gorging on forbidden fruit

In this age of colossal cinematic crossovers (thing such as The Avengers or Godzilla vs. Kong), perhaps the one that beats all the others is Austin Kleon’s appearance on Andy J. Pizza’s Creative Pep Talk.

art by Andy J. Pizza

In a conversation that ranges from setting creative rules for yourself to following your disgust, my favorite bit came as Kleon discussed the “forbidden fruit” cancel culture has deemed off limits.

The thing I worry about is history. I worry about all the artists not being able to trace their roots because they won’t allow themselves to explore some of these people that came before because we’re not supposed to listen to them anymore. For example, if you’re young comedian and you’re listening to Chris Rock…and you don’t listen to Bill Cosby, you don’t know where that’s coming from.

Kleon goes on to say:

I really see a time in which some young, up and coming artist is sort of binging on this forbidden fruit…There are going to be people that consume things they’re not supposed to and they’re going to glean and steal things from those things. And they’re going to take them and it’s going to feel totally new to people because they don’t know where it comes from.

I can see some young artist totally stealing Woody Allen moves, and then giving it to us in ten years and people are like “I don’t know what this is.” Young people being like, “What is this? This is cool…”

In some ways, there would be a sort of Robin Hood justice to that, right? Woody Allen took so much from the people that came before him and he became this rotten link in the chain. And so…maybe there’s healing element to that. If the people that come after these “bad men,” if they can take their influences and push them forward into the future, maybe some of that rotten lineage gets repaired.

As someone who still loves Woody Allen’s movies, I relate to this all too well. I’ve been vocal about the damage cancel culture inflicts on us all and I do think there are things to learn from the artists like Woody Allen and Bill Cosby.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m in no way defending the actions of these men. They are the very definition of art monsters. But we can’t dispute their influence. Like it or not, these men were influenced by those who came before them and then contributed to the conversation. They’re already spoken, and while it’s certainly appropriate to remove any platform that allows them to continue speaking, it’s too late to erase what’s already been said.

To a certain degree, we must do what we can to separate the art from the artist. For example, I had a professor in college who said of Richard Wagner, “Wagner treated his wife worse than his dog and he used to beat his dog in public.” And yet this hasn’t been enough to keep up from using “Ride of the Valkyries” in movies over and over and over again. While I imagine public domain has something to do with it, it also seems that we’ve allowed this music to transcend the man who made it.

As Austin Kleon says of lessons he took from Jeffrey Tambor’s acting workshop, “I had this moment where I thought, “What happens to these teachings? What happens to this wisdom that I gleaned from him?” and I just decided, ‘It’s mine now. It’s mine…It doesn’t have anything to do with him anymore because I’ve taken it in…It’s become something else, something more meaningful to me. And so, it’s not his anymore.”

The same way that what we consume changes us, we also change what we consume. By taking in this “forbidden fruit,” we possess the power to reappropriate if from its rotten source, to make it wholesome and good and something worth passing on.