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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Feb-18 > Touch of evil

Touch of evil

In the wake of the Weinstein scandal, once admired male writers, actors and filmmakers have been disgraced. Can we still love the work of artists whose behaviour we loathe?

Benvenuto Cellini’s bronze sculpture of Perseus, made in 1548, shows the hero trampling nonchalantly over the sprawling corpse of a decapitated Medusa, brandishing a blade in one hand and dangling her head from the other. Women are used to getting a bad deal in Greek mythology, of course—just as they are in life, some might say. The stories recently collated on Twitter under the “MeToo” hashtag attest to a long and collective experience of violence and harassment. For some, the high-profile defenestration of serial abusers and harassers—initiated by the Harvey Weinstein case, and made visible in the all-black dresses and “Time’s Up” badges worn recently at the Golden Globes—constitutes a turning point in our attitudes to art and male abuse of power. But we should remember that history tells a different story: art endures, while the misdemeanours of men are easily forgotten.

Take Cellini, for instance. For over 400 years, his triumphant has been displayed in all its glory in the Piazza della Signoria, adjacent to the Uffizi gallery in Florence. The sculpture is Cellini’s brilliant expression of a reckless indifference to violence; recklessly indifferent is a good way to describe the artist, too. In 1557, Cellini was found guilty of sodomy, having slept with his young male assistant, and throughout his life he faced multiple accusations of non-consensual sex—one in relation to a woman and at least three others relating to boys. A notorious brawler with a violent temper, the artist was implicated in three counts of murder, one of which he recorded with great relish in his much-admired autobiography. Yet posterity has been kind, remembering him as a master goldsmith, accomplished musician and an exuberant soldier—the model Renaissance man.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s February 2018 issue: John Naughton, James Ball, Yuan Ren, Hannah Jane Parkinson and Houman Barekat outline the ways in which our lives are controlled by big tech giants. Naughton argues that Facebook and Google have created a new “surveillance capitalism” in which they battle to grow user engagement of their products and monetise our lives for their own gain as they do so. The cover package also explores how “bots,” fake social media accounts, influenced the US presidential vote and the Brexit referendum as well as the effects of removing net neutrality in the US. Elsewhere in the issue: Samira Shackle asks what happens to ordinary civilians affected by Islamic State as they attempt to move back to their homes and rebuild their lives; Shahidha Bari asks whether we can continue to appreciate the work of actors, filmmakers and writers who have been disgraced; and Christine Ockrent profiles Michel Barnier.