Ned Fulmer, Rex Orange County, and separating the violence from the artist


Photo: Illustration by Madison Barron

Illustration by Madison Barron

By Meg Richards, Opinion Editor

“There’s sexual harassment over here and you shouldn’t conflate it with rape,” said Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement. “Which is true; those are two very different things. But they’re on the same spectrum. Sexual harassment is like the gateway drug. It’s the entry point.”

The news broke on Monday, Oct. 10 that Alex O’Connor, better known by his stage name Rex Orange County, was charged on 6 counts of sexual assault in London. He was forced to cancel his tour because he will be awaiting trial for the next six months. 

This comes less than two weeks after Ned Fulmer, beloved member of the online entertainment group Try Guys, left the company after landing under fire for engaging in an extramarital workplace affair with one of his employees. 

Both of these men were public figures that I admired and supported in middle school, so these allegations were nothing short of a grave disappointment for my 12-year old-self. Besides the general letdown of men once again being untrustworthy, there’s a need for reckoning  in our culture.  When are we going to stop “separating the art from the artist,” and start holding celebrities, men more specifically, accountable for their actions? 

There is no room to support a figure who abuses their power. When you support an abuser, in any way, you say that you’re able to set aside indefensible actions. At the end of the day, if their victims are not able to set aside that person’s offenses so easily, neither should fans and supporters. 

Fulmer’s case is not a linear narrative of adultery, though Saturday Night Live might argue otherwise. Fulmer was  a company founder engaging in a sexual relationship with his subordinate—ultimately a boss cheating on his wife with his employee. Though the Try Guys immediately severed ties and denounced Fulmer’s actions, the writers over at 30 Rockefeller don’t see the big deal. This past Saturday, Oct. 8, SNL aired a sketch parodying the Try Guys’ video addressing Fulmer’s scandal. The sketch defended and minimized Fulmer’s actions as merely a man cheating on his wife, which happens every day.  Evidently, they echo a sector of the internet inhabited by Cancel Culture vultures. Inflammatory Twitter comments flooded in labeling standing Try Guy members Eugene, Keith, and Zach as “self-important,” saying, “there are bigger things to worry about.” 

Fulmer’s actions reflect a recurring, systemic problem; that is, men asserting their power in the workplace over junior employees in romantic or sexual relationships. Even if both parties are legal, consenting adults, the situation could still be considered an issue of  sexual misconduct and harassment. To ignore the presence of a power dynamic in a romantic or sexual context is to ignore the potential for that power to be abused—and that potential is always there. 

We, as consumers, are obviously unable to be aware of all these incidents as they occur. There was no way to know what Rex Orange County did before the news broke, although the incidents occurred in early June. Similarly, the responsibility should not lie completely on the base of consumers to hold artists accountable, especially with what little knowledge consumers have of the character of their favorite celebrities. 

We have to begin confronting how we let abusers keep their platforms. How does their malice go unchecked long enough for them to amass fame, money, and power? How do we stop them from getting platforms to misuse in the first place? 

Historically patriarchal spaces like entertainment make men more likely to accrue power than women. In the entertainment industry, women are 4x more likely to report that gender hinders opportunities to advance in their careers than men?

Harvey Weinstein and Woody Allen were not isolated, fluke incidents-the entertainment industry has a long history of inhibiting and covering up abuse. Compounded with the public’s willingness to look past the poor choices of men, this creates a vicious cycle of abusers perpetually getting away with appalling behavior. 

Weinstein and Allen, along with Fulmer and Rex Orange County, are not the biggest problem—they are symptoms of an overarching trend in our culture that lets men get away with gross misuses of their platforms. We, as consumers, excuse them in the name of separating the art from the artist.

Doing this excuses these behaviors based on the caliber of their artistry and fame, further enabling this behavior to continue. It’s not unfounded to admit that the art belongs to the audience as much as it does the artist—but it is unrealistic to assume that we don’t keep these abusers profitable by continuing to consume their art. 

A relevant example of an artist’s actions being separated from their legacy is Kanye West. Recently, he has come under fire for wearing a “white lives matter” hoodie at his fashion show and making anti-semitic remarks on Twitter. This behavior is nothing new for West – where in the past he has made insensitive comments about slavery, supported former president Donald Trump, and terrorized his ex-wife on social media for dating after divorcing him. 

West’s other past offenses are nothing short of abhorrent – his Instagram reign of terror over Kim Kardashian and threats against Pete Davidson are equally as deplorable. However, as Trevor Noah put it:

“You may not feel sorry for Kim because she’s rich and famous…but what she’s going through is terrifying to watch and shines a spotlight on what so many women go through when they choose to leave.”

Despite this, West’s fanbase cherry picks his actions time and time again, separating “Kanye West” the artist and “Kanye West” the person. The same can be said for John Lennon, Chris Brown, Elvis Presley and any other man whose artistry transcends problematic actions in the eyes of the public. 

Ned Fulmer was a part of a relatively innocent and light hearted group of YouTubers, so it’s easy to excuse his behaviors as just adultery. However, the underlying issue is that this was his younger employee. He exercised an, albeit normalized, abuse of power and is facing repercussions from it. The punishment is not disproportionate to the crime because his crime is not just cheating on his wife-it’s something far more inexcusable. 

Rex Orange County wrote songs about heartbreak and the emotional loss of someone you love; his music was easy to connect with and relatable. In his case, there is something to be said about using whatever talent an artist has to sell a certain image that potentially helps them get away with their abuse. By listening to his music, we continue to sponsor his get out of jail free card. 

Nevertheless, birds of a feather flock together; by supporting the content these men produce, you have to support their actions. No matter how much we say it, the men themselves and their work are not separate entities. 

To make art is to put yourself into your work, and it is human nature to support artist’s whose work we see ourselves in, relate to, or enjoy consuming because of personal preferences and experiences. It is for this reason that once an artist needs to be “held accountable”—whether it by Twitter ban, court hearing, or termination of employment—it’s time to reevaluate if you, as a fan and supporter, are still able to separate them from their art.