I came across Joji when I fell down a Spotify-shaped rabbit hole some time ago. Mentally, I wasn’t at the best place so his music fit my mood perfectly. His lo-fi brand of melancholy was extremely soothing to my soul and I was going to do a feature but as always, procrastination decided otherwise.
Late last year, I meet this guy at a friend’s graduation and we get into a conversation about 88rising, an Asian label that’s been gaining a lot of traction lately. Dude asks me if I listen to Rich Chigga and of course, I do. He asks if I know Joji and again, I do. Then he asks if I listen to Pink Guy. I haven’t.
Now, for the uninformed, Pink Guy is, to put it simply, an extremely fucked up Teletubby. He does normal YouTuber things like prank videos, skits and occasionally, cooks rats.. This befouled cartoon character brought to life is a creation of George Miller who also happens to be the aforementioned artist, Joji. Turns out before Joji was Joji, he was Filthy Frank. A Youtuber I had only heard of in passing. Are you still with me? Good.
Think of the vilest, most repulsive troll you can think of and maybe then you’ll be close to imagining who Filthy Frank is. Currently, at 5.2 million YouTube subscribers, Filthy Frank embodies a brand of comedy that crosses unsettling, passes absurdist and lands right at the center of fucked up. Like a live-action family guy.
Filthy Frank and Pink Guy are both characters that George Miller plays. They exist in a universe of his own creation bound only by his rules and his moral code. They are in no way a representation of who he actually is.
This juxtaposition between Joji (plaid-wearing mopey indie artist) and Filthy Frank (Satan incarnate) got me thinking about artists and their personas. At what point does the artist stop and the art continue?
I believe that there are roughly two ways to answer this.
You could choose to see the art that one creates as separate and distinct from the one that creates it. A parent gives life to their child but ultimately they are two separate people. The good thing about this is that it allows us to appreciate art objectively. It allows us to listen to R. Kelly without thinking of golden showers or watch House of Cards without bile seeping down our throats.
At the same time, by separating the art from the artist you’re effectively turning your back on the things that they may have done. If your favourite musician beats his girlfriend and you continue to listen to their never-ending stream of music aren’t you continuing to support them? Or alternatively, to turn this question on its head, if you boycott whatever artist that happens to be embroiled in the saga of the day are you denying the others involved in the creation of that art their due? It’s kinda like the teacher making the whole class kneel because of that one loud mouth. Is moral indifference the answer? To quote an extremely articulate friend of mine:
The art and the artist may or may not be separate, but the fact that the art feeds the artist and the artist feeds the art means that we must link them together.
This brings us to the second perspective you can choose to take in your interpretation of this relationship. Art as an expression of its creator. Whatever you create, whatever you say, is an expression of you. Everything you’ve ever said or written is semi-autobiographical whether you like it or not. The children that I will have someday will be persons separate from me but I shall continue to exist in their big eyes and lack of facial hair. Oscar Wilde puts it brilliantly in The Picture of Dorian Grey when he says, ‘Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter’.
If you take this view, everything is ruined for you. The moment we hear George R.R. Martin got a little too frisky with his secretary, you can never go back to Westeros. Filthy Frank and Pink Guy, despite being characters, would then be inseparable from George Miller.
There’s no clear course of action. At least, I don’t see one.
For you, is art like the bible? An outpouring of words from people inspired.
Is art like a Picasso? A broken and true reflection of society. Or are we not meant to understand any of it?
At the end of last year, George brought Filthy Frank to an end. He explains that he no longer enjoyed producing that kind of content and that playing all those different characters took a toll on his physical and mental health. Here, the artist has brought his art to an end. The connection is now severed. I wish I could say the same about Woody Allen.
Featured Image: The Great Wave off Kanagawa; Hokusai