Reprehensible art that's also great art?

I’m wondering are there examples of great art created by nefarious individuals or for nefarious purposes. For example, if Mein Kampf were a masterpiece of literature (I’ve heard it ain’t). The closest I can think of, off the top of my head, is stuff like Soviet propaganda, iconic, visually arresting imagery that was created against the backdrop of huge state oppression and murder of people. Any examples y’all can think of? Any nefarious “art” that you enjoy on some level?

The North Koreans have kept up the tradition of arresting propaganda such as this.

Well, there’s Roman Polanski and all the films he made. Guy’s absolutely disgusting but I guess his films are considered masterpieces.

Triumph of the Will and the Berlin Olympics by Leni Riefenstal

Birth of a Nation. Reprehensible even by standards of its time, but still a milestone in movies, with many brilliant sequences.

Yes, this is the standard answer to this question.

There’s an old Skillet Lickers song called “Run Nigger Run.” It’s Appalachian Bluegrass fiddle at its finest. Good luck finding it on YouTube. While the overtly racist sentiments are of course indefensible, pretending that songs of this type didn’t happen or weren’t incredibly popular in our culture’s past is more misguided than high-minded.

There’s plenty of horrifically racist punk and black metal music out there, some of which is brilliant.
The best example of the black metal would be Burzum. Whilst the lyrics aren’t themselves racist, the man behind them is well known for his views, and also a convicted murderer and arsonist.
I’m sure there are rappers who’d fit the bill too.

There is an WWII-era Warner Brothers cartoon called “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves”. It is a jazz-era retelling of “Snow White”, and it is hideously racist in its imagery. It is also almost universally considered by critics to be brilliant.

It has been buried deep, deep within the Warner vaults, never to be seen again. Naturally, it’s on YouTube.

That’s something, right there. I’ve heard of it, but not seen it until now. I don’t think I’d call it “brilliant,” but it certainly is beautiful. Kinda shocking, even considering when it was made. Does anyone know if this was, at the time, shown as widely as, say, a classic Bugs short?



It was widely shown – WB had no reason not to show it. Those sort of images were routine in 1943.

It was ranked #21 of the fifty greatest cartoons (voted by animators in 1994), so it’s well-regarded critically.

That’s what I was going to mention, and yes, it’s brilliant.

And there’s the Rodgers & Hammerstein show *Carousel, *in which the male protagonist beats his wife, among other things . . . and she still loves him.

And of course Sweeney Todd.

While Roman Polanski is a rapist, there’s nothing particularly reprehensible about his movies themselves. His movies don’t advocate or celebrate rape or child sexual abuse.

First, it’s not bluegrass–the tune predates the invention of bluegrass by several decades. The Skillet Lickers were an old-time string band. Think of old-time as primarily barn-dance music, while its descendent bluegrass was developed as performance music for stage and radio.

Second, it wasn’t written as a racist song.

As for Coal Black, while certain elements there are certainly racist by modern understandings, it’s worth pointing out that director Bob Clampett was progressive for his time and personally appreciated black culture. He cited Duke Ellington’s “Jump for Joy” as an inspiration. He took his animators to black jazz clubs to study clothing and dance styles. And he hired black musicians and voice actors. All of these things were ahead of Hollywood norms in 1942, when national institutions like baseball and the military were still segregated.

The Soviet national anthem (and now Russia’s) is just musically wonderful.

Too late to edit. The song isn’t so bad, a bit of Communist posturing, but otherwise the lyrics aren’t reprehensible. The USSR itself of course did some bad things. So sorry if it doesn’t apply. It’s still an awesome song though.

Mein Kamfp been mentioned. It was bloody awful.
Hitler’s oratory on the other hand…

I wouldn’t go so far as to call it reprehensible, but the one time I watched the Woody Allen film Manhattan I found it impossible to enjoy due to the plot involving the 40-something Allen character dating a 17 year old girl (Mariel Hemingway). It’s my recollection that this relationship is portrayed in a pretty positive light, with the worst implication being that the Allen character is immature. There’s really no suggestion that it’s weird or inappropriate for a middle aged man to be dating a high school student. I found the ending of the movie in particular to be very disturbing, and it didn’t seem like it was meant to be.

That said, Manhattan was one of Allen’s most successful movies both critically and commercially.

Like the attempt to publish a version of Huck Finn without the words nigger and injun, to make it easier to teach in schools as those words makes people uncomfortable. Of course they make people uncomfortable, as they should. But you can’t pretend we live in a world where people didn’t use those words on a casual, day-to-day basis. You can’t just act as though getting rid of the word gets rid of the sentiment behind it. There’s a hugely important lesson in the book, especially for schoolkids.

Though this did amuse me.

I don’t know about that one. I could be wrong but I don’t think Sweeney Todd advocates or even condones the practice of slitting peoples’ throats and butchering their bodies for use in meat pies.