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Do You Have a Tipping Point?

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | July 12, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | July 12, 2010 |

It’s been a weird and kind of ugly week for celebrities. In the span of a few days, Lindsay Lohan was jailed for violating her probation; it was revealed that Mel Gibson unleashed a violent, racist, and misogynistic rant against his ex-girlfriend; the Swiss released convicted rapist, Roman Polanski, from house arrest after refusing to extradite him to the States; and even Ed Norton was reportedly nixed from The Avengers because he’s a purportedly a giant dick.

One of the questions that always comes up in the more egregious examples, like Mel Gibson’s rant, is how will it affect their career? Or even should it affect their career? I think most of us can agree that a celebrity’s personal life doesn’t necessarily have a direct correlation with his or her talent level, and thus wouldn’t have an affect on the celebrity’s performance in a film or television show, but the question often remains: Should we be watching their films?

There seems to be a tipping point when it comes to this question, and maybe that tipping point is when a celebrity crosses over into racist territory. Our hotheads, we seem to forgive. Druggies, no problem. Felons, whatever. Rapists? It’s mixed, there; many have suggested that Polanski has been punished enough; others say enough time has passed that he should be forgiven; still others refuse to watch his films on the basis of that rape conviction; and many more say that it doesn’t matter. All that matters is his work, and that’s all he should be judged upon.

But is that necessarily true? Should we keep the personal and professional lives of actors and directors separate? Can we? Last year, when Christian Bale unloaded on a crew member, it didn’t seem to affect either his performance or the reception of his films, Terminator: Salvation and Public Enemies (both of which put up mediocre box-office numbers compared to expectations). No one has ever suggested we stop watching Ed Norton or John Cusack’s films because they are allegedly giant douchebags in real life.

But even if we don’t condone the bad behavior of a celebrity, are we not supporting them personally by paying to see their movies? Does that matter? Why is it that people are less inclined to see Tom Cruise films because he’s a little kooky in the head (though, otherwise harmless), while Mel Gibson was able, fairly easily, to overcome his anti-Semitic tirade of a few years back? Or that Christian Bale was able to easily overcome allegations that he had verbally assaulted his mother?

I don’t know the real answers to any of these questions, though I have a feeling that much of it has to do with the movies an actor or director is involved in. If Christian Bale wasn’t making Batman films, maybe we’d be less inclined to see them. But then again, if he were making mediocre action fare, we’d probably be less inclined to see them, anyway. Maybe Tom Cruise’s crazy doesn’t really have much to do with the reception of his films — we don’t really want to see what he’s making these days anyway. Or maybe it does because his movies are marketed as “Tom Cruise” movies, instead of “Batman” movies.

What I do know is that off-set prickishness or daffiness ultimately doesn’t have a lot of bearing on whether I’ll see a movie. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. I find what Roman Polanski did to be deplorable, and I never watched The Ghost Writer. But I’ve seen a couple of his films between his sexual assault case and the attempt to extradite him. That doesn’t mean I condone his behavior, but maybe it does mean that I’m willing to overlook his repugnant indiscretion if it means seeing a well-made movie. I’d like to believe that I’d never watch another Mel Gibson movie again. But I watched Mel Gibson movies after his anti-Semitic remarks, and I am curious about The Beaver. It’s an interesting premise, I like Jodie Foster, and I think that Mel Gibson can be a good actor on occasion. I’ve liked many of his films in the past. But I won’t be sad if he never gets a chance to make another one again. In fact, I don’t believe he deserves to make another one. But that doesn’t mean I won’t watch it. It doesn’t mean I won’t separate his professional from his personal life.

But then again, why is it such a bad thing to conflate an actor’s personal and professional lives? Outside of Hollywood and the NFL, employers run criminal background checks and they check past references and few, if any, would hire a wife-assaulting racist with a restraining order on him even if he was at the top of his field. I wouldn’t buy a vacuum cleaner from a known racist even if I knew had had the better, cheaper product. So, why am I still willing to see a known racist’s film? Does that make me a hypocrite? Does that mean I’m condoning evil behavior?

I don’t know. Maybe I am a hypocrite. Hell, I don’t want to watch torture porn because the people in those movies commit evil fucking acts. But those acts aren’t real. And Mel Gibson is. Moreover, when I hear someone suggest that we shouldn’t judge an actor based on his personal life, I get a little rage-y at the idea that a guy’s real-life assholery shouldn’t factor into my perception of him. But then again, I also agree. But it can be hard to separate, and the more egregious the evil, the harder I find it to be. I thought Michael Richards’ turn on “The Larry David Show,” last season was nothing less than inspired, but I was also a little sickened by it and the idea that we could turn his racist tirade into a punchline.

All of which is to say: I hope Mel Gibson dies in a house fire, but I’ll probably still see The Beaver. I wouldn’t shed a tear if Roman Polanski lost his testicles on a rusty nail, but if he made a compelling enough film, I’d probably see it, too. But I’d probably feel a little bad about it. And I think that’s OK.

What about you? Do you have a tipping point where you’d honestly refuse to see an actor or director’s film based on their real-life behavior? Or do you think that personal and professional lives should remain separate, no matter what?

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.