Aritists Need Not Be Nice

A week ago I heard Philippe Petit, featured in the respected movie Man on Wire, on a radio show and thought he sounded fun and so I ordered his movie from Netflix.  This  morning I read about Polanski in the New Yorker, this afternoon I was talking to an artist at a party about how artists are held to much lower morality standards – behavior that is shrugged off in artist biopics would be condemned for business-folk or politicians or economists.  When I got home I watched Man on Wire, and alas found that confirmed yet again.

A team of folks spent years planning and preparing for the dramatic stunt of Petit walking on a wire strung between the world trade center towers.  The movie gives lots of screen time to the rest of the team, but at the end we find that Petit abandons them all the instant he is famous.  Within hours he has dumped his loyal girlfriend for a stranger’s bedroom.  He is released without penalty and becomes the toast of the city for years; his teammates are immediately expelled from the country and into oblivion.  They are clearly hurt by this.  And we never do hear anything about whomever supported Petit and team financially for all those years.

Just as most movie reviews focus on the actors and ignore the hundreds of other folks it takes to create films, the dozen reviews of this film I read, mostly glowing (here‘s Tyler), are overwhelmingly focused on the man on the wire.  They seem more impressed by his feat than by the entire team who created those buildings.  The reviews hardly mention that anyone else was even involved in the event; certainly none show interest in their ultimate treatment.  With art, all that matters is demonstration of individual artistic ability; we don’t need artists to be nice or considerate or cooperative.  (Though their vague concern for African kids may touch us deeply.)  Beware: the rest of us will be held to higher standards.

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