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Legacy After Downfall in the Wake of #MeToo

LWYang, Creative Commons
How should we regard the work of Sherman Alexie and other authors accused of sexual misconduct in the wake of #MeToo?

When a well known writer, actor, filmmaker or musician gets accused of inappriopriate or even criminal behavior, especially in cases of sexual misconduct, what happens to their body of work? Has the art created lost its value? Should we stop teaching texts or bodies of work because of an uncovered wrong? 

"Our relationships with authors are really intimate. Writing changes the way we see the world. It opens our eyes. We carry around texts with us everywhere."

These are some of the questions being asked in the wake of #MeToo. Alfred Martin, professor of communication studies at University of Iowa says we’re asking these questions because we want to feel like something is being done in response.

“Part of what is at play in many of the cases here is this idea that we feel like we want to be very punitive. We want there to be some sort of thing that says 'you did this bad thing, so we are going to take your paycheck from you at least for this project,” says Martin, who teaches the Cosby Show as part of a film class. 

Naomi Greyser, associate professor of gender studies, English and American studies at the University of Iowa says in many cases, teaching the conflict represented in the lives of artists can be powerful for students. The works of Junot Diaz and Sherman Alexie often come up in her courses. 

"Our relationships with authors are really intimate. Writing changes the way we see the world. It opens our eyes. We carry around texts with us everywhere," says Greyser.

Martin says one of the flaws of American culture is not wanting to wade through the ugliness, but at certain times in history, it needs to be done. 

"In so doing, we can have, I think, a really robust conversation about 'what were the signs, what did we see, what did we not see, and what did not want to see.' That's how we learn from these things moving forward and prevent them from happening again."

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Greyser, Martin, and  Dianne Bystrom, who is director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women in Politics at Iowa State University, about what to do with the work of figures like Bill Cosby, Junot Diaz and Sherman Alexie. They also discuss some of the politicians who have been affected by the #MeToo movement. 

Bystrom says that ahead of the 2018 elections, it does seem like these issues are being taken more seriously than they have in the past. 

"I do think this is a cultural change. Recently there was a study by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation that found that women candidates should be talking about #MeToo. Voters viewed them more favorably when they talked about #MeToo and said that they would do something about it," she says. 
"The same study found that if politicians criticized the #MeToo movement that millenial women or single women would think poorly of their campaign." 

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Senior Digital Producer
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa