

      And I’m not sure if you can’t separate an artist’s work from his/her actions. If you saw, for example, Chinatown without knowing anything about the director, wouldn’t you think it was a great movie on its own? It is. You CAN very often separate the work from the artist, so long as you are not determined to conflate them.

      • BJ
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        Every time I watch one of Polanski’s better films, I separate the art from the artist. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a brilliant piece of art made by someone who did something terrible. When I watch Chinatown, I’m not thinking about Polanski, but about how much I love that damn movie!

        Man is Chinatown amazing. I’m sorry. I just had to say it again.

        • davidintoronto
          Posted October 8, 2019 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

          Conceivably, one might rationalize Polanski’s movies pre-sexual assault (when he was innocent) and post-sexual assault (guilty). Therefore… enjoy Chinatown without self-reproach.


          • BJ
            Posted October 8, 2019 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

            Loving I feel no need to rationalize. I enjoy The Ghost Writer .

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        I wasn’t asking whether Leni Riefenstahl’s films should be seen; I was asking whether they should be taught, as ‘texts’ in film class, as Polanski’s films are being taught.

        Decisions not to teach stuff like this happen all the time, in the background, and they happen for a combination of reasons, some of which are related to the sheer awfulness of the people involved, or the message in their artwork. It happens, and it has always happened, and it’s always been done in a pretty slipshod, arbitrary way, taken case-by-case. That’s the best we can do.

        I don’t see how else it can be done: you can’t say ‘the character of the person who created the art is completely irrelevant and no attention shall be paid to it’, and equally you can’t start imposing blanket rules like ‘everyone with a history of any kind of sexual assault must be excised from curricula’. Those two approaches seem equally extreme and they flatten the subtleties of this issue.

        • BJ
          Posted October 8, 2019 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          I watched Triumph of the Will in a simple film analysis class. Analysis not of themes and whatnot, but technical studies of them. Riefenstahl’s work was certainly very useful in this context. We all knew what it was from (if anyone didn’t, they sure did once they watched it), but there was no need to talk about how bad Hitler or Riefenstahl was before or after.

          • Saul Sorrell-Till
            Posted October 8, 2019 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

            I’m not sure that counts as putting it on a curriculum. And I suspect if anyone did there’d be a hefty amount of pushback.

            And my point isn’t that we should talk about how bad these people were afterwards. My point is that people draw lines, whether they admit it or not, even people who say that we should always judge an artwork solely on its own merits.

            Given enough time and probing I’m pretty sure I could find the point at which you would draw your line – but that would be a pretty ugly process, whereby I just moved through the gears of awfulness until I found a hypothetical person whose work was sufficiently repugnant that you wouldn’t feel comfortable having it on a curriculum.

            • BJ
              Posted October 8, 2019 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

              I don’t understand your point about the curriculum. It was part of the curriculum.

              In a similar class, we watch Birth of a Nation simply because it was the first film to do a lot of the things it did.

    • Curtis
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      Polanski is a special case because his crime is clear, brutal and against a child. I have never seen a Polanski film because I do not want him to benefit in any way from actions.

      If someone is convicted of a serious enough crime, it is proper to try to ban them. If they are not convicted or the crime is not serious, it is a different story.

      • Taz
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        But a film isn’t the product of any one person. If you cancel Chinatown, so to speak, you’re also cancelling brilliant performances by Faye Dunaway and Jack Nicholson.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted October 8, 2019 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

          You’re not canceling the film though are you? You’re just not including it on a curriculum.

          • Taz
            Posted October 8, 2019 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

            Which is fine if it’s the instructor’s call, but Curtis was talking about banning.

      • denise
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        What exactly do you mean by ban?

    • ladyatheist
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      Should marching bands stop playing Gary Glitter’s Rock & Roll part 2? (some have)

      • BJ
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        LOL I had this conversation with someone recently, only it was over goal songs in hockey. My team’s used to be that song, but they got rid of it because it was Glitter’s. I want it back. It’s too damn good.

      • Posted October 8, 2019 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        Good one! A lot of schools would have to ditch this mainstay if the control freaks had their way.

