Why did Hollywood ignore sexual abuse?

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The Harvey Weinstein scandal has ignited a bonfire of allegations in recent weeks. The problem is so acute that the Los Angeles County District Attorney is forming a task force to evaluate sexual assault cases in Hollywood.

Over the weekend, more names were added to the list.

Benny Medina is a music executive who has managed Jennifer Lopez, Will Smith, and Mariah Carey, among others. Now he’s been accused of attempted rape. His attorneys have categorically denied the allegation.

Actress Rebel Wilson has also claimed that a male costar sexually harassed her while his friends tried to tape the encounter on their phones. She also described an incident with a “top director” who invited her to his hotel room, but she was able to escape.

We now know that many of the accused had a prior reputation for sexual immorality. Why did their colleagues and industries tolerate their behavior?

“Art for art’s sake”

Writing for the New York Times, Amanda Hess offers an insightful answer: the “myth of artistic genius” has excused the abuse of women and other personal immorality. Hess cites a 2009 New York Times round table on the relation of artists and their work.

One artist wrote, “Being an artist has absolutely nothing–nothing–to do with one’s personal behavior.” Another responder: “Let the art stand for itself, and these men stand in judgment, and never the twain shall meet.”

Yale University professor Jonathan Gilmore quoted author William Faulkner’s claim that “a real writer wouldn’t hesitate to rob his mother if it would further his art.” Gilmore noted the conventional belief that “the artistic genius acted through transgressing, not obeying conventional principles of art. It was a short step from seeing such artists as free of artistic rules to seeing them as liberated from the rules of conduct in general.”

This claim that art has its own intrinsic value is known as “art for art’s sake.” The phrase emerged in…

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