This past week, I’ve been reading all sorts of blog posts and online articles and think pieces in the wake of both the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died Super Bowl Sunday from a heroin overdose, and the publishing of Dylan Farrow’s Open Letter in The New York Times, which details her memories of childhood sex abuse at the hands of her adopted father Woody Allen.
The social media responses have been swift, condemning, questioning, and highly critical. Does knowing that Hoffman had a drug addiction that eventually killed him change our reception of his undisputed talent onscreen? Does it change the way we view any of the popular celebrities who have died from drug addictions: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger, Corey Monteith?
Do their private weaknesses take away from their public strengths as musical geniuses or acting talents?
Worse, if you believe Dylan Farrow’s version of things (i.e. that Woody Allen abused his own daughter – adopted or otherwise), will that prevent you from being able to watch his movies again, as one blogger vowed not to?
I would like to think I could divorce the work from the artist. However, the reason why I personally still listen to Michael Jackson’s music is because I believe in his innocence (despite two legal cases accusing him of pedophilia). If I believed he were guilty, I could not listen to or enjoy his music. It’s why I cannot listen to any music by R. Kelly (I believe he is guilty of sexually preying on underage girls – worse, his music reinforces his disgusting perversions).
Drug addiction is a disease, so I’m more forgiving of those who succumb to their illness, in the case of still appreciating the beautiful vocals of a Whitney Houston or the brilliance of Heath Ledger in movies.
This is why I want to hold on to the public image so much when it comes to David Archuleta. I want to know some private details but only so much. Because the private details could absolutely taint the way you receive the work.
I also think things are much more difficult for artists like David. He began with a “good boy” image, and certain fans’ insistence that we view him in terms of blessed goodness (almost to the point of angelic perfection) sets him up for an inevitable fall from grace since no one is perfect.
It’s actually better, I think, to start from a “bad boy” or “bad girl” image because once you improve, you are forever “redeemed.”
Granted, David is much more complex than that, for even as he started out on Idol with a “good” and “angelic” persona, behind-the-scenes rumors about controlling and “abusive” stage dads already tainted that public persona. Which is why I believe, as GG Doors once suggested, that David needs a Janet-Jacksonesque Control album to reassert himself as a grown man in control of his own sound and destiny.
How that is perceived, in the wake of a Mormon mission, is anyone’s guess. Even then, I imagine David already lost some fans over his religious choices and convictions. He has been very wise in the past to not bring his faith to the fore, but we shall see if he continues to follow this private/public split.
Control over his sound and especially over his image is key, especially when any extra private details could tip the scales on how one is perceived in public.