        • Posted October 8, 2019 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

          And I guess the movie Joker is getting grief about using Glitter’s song.

          • BJ
            Posted October 8, 2019 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

            That movie is getting grief for anything certain critics can find because those critics have to justify the idiotic things they said about it before they even saw it.

            Turns out it’s not a movie justifying white nationalism or “incel terrorism.” It’s more about the important of mental health!

          • Saul Sorrell-Till
            Posted October 8, 2019 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

            It’s politically moronic, morally cretinous and really very good indeed. Especially the last half an hour or so, where Phoenix’s performance just disappears into the stratosphere.

            • BJ
              Posted October 8, 2019 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

              I thought nobody could fill Ledgers sgoes, but if anyone could, it’s Joaquin Phoenix.

              • Saul Sorrell-Till
                Posted October 8, 2019 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

                I never thought that much of Heath Ledger’s Joker. I wasn’t interested in him, he was just a cipher.

                But Phoenix is brilliant in this, especially when he gives in to the dark side. The final scenes on Murray Franklin’s show are where the movie justifies itself, and where Fleck stops being a sympathetic sap and becomes genuinely dangerous – because he becomes charismatic.
                What’s most powerful about the scene(and what probably worried some critics) is that Joker is not just becoming charismatic in the film, charismatic to the viewers at home watching Murray’s show, the rioters in the street – he’s also becoming charismatic to the audience watching ‘Joker’. In that split-second he won me over. I was ready to fuck shit up.

                It’s all captured in this playful roll of the eyes he does when De Niro’s character is ranting about his amorality – it’s horribly funny. It’s a little ‘ooh, naughty me’ smile, and it’s genius.
                Heath Ledger’s joker was a kind of boring prop by comparison, lecturing the audience. Phoenix’s Joker is electric and alive in a way Ledger’s wasn’t. He alternates between rage and flippancy in this brilliant, totally credible way. It’s magnetic.

                The film itself…is good. Not great, but good nevertheless. It’s redeemed by the final quarter or so, where everything happens at once and there’s no time to slow down or catch your breath.

              • BJ
                Posted October 8, 2019 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

                What brought down Heath Ledger’s performance wasn’t Ledger, but the failure of the writers to flesh out the character. Ledger was utterly brilliant, but the writing didn’t support him. I’m confident he would have done nearly as good a job as Phoenix, but who knows?

                And yes, Phoenix holds up this film. The film itself is rather pedestrian for the first two acts, but you can’t take your eyes off of Phoenix.

              • BJ
                Posted October 8, 2019 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

                Also, I’ll say it takes a good director to understand how good his star is and ensure the audience’s attention is always on him. Todd Phillips has always been a raunchy comedy director (although he also directed one of my favorite documentaries, Bittersweet Hotel), but he did a good job with this and I was pleasantly surprised.

      • EdwardM
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        The NFL has banned it.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

        “(Some have)”

        That’s my point. There is no blanket ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer here. If anyone thinks there is I’m fairly confident I’d be able to find an example that would be sufficiently extreme that they’d say it shouldn’t be taught.

        And re. Gary Glitter…a school band’s not going to make him much money(although he’d probably like a video of the performance all the same, for private use). But any film or TV show that uses his music, and thus provides him with royalties: yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty dodgy step to take, and if I was in charge I would definitely not take it. Also he’s shit, so there’s that.

        • Posted October 8, 2019 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

          The problem with making some commenter in a field a non-person is that historiography disappears. And the development of the human conversation becomes untrackable and incomprehensible.

          Take the literature on the American Civil War. For every day after 1865 up till 1900, there was at least one document discussing its meaning, and many interpretations. By the 1910s, one rather mainstream thread was encapsulated in Griffiths’ racist “Birth of a Nation”. It was only in the 1930s that W.E.B. Du Bois produced his history, of which most modern histories are a footnote (perhaps to overstate the case).

          Yet, we have to know Birth of a Nation (and the anti-Reconstruction ideologies so prevalent from 1865 on) to understand Du Bois’ achievement. How much would we understand of our own history if we deleted the ideas we disapprove of? E.P. Thompson warned somewhere against the “condescension of posterity”. I think he was right.

