Watching The Art Of The Abusers NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Matt Zoller Seitz, New York Magazine's TV critic, about how to watch the film and media of accused sexual harassers like Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K. and Bill Cosby.
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Watching The Art Of The Abusers

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Watching The Art Of The Abusers

Watching The Art Of The Abusers

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Week after week, powerful men have been accused of sexual misconduct. Many of them were beloved for their talent. Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein - most recently, comedian Louis C.K. admitted to sexual harassment after an expose in The New York Times. But where does that leave their fans? Can we still enjoy their art? Or is it tainted? Matt Zoller Seitz has some answers. He's TV critic for New York magazine, and he joins us via Skype. Welcome to the program.

MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: Hey, thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So is it possible to separate the perpetrators from their work in film and media?

SEITZ: No, not really. I used - you know, I used to think that it was, but it's unrealistic. It's unnatural. I mean, you know, once you know something about somebody, it's going to color your perception of their work. And you can sort of - you can perform those abstract kind of intellectual exercises where you try to decouple the information, but you still know it.


SEITZ: And, you know, that's OK. We don't have to approve of every facet of an artist's life to find their work interesting or significant, but the context does change.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What does that mean for us as viewers? Does it mean that we should stop watching these movies?

SEITZ: Everybody has to make their own choice in that regard. But for me, I look at these things in a purely selfish way, like as a viewer, which is how much extra dramatic information is getting in the way of my enjoying this work. And am I really thinking about the work when I watch it? Or am I thinking about the person who made it and disliking them or just being upset about them in some way? And if the answer's the latter, I probably don't want to watch that anymore.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to look at Louis C.K., in particular. You know, his comedy, actually, was often celebrated because it seemed to address men and their foibles. What did you think of his comedy? And what do you think now?

SEITZ: I thought his stand-up comedy was terrific, and I thought his show was one of the greatest shows in the history of American television. I could name you at least 10 really good half-hour shows that wouldn't exist if Louis C.K. hadn't made that show. And that's one of the reasons why I'm so angry at him. I went to bat for that guy. You know, I'm angry at what he did to those women. I'm angry that he didn't address it sooner. But I'm also angry that, as a critic, I lent my name to defending his art and said, hey, everybody give him the benefit of the doubt. Just because he's playing a character who is, you know, problematic in a lot of ways doesn't mean that he necessarily is. Well, it turns out he was. He was. We should be able to let our artists travel into really dark terrain and rest assured that what we are seeing are thought experiments and not records of horrible things they did.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, but what about how this affects other people in the artistic community? When you have projects being canceled, there are women, men who are part of the creative process - writers, actors, you know, the crew. That seems unfair, doesn't it? - to sort of have all that go away?

SEITZ: Well, yeah. But so many of these revelations have come our way in the last month that I really feel like we're kind of culturally pushing the reset button here. That's actually good and healthy. And I have a few thoughts about this. One is, tens or hundreds of people are involved in making a television show or a movie. It's not right to penalize all of them. But on the other hand, I didn't make Louis C.K., you know, expose himself in front of those women. I didn't make Roman Polanski commit statutory rape in the '70s.

I mean, we're not responsible for any of this stuff. And there's a weird kind of victimization mentality that comes into play where it's, like, well, can you separate the artist from the art? Well, maybe I can, and maybe I can't, but why are you asking me? Like, I feel like, ultimately, it's got to be up to the artists and the system that enables the artists to worry about whether or not the people who make their art are going to have some kind of scandal that interferes with my ability to appreciate and consume the art that they've made. These are all issues that are up to the industry.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think, though, that might change over time? You know, over the centuries, we've been able to sort of view artists in different ways. We can look at Wagner, who was a famous anti-Semite, and see him performed in Israel. Does this not change over time?

SEITZ: Yeah, it absolutely does. And time makes all the difference. I mean, we're not just talking about art here. Every single aspect of our lives - that of the world that we inhabit is morally compromised in some way. When you go to visit the important landmarks in Washington, D.C., you're often setting foot inside buildings that were built with slave labor. That being said, we have an obligation, I think, in our everyday lives to try to make a moral choice, even if it's a symbolic one, when we are able to. But things that are in the past are different. There's nothing I can do about that now. I can't, like, penalize the people who built the White House except by voting for particular types of politicians, which I'm doing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Matt Zoller Seitz is the TV critic for New York magazine. Thank you very much.

SEITZ: Take care. Bye-bye.


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