In English

Time to throw away Donner’s books! Is art ruined when the artist turns out to be an unpleasant person?



HENNA SILLANPÄÄ, translation


WHEN THE AUTHOR AND DIRECTOR Jörn Donner stated in an interview that he thought two of his children were ”accidents” and that his daughter’s death was ”her own fault”, more than a few Twitter users announced that they would be throwing away all Donner’s literature. Donner’s harsh statements were thought to be so out of line that his artistic works took a hit as well.

The #metoo phenomenon has pushed respected male artists off their thrones, but also brought back the classic discussion on whether art should be separated from the artist.

When artist one after another turn out to be neglecters of their family (Donner), flashers (comedian Louis CK) or just dirty old men (director and professor Lauri Törhönen), we can’t just keep ignoring their wrong-doings as a part of their eccentric personas as artists.

A questionable reputation outweighs art now. Louis CK’s works were removed from HBO’s streaming service and YLE decided not to air Törhönen’s film Insiders. And quick-tempered Twitter users threw away Donner’s books.


IT SEEMS TO BE more of a rule than an exception that artists, especially of certain age, are behaving badly. It is probably only a matter of time until another popular icon is busted for misconducts. And we all take offence once again.

”Impulsiveness and quick-temperedness are a part of social media and digital culture”, says Janne Mäkelä who has title of docent in history of popular culture at the University of Turku. Mäkelä has researched stardom and artist myths.

“People build a feeling of togetherness through these types of boycotts. How long they last is another story. It probably depends on how much of an asshole artist is!”

He points out that Donner’s edgy personality has been well-known for quite some time.

“What’s different now, is that his actions aren’t seen as part of his artistry or personal history, but rather reflected against a bigger cultural phenomenon. It’s a fresh perspective.”


STILL, IT FEELS LIKE not all people who behave badly are treated the same way. Why does Donner receive hate on social media, but Matti Nykänen, former ski-jumper also known for abusing his ex-wife, is regarded as a carnivalesque clown – and a hero?

“People took offence at Donner’s words because they didn’t fit the traditional myth of an old male celebrity”, Mäkelä analyses.

“Remorse is a part of the Finnish celebrity culture: by showing remorse you may be forgiven doping usage and crimes. Donner hasn’t expressed remorse – not even as an old man.”


BUT ARE WE ALLOWED to like Jörn Donner’s or other controversial old men’s art?

In the end, it may be a matter of conscience. Docent Mäkelä gives a personal example:

“The molestation allegations against Woody Allen were unpleasant. After the reveal, I also boycotted him for a while. After a while though, I started watching his films again and saw the new one as well. However, it left me feeling uncomfortable and guilty.”

Mäkelä is hardly the only one who’s distressed. He thinks this type of reflecting only goes to show that how celebrities behave still matters.

“The significance of stars in our lives has increased for a change. In these volatile times, we look to them for comfort and that’s why we want them to behave themselves too.”


Other recent controversies:

Panu Rajala, who used to teach theatre studies at the University of Tampere, was reported to have harassed his students and played down the inappropriate behaviour at the department.

Director Quentin Tarantino was claimed to have downplayed Harvey Weinstein’s habit of harassing women and neglected the safety of Uma Thurman.

Actor Aziz Ansari was thought to be an envoy for equality, but now he’s accused of sexual coercion.


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