  15. Michael Waterhouse
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    If it is desirable to ban works by those toppled by #MeToo accusations then it ought the be the case those who make false claims and topple innocent persons are banned too.

    Bringing up Neil Degrasse Tyson as an example case just shows how pathetic and weak such a position is. It is absurd.

  16. Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I strongly feel that we have to separate the person and the work. Some pretty disgusting humans have done important art of scientific work. In the classroom it can be worth mentioning that the person’s whole life isn’t as admirable as the work, but don’t throw out the work.

  17. KD
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    No, people are either pure or impure, and any work by an impure person is an infectious agent polluting the precious bodily fluids of our young.

    No, burn the impure, and burn their impure books so that we retain our purity of essence. Otherwise, fascism wins.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 9, 2019 at 1:34 am | Permalink

      Your sarcasm is noted.



  18. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I suppose this bodes ill for the works of the Marquis de Sade? 🙂

    And for every other work of Transgressive Lit — from the Decadent poets to Celine’s Death on the Installment Plan to Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer to Jean Genet to Lolita?

    Christ, might as well fire up the furnaces to 451 degrees Fahrenheit right now.

    This simply reaffirms my belief in a strict church-state wall of separation between politics and aesthetics.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Why would transgressive lit be banned from a course in transgressive lit?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        Because many of them lived transgressive lifestyles — they wrote what they knew, so to speak. (Well, maybe not so much Nabokov, but the others.)

        I stress again, I’m opposed to any such banning.

  19. ladyatheist
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I think it would depend on the pedagogical points the professor wants to demonstrate. If the course relates author biography to literary themes, then it would seem to be a factor. It would also depend on the age and intellectual background of the students. If they have been prepared by a background that gives them a wide enough context then sure, leave it all in. If they are younger and less experienced and view instructors and authors as role models and authority figures, then it’s worth considering alternatives.

    Reading Mark Twain does normalize the n-word within its own context, but reading a brief passage rather than the whole novel would not risk normalizing the n-word for a 14-year-old looking for validation of racist sentiments inherited from racist parents. The main point is what is the main point? Do we assign Mark Twain to demonstrate language of the 19th century or for some other reason? (a: some other reason)

    Toscanini is purported to have said that tradition is the last bad performance. Just because an author or film maker has traditionally been part of a curriculum doesn’t mean they can’t be jettisoned without loss to the student. It all depends on the author, student, & context.

    • Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      I think it matters what the class is about in more general terms. I do think that *careful* explorations of intellectual history marred by horrible behaviour is warrented (e.g., Heidegger) but blanket dismissal is not. However, in the art-and-literature case I find it hard to say “yes”, as I do not regard the art normally to have any *content* – even in the literature case – because one has to be careful of the pathetic fallacy. In fact, discussions of the latter are very important to literature classes and how does one *do* that without examples?

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        That sounds about right to me.

    • BJ
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      I think putting emphasis on “preparing” young people for horrors or offense or other such things is detrimental. I think mental hardship is a key in the development of a mature mind.

      I went on a class trip to the Holocaust Museum when I was 12. Nobody prepared me. I knew what the Holocaust was and I knew several of my ancestors died in it, but the teachers didn’t bother to prepare us for what we were going to see. They wanted us to be shocked, to be fearful, to see what humanity can do without any previous understanding. To see the train cars and to step inside them, to see the pile of shoes from those shot and gassed, to see the video testimony…

      It was horrifying and I can’t forget it to this day, but I’m terribly grateful for the experience.

      • BJ
        Posted October 8, 2019 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        Actually, I just realized I was 10 when I went on that trip.

  20. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    … and Norman Mailer stabbed his wife …

    Least it wasn’t as bad as how Mailer’s anti-hero protagonist, Stephan Rojack, starts off Mailer’s subsequent novel An American Dream — by buggering his maid and defenestrating his strangled wife.

    • Andrew
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Burn all the Picasso’s! That guy was an a-hole so let’s remove him from art history. Not.

  21. Posted October 8, 2019 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Also, *accused*? Definitely not. Maybe brief teachers so that they can be aware of the controversies or pending court actions, but to take banning action on a mere accusation … definitely not!

  22. pablo
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I always fear that what starts in the humanities will eventually creep into the sciences.

  23. Joe Dickinson
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Works of art, including music, literature, film, etc., should be judged on artistic merit alone. Period.

  24. Posted October 8, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Taken to a reasonable extreme, a vegetarian should never see a movie directed by someone who eats meat. I teetotaling Baptist should never read a book written by someone who drinks. An anti-vaxxer should never go to a doctor who provides vaccines. The list goes on and on.

    People can and will self-prescribe their personal censorships, but some of us can have the ability to look beyond. I still can watch Woody Allen films. They are, for the most part, incredibly brilliant. For aesthetic reasons mostly, I can no longer abide the anti-semite Mel Gibson or science-stupid Tom Cruise.

    Most of my childhood heroes are musicians that if I ever met I would be gravely disappointed, besides Ozzy, he’s now an affable grandad.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Mel Gibson’s a good example. I’ll be buggered if I’m giving that rancid old bigot a single second’s more attention in his life than he’s already got. People keep recommending Hacksaw Ridge, but on principle I just don’t want to go anywhere near it.

      People say ‘judge the art, never the artist’, but sometimes the artist’s personality and politics are so noxious that they bleed into the artwork itself. That has been the case with plenty of books I’ve read, and films I’ve seen.

      With Hacksaw Ridge I’ve no idea whether that’s the case – I trust people when they say it’s good, and I think he’s a powerful director. But I just don’t want to give him any of my money or time, and I can’t ignore the fact that he’s behind it, lurking in the background like a Jew-hating, Pope-loathing, withered old lemon.

      • Posted October 10, 2019 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        But there is a very big difference between a personal decision in this respect and setting policy for others or an organization.

  25. Jon Gallant
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Beyond the present campaigns to de-platform such miscreants as Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, Woody Allen, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the next tend will be retroactive censorship of artists and composers of the past guilty of, or merely suspected of, thoughtcrimes of a political nature. Edgar Degas, for example, was a notorious anti-semite and “anti-Dreyfusard”, Puccini was an early admirer of Mussolini, Sibelius favored the Whites in the Finnish civil war of 1918, Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky left Russia because of the Bolsheviks, and as for Wagner—-well, let’s not even get started on him.

  26. Posted October 8, 2019 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Please forgive this long OT entry, but this simple story that went viral, illustrates how easily everything becomes convoluted, and how far back you must go, and who must *make* the apologies. ABC News called it the “Viral ‘beer-money’ fundraiser erupts into racist tweets, a fired reporter and online drama.” But that’s just part of the story.  As no one story had all the elements, I combined them (as much as I can tell) in chronological order:

    • Tosh.0, deliberately offensive comedian, on Comedy Central becomes very popular among young males 18-24.

    • Bud Light advertises Tosh.0, because show is very popular among young males 18-24.

    • 16 year old Carson King,  tweets or retweets stupid racist stuff inspired by Tosh.0 

    • 24 year old Carson King, posts photo of sign “Busch Light Supply Needs Replenished,” as a joke.

    • Post goes viral on ESPN’s “College Game Day,” and strangers start sending King money though his Venmo account

    • A very surprised King, gets more than a million, and promises to donate almost all the money (minus cost of a case of Busch Light beer) to University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital. (He is now a Nice Guy)

    • Busch Beer (makers of Bud Light) and Venmo say they will match Nice Guy’s donation.

    • Other companies also donate, seeing a chance to take advantage of positive publicity.

    • Anheuser-Busch, maker of Busch beer, introduces marketing promotion around Nice Guy, including pose with cans with his name and face, and tweet: “Hey Carson, we said we’d send you a year’s worth of Busch Light, but first we had to make sure the cans were fit for a king. Let us know where to send the truck. #IowaLegend”

    • Aaron Calvin—Reporter — for The Des Moines Register, digs up racists posts from Nice Guy’s past.

    • Outrage Culture demands an apology from former Nice Guy, who obliges, with open letter statement.

    • Someone [not clear who] checks Reporter’s background, and finds worse and more recent racist tweets or posts. 

    • Outrage Culture now goes after Reporter and The Des Moines Register.

