I have something embarrassing to confess: I used to be a Hedley fan.
Or maybe not exactly a fan, but at the very least, an active listener. It was back in middle school, but it still happened. I turned the volume up when I heard them on the radio. I memorized the lyrics to some of their songs. I may have even teared up to “For the Nights I Can’t Remember” once or twice.
And then I forgot about them and delved into other music—until the sexual assault allegations against the band started coming out a few weeks ago. First it was just one, then a few more, until the floodgates opened and a mass of increasingly-severe accusations came pouring out. Some of the women were underaged when the incidents allegedly took place. Accusations sprung up from around the country and young women who were strangers to each other were pulled together by the same pain.
“What do we do with the art of monstrous men?” Claire Dederer, an American writer, asked this question in her piece published by the Paris Review. It’s an awful feeling when a public figure you love—an artist, a musician, a director, an actor—is found to be abusive. That someone whose work has touched you deeply—has scored pivotal moments in your life, has resonated with you in tough times—has also caused irreparable harm to another is deeply upsetting. “They are monster geniuses, and I don’t know what to do about them,” as Dederer put it.
The alleged Hedley victims—many of whom made their accusations anonymously on Twitter—received support from some. Others, like Kate Graves, a self-proclaimed music enthusiast and Hedley fan of 13 years, made a point of defending the band. Graves wrote an op-ed for CBC arguing why she was “still on Team Hedley.”
“For [Hedley], it all came crumbling down in a matter of two weeks,” Graves wrote. “After being so involved with their music and forming a bond with other fans … it’s not something you can easily accept. So you don’t.”
Of course it’s difficult to accept a band that you’ve followed for 13 years has been accused of systematically and intentionally abusing young fans for likely that entire period of time. But what’s more difficult: being the fan that has to accept that women across the nation might just be telling the truth, or being the woman that has to publicize her trauma for the world to scrutinize, in hopes that someone will believe her?
Graves went on to dismiss the credibility of the accusations, and to detail the incredible devastation she has faced in hearing troubling headlines about a band that has given her “the absolute best years of [her] life.” She says nothing of the scars the band has been accused of giving dozens of other women.
For now, the accusations have not been proven in court. But there have been enough to be reported on in the news (by the CBC, ironically). There have been enough for the Toronto Police Services Sex Crimes unit to open an investigation against lead singer Jacob Hoggard. When is it “enough” to be believed?
“There’s a history of sexism where women have not been seen as credible in many of their testimonies about their own experience, including their experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” said Meredith Schwartz, an assistant professor of philosophy at Ryerson.
Schwartz on how the #MeToo movement has helped survivors come forward.
There is an argument to be made that consumers can choose to separate the artist from the art—that an artist’s abuse doesn’t affect the quality of the work that they’ve created.
But what about when an artist’s violence seeps into their work—as it often does, like in the cases of Louis C.K. and Woody Allen? An artist’s creative output tends to be informed by their real-life experiences.
And to what extent can you support the work without your appreciation crossing over into condoning the behaviour? Purchasing the artist’s work allows them to profit and gain commercial success. So do you watch Midnight in Paris, but an illegally-downloaded copy? Listen to Chris Brown in the car alone with the doors locked? Decry abuse in public, but set your browser to Incognito mode and watch C.K.’s stand-up routines in private?
It depends on what you value—like what you consider to be abuse, and to what extent you are willing to give up things of convenience, or of entertainment, in order to denounce perpetrators of said abuse.
Elizabeth Trott, a Ryerson philosophy professor, referred to the case of Francis Herbert Bradley. A renowned and influential 19th-century philosopher, Bradley made significant contributions to the field of metaphysics, but, while doing so, also shot cats at night because he disliked them.
“Do I, as a philosopher, boycott his work because he shot cats? Well, I didn’t, though I never forgot learning that fact,” Trott said in an email. “But when I learned about [German philosopher Martin] Heidegger’s association with the Nazis, I did boycott. Sorry, no one should make that big a mistake.”
Trott said artists should not be exempted from societal moral codes “if they want me to enjoy their work.” However, she noted that this is because she personally cares for the wellbeing of those affected—in Bradley’s case, cats; in the case of other abusive artists, often young women.
Trott noted the complicated nature of the issue and its many grey areas. “…Cases will [be] different, circumstances will alter cases, [judgments] will reflect time and place,” she said.
Some people are immediately turned off by the mere possibility that an artist has harmed people; others don’t let that idea “interfere with their aesthetic pleasures.”
Ultimately, she said, “You cannot ever know too much. Who each of us is, in terms of moral consistency and love of community, will be reflected in the judgment each makes.”
What do we do with the art of monstrous men? Dederer was somewhat inconclusive in her answer. She wondered if maybe the monsters we see in public remind us that we ourselves might also be monsters underneath.
I do know what we shouldn’t do—write op-eds defending them. Denounce victims before their stories have been given their due diligence (presumption of innocence works both ways). Continue to give abusers financial support and social acceptance in spite of doing things we say we are against.
It took a lot for victims to accuse Hedley of abuse. It really didn’t take a lot for me to stop listening to “For the Nights I Can’t Remember.”
Schwartz on how fans of problematic artists can reconcile conflicting feelings.