Wednesday, July 08, 2020

About cancel

An open letter warning that a culture of public shaming is stifling debate has attracted more attention for the names attached to it than for its content.

Chief among them is, almost inevitably, JK Rowling, whose descent from hero to zero has been more precipitous than that time John Lennon said something apparently disobliging about Jesus and saw his records being burned in the deep South. But other names – Chomsky, Steinem, Rushdie, Amis – will probably prompt blank looks among the millennials and Gen-Z-ers who are propelling the so-called cancel culture that the letter addresses. They know Margaret Atwood for that TV show.

Some of the responses have matched the spirit of the original letter. Emily VanDerWerff, a trans writer at Vox, expressed her regret that one of the founders of the site had signed the letter, but accepted that he was entitled to his own opinion – a liberal attitude that feels quietly heretical amidst all the shrieking.

By contrast, one of the other signatories, Jennifer Finney Boylan, swiftly recanted her own involvement, not because of the content of the letter, which she describes as “well meaning, if vague”, but because of some of the other people on the list. Which raises two points: first, why add your name in the first place to a “vague” letter on such a contentious issue?;  and then, if it’s the other names only the list, doesn’t that rather reduces the whole argument to the level of a high school popularity contest? That said, a question of who sits next to whom in the cafeteria may resonate more with the target audience than the musings of Noam Chomsky do.

PS: And now Jodie Comer gets it in the neck for, uh, what her boyfriend’s politics may or may not be.

PPS: I actually got round to reading the full list of signatories and notice that it includes two of my cultural favourites, Greil Marcus and John McWhorter. But should that in and of itself encourage me to agree with the letter? Or, conversely, if I don’t like what the letter says, should I burn my copy of Lipstick Traces? It’s so confusing...

PPPS: Another view from Billy Bragg.

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