The Moral Dilemma

“Love the art. Hate the artist.”

While combing through newsfeeds this weekend, I stumbled across a most interesting Tweet. It was in response to another. The Tweet read thus:

@FilmReport24: Cannes: Possible Best Actor Killed Three People in Real Life – Forbes” I hope he wins!

Salacious, no? I was hooked, and clicked on the story… and read it with dismay.

I’ll not go through the sordid tale. I find myself at a moral crossroads. Do I root for an exceptional artistic achievement, do I laud this actor for a job well done?

The nominated – and incarcerated – actor, Arena, claims to have changed. As proof of his transformation, he lists “The Shawshank Redemption” as his favorite film.

Arena seems to have forgotten one fact.  In “Shawshank,” Andy Dufresne was an innocent man.

Arena is a self-confessed murderer.

One of his victims was an 8 year old boy.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: you decide. Should he have even been nominated?

What if Charles Manson wrote the greatest screenplay ever? Or, to take it to an unimaginable extreme, what if Hitler wrote a masterful symphony? Should the work be played? Would the creators – or should they – be lauded for their work?

I believe I have my answer. It’s complex… and yet, it’s not.

What’s yours?

Now, go write

HRH, Princess Scribe

About princessscribe

Screenwriter. Creator of things. I love tacos. "Midlife on Fire" Volumes 1 & 2 now available at
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16 Responses to The Moral Dilemma

  1. dehelen says:

    What about Roman Polanski? Hollywood seems to think his “consensual sex” with a 13 year old girl was just fine and that in spite of the fact he can’t come back to the US because of the rape charges, awarding him for his talent is just fine. How about Woody Allen? What he did is so repellant to me that I can’t even watch the movies he isn’t in. But he’s being rewarded. Elia Kazan. The people who were hurt by him didn’t forget. But Hollywood did. Seems to me, talent wins. So, if history turns up that symphony by Hitler, people will flock to hear it. Me? I’m with you. One of the most effective punishments that exists in the history of the world is public shunning. And there are some crimes that deserve lifelong shunning, IMHO, no matter the loss to the world of the shunee’s talent. We all must suffer the loss when one of us fails society, for in the end we are all one. Or, maybe we adopt shunning as an actual punishment option, and put limits on it. Some societies do this. Then there are forgiveness opportunities, also involving entire societies. But without public forgiveness and redemption, I can’t endorse rewarding people who have flouted society’s morals or laws.


    • Joseph says:

      While I agree in principle and recognize that there is pervasive double standard when it comes to Hollywood recognition of miscreants, using life long shunning as a perpetual punishment, is, IMHO, an extreme sanction that should only be applied to the most heinous of felons. Charles Manson is a perfect example. But, what Woody Allen did, while abhorrent to most, was not illegal. Likewise, Polanski’s case is not so cut and dried. Indeed, it is questionable whether anyone other than someone with Polanski’s stature would have been prosecuted for the crime with which he was charge. Then there is the misconduct by the prosecutors in the Polanski case, that in itself, bordered on the criminal. Should they be shunned in perpetuity as well?


  2. Phil Johnson says:

    I think a lot of it is the short attention span the world seems to have now. Sports stars get in trouble and get right back into the hearts of American with the next touchdown or home run. For Pete’s sake, Chris Brown is headed back to the top after beating Rihanna. And folks don’t seem to have a problem listening to Ike Turner or Rick James.
    On the flip side of that, I do tend to separate the art from the artist. I wouldn’t necessarily give it awards. But I can still say that it’s a good movie/song/book/etc on its own terms and still not like the person that created it. And if there ever an argument for pirating someone’s work, it would be one of those guys.


  3. What a great topic! Especially since I’d say an actor’s art is less separable from the person than is true for most other forms of art. Another interesting factor is the way art and art appreciation are bound up with commerce (not intrinsically, but the way we’ve done it for a long time) — usually in order to see a person’s film, for instance, you have to pay money, some of which will go to support that person.

    I’ve thought a bit about it. On the one hand, to me, there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that a person’s moral failings invalidate any art they may create; part of the point of art is supposed to be that it has meaning greater than that invested in it by its creator. On the other hand, as Phil and dehelen say, there’s a problem with glossing over a person’s moral failings simply because we love their art.

    I think it’s a mess, and I sure haven’t figured it out. I suspect the answer will be inevitably personal for each of us.


  4. Liv says:

    Hmmm, difficult one. I could probably argue for both sides, allowing my morally superior self to convict him for ever and the day or – if I’m in a more loving mood – stating that everyone deserves forgiveness after penance is paid. After all, the man has been given a life sentence and after 21 years is only allowed day passes to come out of prison for filming.

    Another – rational – argument would be that it’s better to reward someone for a job well done, hoping they will steer away from trouble in future and hold on to the second chance that’s been given to them than to keep judging them, making them feel bad about themselves and allowing frustration to build up for the inevitable outbreak of aggression or resentment. Keep them on the path of rightiousness, so to say. Does that sound religious or naive?

    All I can say is that I’m glad I didn’t grow up in Napels, because who knows what kind of decision I would have taken as I was struggling to make it …


    • I’m wondering what it would be like to be the parent of a murdered child, and to see the perpetrator be allowed a day pass… for the child will never see the light of day again. Add to that the same offender being publicly lauded… I can’t imagine the level of suffering that this would generate, for someone who has already suffered more than you and I (hopefully) ever will.


