Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

The last year and a half of American public discourse has been marked by a flood of allegations of misconduct — sexual or otherwise — made against powerful men, often in the entertainment industry. The problem itself is ancient: Creative people have been doing terrible things since the dawn of time. What’s new, however, is the decision we’ve made as a society that now is the time to do something about it.

This shift in our collective consciousness comes with a dilemma for many of the “woke” consumers of products produced by those accused or convicted of misconduct: What do you do if your favorite musician or actor or comedian turns out to be a terrible person? On the one hand, it seems possible, for example, to simultaneously enjoy R. Kelly’s music and think his treatment of women is horrifying. But on the other hand, perhaps the art and the artist are inextricably intertwined to the point that consuming the one is necessarily endorsing the other.

There is a related question that I suspect has also crossed the mind of social-justice-minded hip-hop and Hollywood blockbuster fans: To what extent is it OK to consume media created by presumably decent people, but that is nonetheless sexist, racist, or in some way problematic? This is in many ways an even more troubling question than the first; after all, most contemporary movies — let alone media created before the late 20th century — don’t even pass the Bechdel Test. Does living a morally responsible life require purging bigotry from your media diet?

I’ll begin by clarifying the kinds of activity that we ought to be suspicious of, morally speaking. The mere act of reading a book, watching a movie, listening to a song, etc., is never, at first blush, morally wrong. Of course, this is given the reader/watcher/listener is in private and appropriately skeptical of the content. I’ll call this the “private consumption principle.”

Obviously, there’s problems with obtaining problematic media. If you buy Richard Spencer’s book, he makes a profit. This both rewards — and directly facilitates — his promulgation of intolerance. So, to the extent you think rewarding or facilitating intolerance is wrong, you shouldn’t purchase problematic content created by awful people.

Similarly, there might be problems with broadcasting problematic media. Suppose you have control of the aux at a party and put on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” You’re someone who’s personally convinced the lyrical content of the song is awful, and any kind of nonconsensual sexual activity is morally reprehensible, but you just really enjoy the beat of the song, despite your moral misgivings. While this is all well and good for you, perhaps there is someone at the party who thinks there is nothing wrong with nonconsensual sexual activity. That person, upon hearing “Blurred Lines” being played in public, might feel validated or empowered in their opinions. To the extent that you think validating awful people is wrong, you shouldn’t broadcast problematic media.

Finally, there might be problems with internalizing problematic media. This is sort of a strange example, but suppose you know full well that the message of some movie is morally wrong, and decide to watch it with the goal of convincing yourself that the message is morally OK, or at least to watch it with an “open mind.” It seems like in this case, you’re intentionally making yourself a worse person, or at least allowing for the possibility.

Returning now to the private consumption principle: When you consume problematic media that you obtain without generating a profit for awful people, in private, and with an appropriately skeptical mindset, you are neither supporting, broadcasting, nor internalizing anything morally wrong. This sort of activity is always morally benign.

Now that we’re clear on what sort of consumption is acceptable, I will return next week to wrangle in more detail the problem of consumption of media by problematic creators in Part Two.

Joey Marcellino is a junior jazz saxophone, physics and philosophy major. He can be reached at