This passage from a recent GQ piece by Andrew Corsello raises compelling issues.
… I am a separating kind of guy. To me, Jefferson’s slave-owning and -impregnating tarnishes him, but not the Declaration. Eliot’s anti-Semitism bothers me but doesn’t inform my reading of “Four Quartets.” These separations have always brought a vague assurance that I was being intellectually steely and that anyone who insisted otherwise was soppy, lazy, even dishonest—willingly viewing the world through lenses tinted with personal politics.
And yet… Though I won’t be boycotting Woody Allen fılms, when a friend asked how I’d respond if Michael Vick or Richie Incognito were traded to my beloved Denver Broncos, I realized: I’d flip. And yell: “We can’t allow that taint in our locker room!”
Yeah, I know.
Know what? Corsello continues for another few hundred words but he never addresses the larger issue. Why is he able to view Thomas Jefferson as a visionary rather than simply a slave-owning rapist (slaves cannot give consent, so don’t even start)? Why is treating human beings like dogs more historically tolerable than treating dogs like, well, how the U.S. military treats it soldiers?
And this is not just about whether you can laugh at Annie Hall. It speaks to who and why we extend our empathy. This goes to our criminal justice system (we saw just a peek of it with George Zimmerman and Marissa Alexander). This sadly occurs in our own schools (believe me, from experience). It speaks to the collective ability of the mainstream to separate certain people from the mistakes while viewing others only as their mistakes.
This requires soul-searching not shoulder-shrugging.
April 29, 2014 at 4:09 pm
I guess in respect to Thomas Jefferson the questions is not so much to forgive or condemn but to understand and classify him. Undestand how his intellectual prowess was due to the abundant free time provided by the labor of his slaves. Understand how he was addicted to French intellectual life and French tastes, and how those tastes had to be paid for.
Judge the work by itself, but remember how it was produced.
Woody Allen? It pains me, because he made me laugh in the past, but now I cannot enjoy his work anymore. I can no longer watch him, period.
Michael Vick? That’s is easy, since I do not care that much for sports, so I can judge without worrying about nothing but his deeds.