  5. Frank Wood says:

    I think the life of a writer (or any artist) creates subtext in his work. After Fatty Arbuckle’s scandal, he was not funny anymore to most fans. We still see Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin on TV. Fatty’s movies are conspicuously absent even though he was easily among the greats before the scandal. I read a theory recently that because Brandon Lee was killed during the shooting of “The Crow”, all his dialogue in the movie became subtext. Although dying is not morally wrong, Lee’s work was effected by his private life (or death). A writer’s life experience can influence his work before and after the creation of the work. I think the question is: are we really still entertained or otherwise benefited by a work after we find out something about the creator that is distasteful? Although, we probably won’t like someone’s work because he is a saint, our opinions will probably be influenced by his life if he is a scoundrel. The key to an evaluation of art irrespective of the artist’s private life probably has more to do with an artist’s moral neutrality. In other words, the artist must either be good or normal to be invisible and out of the equation for fans to objectively evaluate his creation. Fortunately, evil people usually have perspectives on reality, which preclude identification by the masses. Rama Krishna asked, “How can you give light unless you, yourself, are enlightened? For me, the inquiry shockingly highlights how thick we are with our creations. I think it also highlights how radically unique each artist is, how different than anyone else. I am reminded of the old joke about the asshole that died and stood before the Pearly Gates. He asked Saint Peter his status concerning entry into Heaven. Saint Peter replied, ” We would like to let you in, but this is Heaven, and if we let you in, it wouldn’t be Heaven anymore because YOU would be here.”


    • Hi Frank:

      Arbuckle is not the best comparison, as he was wrongfully accused. Rappe died from complications of cystitis, a chronic condition that she suffered from – and neglected. The lynch mob mentality that accused Arbuckle and tried him had no proof and resulted to creating a whisper campaign to malign the tragic clown. Sad, sad, sad.

      But Arena is a self-confessed murderer. He didn’t pull a Lilo; he took lives, with forethought and intention.

      So, it is quite a dilemma, in terms of how he and his work are embraced – or not – by the public. Some have said he’s served his time – 21 years is enough.

      All I can think of is the 21 years that any of his victims would have love to have had. They will never stop serving their time. Their lives are gone, and, obviously they are forgotten for it is Arena who gets the attention, not those that he so ruthlessly killed.


      • Frank Wood says:

        You make a good point, Anne; beginning a discourse about Arena with the Arbuckle example was insensitive of me. However, Roscoe’s innocence is even further proof the impact an artist’s private life can have on public opinion of his work. It is true Arbuckle has not enjoyed the notoriety of his contemporary peers, and he was innocent! With the help of Hearst, Hart, and others, the public never warmed up to him (his work) again – even to this day. (There has to be a script in there somewhere)
        The Arena paradigm opens a Pandora’s box of inference about the callous morality of our time, and although this important discussion on the subject may have started on, I don’t think this will be the end of it. In fact, I would be dismayed if it were. People may cause traffic jams on the freeway, rubbernecking an auto accident, yet feel a moment of private shame later when pulling into their driveways at home. This kind of lurid exploitation of the darker side of human nature is like selling tickets to a plane crash. All disasters are “riveting”. Matteo Garrone, the director of “Reality” claims to have chosen the actor for his talent, but how talented can he be? If any murderer who spoke Italian were cast in the role, he might be riveting as well, not because he is talented but because he is a murderer being displayed like a zoo animal. I am curious to see how this plays out.


  6. Joseph says:

    Indeed, Edgar Allen Poe and Hemingway were drunks. How many people did they hurt? Henry Miller was, in his time, considered a purveyor of smut. How many minds did he corrupt? What damage did he do? All I know is that mores and ethos change. Perhaps, people who are incarcerated should be prohibited from writing or publishing. Then again, there are many innocent people in prison. Great discussion!


    • In the US, they are prohibited from profiting from their crimes; however, this case took place in Italy.

      I’m surprised that few people are zeroing in on the gravity of the crime – the deliberate butchering of an 8 year old boy. Hemingway, Poe, Carroll, Polanski, Picasso… these people pale in comparison.


      • Erica K says:

        I’m really pleased to find that this is genuinely not the moral dilemma to you that you stated that it would be–it is quite clear, IMHO, and you are showing your clarity on the issue in your comments, and I could not agree more. But you bring it up to see what people have to say, and how far exactly, they wish to intellectually wrestle with it. It’s interesting to observe all the flexing of intellectual muscle and the angst and pontification, but having a case where a child is butchered and there is no doubt of guilt–this is not moral dilemma to destroy, defame, and discard any semblance or examples of “work” done by such a person. Of course the prisoner is always the center of focus, the excitement and titillation of observing evil and the associated personality disorders are more “attractive” to the public, than to reach deeper and deal internally with heartfelt empathy for the victim, the victim’s family, friends, associates, harm to society. I would personally like to hand over any such works to a family of a victim to destroy or desecrate or even sell if they wished or needed to, empowering them at the cost of the perpetrator who took their power away illegally and unilaterally.


      • Fascinating, deep response, Erica. Thank you!


  7. What I find disturbing is that someone would even consider hiring him. This befuddles me. As for his nomination, I can’t comment without seeing all of the competing performances. Honestly, though, it doesn’t really surprise me. I think there is a lot of pandering to distasteful curiosity these days. Do I agree with it? NO. Do I think it’s going to change. Yes, in time. Man can only fill his mind with trash for so long before it longs for something more.


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