One thing I’ve learned over the years is meeting your hero can be a precarious thing.
Because we often put our heroes on pedestals, we have preconceived notions and high expectations that their personalities and characters match what already we imagine.
It’s always a relief when we meet them, read their literary biographies or watch news stories about them and find they are, in fact, reflections of what we imagined them to be.
But sometimes, our heroes turn out to be douchebags.
However, this realization often sneaks up on us, and we don’t see it coming.
Everything we thought was true about them is proved wrong, and we are deeply disappointed.
All of a sudden, we find ourselves not looking at them or their work in quite the same way.
But, can bad people do good work or create good art?
In fact, those who behave or act in ways that are morally questionable create good work all the time.
Looking at some of my own heroes, I can come up with several examples.
TS Eliot made significant contributions to modern-day poetry, but he was an anti-Semite.
Pablo Picasso was one of the greatest and most influential artists in the 20th century, but he was an abusive man and a womanizer.
Charles Dickens was a literary genius, but he used opium and neglected his children.
These are just a few people in a long list of other heroes who did bad things, but the point is, while their beliefs and actions may be morally questionable, their work — poems, books, plays, music, paintings, entertainment, advocacy for social justice issues, etc. — is not.
In fact, most of us would agree they are undoubtedly good. If we look at TS Eliot, Pablo Picasso and Charles Dickens, it is their work we remember, not their personal lives.
When we define our hero’s work as good or bad, we're making a judgment about the quality of the work, independent of the person who created it. This is a distinct difference compared to when we make judgments about a person’s actions and beliefs as being good or bad.
Remember that art is an expression of the individual who created it, and it’s often shaped by his or her personal experiences and beliefs.
Those experiences and beliefs can represent the good as well as the bad parts of them. And many times, it will encompass both.
Whatever work they create, it undoubtedly speaks to our emotions.
Maybe it sparks disdain. Maybe it sparks awe. Maybe it sparks empathy and compassion.
At least it sparks something.
If we were to stop supporting their art or begin banning it based on the actions and beliefs of the person who created it, then I wonder what kind of art would be left in the world.
I imagine it would be fairly boring art, as it would lack the reality and conviction of the human condition.
We often expect our heroes should be better than average people, but they are susceptible to human fallacies, just like the rest of us.
Just because your hero turns out to be a douchebag, it doesn’t mean his or her work isn’t still incredible. And it doesn’t mean you have to stop loving what the person does.
I certainly don’t condone behaviors that harm others, but I do believe the work of our douchebag heroes is separate from who they are as individuals.
What they contribute to society is what they leave behind long after they leave this world.
We may not agree with their actions or their beliefs, but we can still enjoy their work.