Matthew Walther:

If Weinstein’s name is to be removed from the credits of television shows in the production of which he played even a small part, what are we to do with the mountains of records, CDs, posters, books, memorabilia, commemorating rockers? What about the so-called “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”? What is the point at which it becomes necessary for us to channel our inner Savonarolas and just start burning? Is one confirmed incident enough? How many Station to Stations or Physical Graffitis are worth the assault of a single woman or child? Are we affirming or materially contributing to their crimes when we watch films or listen to music made by abusers?

Like the rest of human life, sexuality has been subsumed over the course of the last few decades into the language of economics. The sexual act, we tell ourselves, is a simple matter of exchange between consenting partners, like a business transaction. It has nothing whatever to do with marriage or children. Like the deregulation of the economy, the privatization of sex has given us some apparent winners and a rather larger number of clear losers.

It’s hard to care how much has to burn for us to start listening to them.

That’s the problem with feeding frenzies. As entertaining as it may be to see an odious, degenerate elephant seal like Harvey Weinstein being torn apart by sharks, the blood in the water attracts all sorts of annoying smaller fish desperate to join in, and if they can’t get close enough to the intoxicating action, they’ll just turn and snap at anything within reach. Walther wants to extend the bloodlust to every celebrity who has committed similar offenses, so apparently we’re supposed to abstain from listening to the music of Don Henley, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Ted Nugent, Charlie Parker, and the Rolling Stones in solidarity with their victims. I presume he didn’t intend to present us with such an overwhelmingly white list of offenders, when such obvious (and arguably more relevant) candidates as Chuck Berry, Tupac Shakur, Nelly, Mystikal, and R. Kelly could have been included, but then again, feeding frenzies are dangerous places, and you don’t want to show up, eager to sink your teeth into a sexual predator, only to find yourself being devoured by the anti-racist barracudas.

Aldo Leopold, in his “Odyssey” essay, poetically demonstrated the interconnectedness of all life by describing a particular cycle in the existence of a nitrogen atom, from rock, to flower, to acorn, to deer, to Indian, “all in a single year,” and on and on. I mention it here in order to make a short metaphorical hop over to suggesting that Walther’s incoherent fantasy of isolating “bad” people in a moral quarantine is just that, a fantasy. What if, let’s just say ferzample, the cure for cancer ends up being discovered by a scientist who spent countless hours researching and experimenting while being inspired by listening to Led Zeppelin on repeat? Would that “justify” their music against whatever claims could be made against it on behalf of abused, underage groupies? What kind of imbecilic utilitarian (but I repeat myself) would even attempt to devise a calculus to meaningfully answer that inane question? Was the music of Bach or Mozart contaminated by the fact that commandants in Nazi death camps could force prisoners to play it for their entertainment? Shall we go on compiling similar examples? Like Leopold’s nitrogen atom, human lives and human creations restlessly zigzag across neat-and-tidy definitional boundaries, contributing to both good and bad in the world simultaneously. T’was ever thus, t’will forever be.

As Nietzsche said, “Beware all those in whom the urge to punish is powerful.” To people like Walther, it’s not important whether there’s any meaningful, accurate way in which moral credits and debits can be tallied when it comes to the production and consumption of music and films; what’s important is that he and people like him assume they’ll be the judges who make those decisions. But once the statues start toppling, and the records and books start burning, these moral purification rituals tend to take on a life and momentum of their own. He may be too stupid to realize that, or he may be cynically presenting a stupid, unworkable idea for the sake of meaningless Internet virtue points. I’m not sure which would be worse.