Acountability and the arts

First allow me to say this. I’m not talking about censorship or prosecuting Marilyn Manson, et al. Nothing to do with the legal system in any way. But in theory, aren’t artists accountable for their message? Or does the law of unintended consequences not apply to the arts? (My questions may be in need of some clarification. I’ll wait and read some of the replies and go from there.)

I don’t think artists should be held accountable, if a person could reasonably assume that the content was simply a song ot a photo or a painting.

The reason is this, anyone can become offended by, tittilated by, or copycat anything in existance. If this were the case, we would not be able to reproduce, write about, sing about, or film anything out of the ordinary or anything as a protest or statement.

For example, if I were to make a movie about violence, such as, the film Romper Stomper to portray the violence that skinheads are prone to and to show their ways to the uneducated. Should it be my problem when someone uses violence against another? Would my film make it any diufferent than what they would see on the news, or read about in the newspaper?

I think a person is responsible for their own actions. They are the ones who reacted to the thoughts and whims, no one MADE them react that way.

Don’t let the loveless ones sell you a world wrapped in grey.

Can you give some examples of where you would apply the law of unintended consequences, J?

The Dead Milkmen, goofy pseudo-punkers from Philly, had a song called “The Bleach Boys” about kids drinking bleach.

Some deranged little dude did just this, thusly entering the Darwin Awards running that year.

Did the song make him do that? No. The dude did it because he did it. If someone is so stupid as to have a silly song (or movie, or book, or _____________ ) influence their actions to this point, said individual is unstable and would have cracked or did something else that some other innocuous thing told him to do.

If I played you “Jump” by Van Halen, would they be to blame if you felt inspired to leap off a cliff?

Personally, I feel like jumping off the nearest tall object whenever I hear anything Van Halen did with Hagar and that Extreme guy, but that is just the exception that proves the rule…

Yer pal,

I don’t think the issue here is whether or not artists should be held acountable by us, but whether or not they should hold themselves accountable. Sure, the government shouldn’t limit this sort of stuff, but does a private citizen have an ethical responsibility to consider the possibility that his art may influence others to act in a way that he, the artist, would not approve of? ANd if he concludes that it likely will, does he have an ethical, not legal, responibility not to make it public? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that if I were say, Oliver Stone, I would get a bit sick to my stomach when I thought of those “copycat” murders, even as I defended my first amendment rights.

Perhaps “accountability” wasn’t really the right word, since it makes people think about holding someone accountable. “Responsibility” is probably better. My point is that actions have consequences (no argument there, right) and this includes the actions of artists. This probably seems obvious to most of the people posting on these boards, but there are a lot of people out there who think that constraints on artists, even if self imposed, are an abomination. Thanks, Manda Jo, for helping me clarify my point.

Well, from a legal standpoint, the question of intent isn’t really controlling of the issue of whether someone should be held accountable for something or not. A person can be held accountable for actions they did not intend through a theory of negligence. But to prove negligence you must be able to prove that the actions of the person really did cause the damage.

And that’s the problem – not accountability, but causation. Does the existence of a song about drinking bleach cause a listener to drink bleach? No. Another example is the two kids who watched Natural Born Killers and then went on a murderous crime spree. Did the movie cause their actions? No. Influenced them, undoubtedly; but “influenced” is not enough.

Would you hold the Beatles responsible because a psycho in California thought he was getting messages about a race war through their music?

How can the artist possibly predict who his or her art will influence and how that influence will be expressed?

Marilyn Manson went up considerably in my estimation (and there was plenty of room to do so! ;)) when he cancelled his concert after the Littleton tragedy.

Heck, my estimation of Marylin Manson goes up every time some congregation condemns him to burn in Hell.

Hate to say it, Jodih, but quite likely in some states with liberal approaches to tort law that WOULD result in liability. I will do some research to pin down citations and post again tomorrow on this. :slight_smile:

(God, tort lawyers have got to LOVE California)

I am uncertain what you mean by this. Even after reading your second post, I remain uncertain? Do you mean: Are artists potentially legally liable in tort law for things that happen as a result of their work being displayed/listened to/soaked up/etc.? Or do you mean: Are artists potentially criminally liable for crimes that occur in part due to a message they propagate with their works?

Should J.D. Salinger be considered responsible because “The Catcher in the Rye” somehow inspired Mark David Chapman to shoot John Lennon? (As Denis Leary said, “With Yoko Ono standing right next to him”)

Dr. J

PS: If I ever go on a murderous rampage, I’m going to tell everyone I had been listening to the Backstreet Boys and that damn “Genie in a Bottle” song.

DSYoung said:

Check out the new book Deliberate Intent by Rod Smolla. It’s about the Hit Man murder case and lawsuit that followed it.

In summary, Smolla is a 1st Amendment attorney who was always on the defense side. But in this case he switched sides and claimed the book Hit Man, published by Paladin Press, did not deserve 1st Amendment protection when somebody bought the book (released as non-fiction), followed its intructions, and murdered several people. While this case, in and of itself, doesn’t apply here because it was released as a how-to manual, not as entertainment, the book mentions a number of entertainment-related cases (which Smolla agrees would not be considered liable). In all the references, none of these lost, with the one exception of a case proceeding against the makers of Natural Born Killers, but he thought it was a procedural error on the part of the defense that allowed that not to be struck immediately, and he figured it would be struck on appeal.