    • The Des Moines Register issues a long, hand-wringing statement from the Editor, revises their policies, and fires their Reporter.

    • Disgraced Reporter slams ex-bosses: “I did this with the full cooperation of my editorial supervisors at the Register… [they] were involved in the entire process of addressing King’s social media history.” And also apologies for his past tweets.

    • Nice Guy’s apology seems to have been accepted, but…

    • Anheuser-Busch cuts ties with Nice Guy, issuing statement: “social media posts that do not align with our values as a brand or as a company…” but will still honor their commitment by donating “$350,000 to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics…” 

    • Anheuser-Busch is slammed for their past questionable marketing racial insensitivity.

    • Iowa Oktoberfest organizers say they will not serve Busch Light beer, as Anheuser-Busch is a sponsor of Comedy Central which runs Tosh.0.

    * * *

    This is as full-circle Outrage Culture as you can get from one incident, with (seemingly) a beginning, middle and end.

    • EdwardM
      Posted October 8, 2019 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      In the end did Stead Family Children’s Hospital get the dosh?

      • Posted October 8, 2019 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

        Have not heard anything to the contrary, but it will be interesting to see the final totals from everyone who pledged.

  27. Posted October 8, 2019 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if the study of Teichmuller spaces (in mathematics) will be banned as well.

    (he was an ardent Nazi who died in WW2 defending his cause)

    BTW, the answer should be “of course not..”

  28. Azreal
    Posted October 8, 2019 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Should schools ban the works of those accused of sexual harassment?
    Did not need to read the article to answer.
    The value if an idea stands apart from who suggested it.

  29. Posted October 8, 2019 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    In short, absolutely not. If we only acknowledged the contributions of perfect people, we’d have nothing to teach. Society is trying to unperson imperfect people and it’s ridiculous.

  30. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 9, 2019 at 1:17 am | Permalink


    That was the short answer.

    Longer answer – I don’t give a flying f*** about the personal life of the author. If the book is worth reading for its literary qualities, that’s all I care about, and all that’s relevant. I don’t care about the sex life of the author, I don’t care about his politics, I don’t care about his religion, I don’t care about his race, I don’t care if s/he was a mass murderer. Hopefully the law has taken care of whatever might need to have been taken care of in that respect, and if it hasn’t, me-not-reading-his-books (usually after he’s dead anyway) is not going to fix that.

    Same applies to movies. If I started not-watching movies because the director (or the star, or one of the supporting cast) had committed some crime or had political or religious views inimical to mine, I doubt there would be one movie I could still watch.

    Purity tests are BS.


  31. Posted October 9, 2019 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    Wagner and Celine have both already been mentioned as great artists and terrible anti-semites. After listening to interviews with Gottfried Wagner on the radio, I quit listening to Wagner’s music for several years. Then I read a biography of Leonard Bernstein, where I came across his saying, approximately, “I despise Wagner … on bended knee.” Lenny went on to both conduct and record Wagner’s works. And I went back to listening to them.

    There is a letter from Beethoven where he makes a disparaging remark about his Jewish publisher, Schlesinger, I think.

    I imagine you can find lots and lots of such cases. An obvious one is John Buchan or most any Brit from the Victorian period.

    Life is complicated, full of pluses and minuses. It’s up to us to recognize both, think about and discuss them, and make our own decisions. It’s not the librarian who should decide, much less her boss or some politician.

  32. Posted October 9, 2019 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Does anyone suppose that if historians found that Isaac Newton was a p…-grabber like our president there would be a cry to remove his laws of motion from physics texts? Or that the David should be smashed because Michelangelo spoke harshly to his assistants?

  33. Posted October 9, 2019 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    “It goes without saying that sexual harassment or assault is inexcusable and execrable…”

    I am surprised that you use the word “inexcusable” here, because there is no guilt due to a lack of free will and no sex offender or harasser would have been able to act otherwise.

    It is known of dolphins, orangutans or ducks that rapes are carried out against the females; would you also consider these acts to be “inexcusable”? I doubt that.
    You can’t absolve somebody of something he doesn’t even have and the same is true for the opposite: you can’t label someone as guilty when there is no such thing as guilt.

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