Cancel the Cancel Culture!
Updated: Jan 30
For those familiar with his controlling conduct, he who emotionally blackmailed a lover in a self-pitying act of self-harm, this wouldn't have come as a surprise: Marilyn Manson came under fire for being a domestic abuser. Here’s a man who, after all, shamelessly displayed in his autobiography abusive and repellent backstage behaviours on some of his most vulnerable fans. The writing, then, might have been on the wall all along. Guilty or not, though, it got me thinking.
My mother had been the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of my father, a violent drunk, and so the issue of domestic violence strikes a deep, personal chord within me. What was I to do with Marilyn Manson? I never liked the man, but I certainly enjoyed his music. Could I still do so? Should I still be bothered by his artistic outputs? This is not merely about the personal life of a musician. The debate also touches upon censorship in general: should we judge artists on their art only? Or should we also judge them on their private life? And, beyond the privy behaviours, what about public opinions and ideas?
Debates are healthy. Censorship is not. Yet, there has been an increasing trend these past few years whereas artists and public figures in general can’t take the risk of sharing opinions without exposing themselves to crass online abuse, and the silence culture and overall stigma of a ‘woke’ movement which has more to do with holier-than-thou arrogance and intolerance than the open mindedness of our Enlightenment heritage. JK Rowling comes to mind. Amélie Wen Zhao suffered the brunt before her, as had various thinkers of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web and countless other comedians and journalists. In fact, cyber bullying and online mob lynching is not limited to celebrities. I have author friends who decided to stay clear of politics, for fear of ‘offending’ and get abused too as a result, let alone losing sells of their books because of personal views which have nothing to do with their work!
The question here is not whether you should sheepishly agree or consent to people and their politics (let alone defend their behaviour when abusive indeed, as in the case of Marilyn Manson). The question is how you deal with opinions and values clashing with yours, and whether you can dissociate someone’s work from their persona. If you can’t, then, clearly, you have no business dealing with anything even remotely artistic or intellectual.
To be clear, I am not defending hate speech. Ideas and believes don’t have rights (they can be attacked and mocked as much as they can be defended) but people certainly do. Freedom of opinion is not freedom of encouraging prejudices threatening individuals. Only someone irresponsibly naïve (or with an agenda…) would believe it’s ok to drum whatever, that words are uttered in a vacuum and so have no consequences. After all, propagandists like Julius Streicher and Hans Fritzsche were put on trial at Nuremberg too. It’s for a reason.
To be clear, I am not defending anti-rationalism either. There is such a thing as an objective truth, and I have no patience for post-modern cultural studies whereas everything is solely a matter of social constructivism, and 'feelings' ought to be respected as much as rational and critical thinking. These are murky views stemming from the far-Left which, to me, stink as much as those from the far-Right.
So where does that leave us?
Marilyn Manson as a wife beater may have crossed a line with me, but he shouldn’t be judged as a partner/ husband but as an artist-musician. I fully understand transgenders binning their Harry Potter collection, but JK Rowling is a fantasy writer and so should be judged on her writing first and foremost, not silenced as a children author because of her narrow view on feminism. The Intellectual Dark Web is a mixed bunch of thinkers embracing the whole political spectrum, but politics is about debates engaging with a broad set of ideas, not having yours cocooned and protected from challenging thoughts. In fact, it would be terribly impoverishing should we acknowledge and value only these artists (or thinkers) conforming to our values and political correctness of the moment. Whose to define them, anyway?
I mostly write poetry. Should I stop reading and appreciating Villon for being a low-life thief and a murderer; Byron an incestuous and depraved sexual predator; Kipling a jingoist; Ezra Pound a fascist; Aragon, Eluard, Neruda for having supported communism; Ginsberg for having wanted to legalise paedophilia? Purifying the canon and purging libraries based on authors’ lifestyle and ideas was the goal of a Joseph Goebbels. We all know how it ended; or so should we. In fact, The Empty Library Memorial by Micha Ullman should be a stark reminder to us all where this will to 'cancel' culture we disagree with ultimately leads to:
Have we come a long way since the Nazis burnt books (or the Communists sent dissenting authors to mental institutions)? We ought to think so, yet… The mindset which underpinned theirs, this deeply ingrained intolerance for dissenting voices, seems to be dangerously fed by the groupthink prevalent on social medias, whose algorithms contribute to the sprouting of echo chambers highly stifling of each other’s. Conform or shut up, or we will make sure to shut you up.
Ad hominem attacks on Twitter and Facebook are the new forms of public humiliations by the ruling mob. Cancel culture replaced books burning. And unfriending and blocking became our easy and modern way of exiling people away from our eyes, from the safety of a click. I should know: I am guilty too. After all, didn’t I ‘let go’ of my previously chosen cover artist and illustrator for a poetry anthology dedicated to fathers and fatherhood I edited, simply because of ‘political differences’? Yes, blah blah blah, I like to think I had my own rationale for doing so...
She was a Trump supporter. I wasn't. She had her values. I had mine. As an immigrant, married to an African Muslim woman, and having mixed race children, I felt unease associating myself with someone supporting such a demagogue, knowing his views on immigration, Islam, and his handling of racial tensions in the USA. In fact, I had happily ‘let go’ (read: unfriended and blocked -I told you I am guilty too...) many social medias 'acquittances' for the same reason. Regarding the anthology, the last thing I wanted was to have this project associated with the alt-right, even if remotely through the opinions of a contributor. It's not that I care very much about the political opinions of people I work with; but when their name will have to appear on a cover alongside mine I feel different. Was it a fair and rational decision on my part? Was it me being an emotional snowflake engaging in a behaviour I am here denouncing? I leave it to you.
The thing is, you would be entirely right in accusing me of cognitive dissonance or hypocrisy. How can I defend varying opinions when I myself am picky on whom I associate with for a writing project? You would be right, but I am not perfect. And my point here is: neither are the public figures we are ready to put to the pillory for expressing views not being part of the consensus, let alone for being politically incorrect. They, like us, are not perfect.
We can be offended, but, as long as they don’t engage in hate speech (and none of the writers quoted in this post did, including the radfem JK Rowling) we have no right to abuse, censor, and shame in a ploy to shut them off. This is impoverishing our cultural landscape. This is also dangerous for the survival of democracy, already badly hurt in these times of triumphing anti-rationalism, post-truth, rising populism, and rampant conspiracy theories, all intellectual frauds fed in part by, guess what? The same social medias already contributing to lock us up into unhealthy echo chambers.
Is my previous cover artist short of work? No, and she shouldn’t. Is JK Rowling still published and her Harry Potter stories still available for children to enjoy? Yes, and so it should be. Are the various thinkers of The Intellectual Dark Web (both its Right and Left proponents) still heard and debated? Yes, and rightly so. Are great artists yet dreadful people from the past still taught as part of our heritage? Yes, and let's make sure it remains that way. What about Marilyn Manson?
Well, he recently released a new album titled ‘We Are Chaos’. Have I listened to it? No. Do I want to? No. As I said, I am not perfect. But, despite my flaws, here are other things I don’t want to do besides not listening to his music: I don’t want to go about and abuse him on social medias; I don’t want to boycott his record label; I don’t want to protest his concerts; and I don’t want to unfriend and block you should you still decide to remain among his fans, if you ever were. Es lebe die Freiheit!
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