Cancel culture and separating art from the artist

One of the biggest perils of living in 2021, besides coronavirus, is finding out regularly that your favourite artists or actors are awful people. Everyday, another person puts their foot in their mouth and says something awful, or it is revealed that they did something awful. What’s even worse is being the actual victim of such a person. Sure, the thought of what your favourite artist did or said is unfathomable to you, and maybe you’re willing to look past that, but would you feel the same if you were the victim? No? Well, that’s why you can’t separate the art from the artist. Amongst several other reasons.

Generally, this debate falls along a very clear line. Either you wont come within ten feet of anything associated with the offending artist, or you blame cancel culture for every insult thrown the way of your favourite artist and can’t understand why people won’t watch a TV show featuring a woman who thinks being a Republican today is on the same level as being a Jew during the Holocaust. In the case of Gina Carano, she has since lost her role on The Mandalorian so perhaps the debate doesn’t lie here, but rather with celebrities who still have some semblance of a career after their supposed cancellation. J.K. Rowling, for example.

J.K. Rowling came under heavy fire for her frequent attacks against trans people, colouring them as either violent predators or as confused children, completely ignoring the fact that trans people are just normal people. What has followed is a mass of people now refusing to support any content created by her. Has she been cancelled? Well, you can hardly say that given that she continues to have wide support from the TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) community and was recently given an award from the BBC. Rowling’s ability to shoot herself in the foot doesn’t end there, with her only ever declaring a character gay after the release of a book, featuring Goblins to embody every greedy Jewish banker stereotype, having barely any ethnic diversity in her books while naming one of the only Asian characters ‘Cho Chang’, and finally having a token Irish character to blow things up. Rowling’s other pen name, Robert Galbraith, is also the name of a pioneer of conversion therapy. All of that is contained within her books, meaning that even if you can separate Rowling’s essays and tweets from the books you love, you still can’t escape how deeply ingrained her views are.

Overall, people are still going to read Harry Potter. It’s one of the most famous book series of all time and so many people have grown up with it. However, what we shouldn’t do is justify the negative beliefs expressed in those books or completely ignore the harm that may be caused. Of course, you can still read the books, but be mindful of the deeper meanings of some choices within the book and don’t try to pretend that there is nothing malicious contained within the books. More than that, if you say you don’t agree with Rowling but still enjoy Harry Potter, don’t use that as an excuse to financially support her. If you want Harry Potter merchandise, there are plenty of talented fan-creators out there who could almost certainly do with the money more than a woman who is already a millionaire.

Blaming cancel culture for Rowling’s decline also won’t get you anywhere. People don’t want to associate with her due to her own actions. If she’s been savagely cancelled for no reason at all, she wouldn’t be getting headlines and awards still. It’s as simple as people don’t like what she says, so they don’t want to consume her content.

However, perhaps people who have said awful things is the easy part. The pop-punk scene has a serious problem with band members turning out to be rapists. That’s a whole other ballpark to famous people just saying stupid things about large groups. Brand New’s Jesse Lacey, for example, has confessed to sexually assaulting multiple underage girls. Girls who were fans of his music and trusted him. Should you still listen to Brand New? Well, no one is going to stop you from listening privately and enjoying music that has meaning to you, but have a think about what impact your listening has. Are you streaming the music and therefore helping fund the rapist? How would someone who has been victim of sexual assault feel if they overheard you? No one can stop you from personally separating the art from the artist and continuing to listen, but you’re not free from any consequences that may come as a result.

There’s always someone who wants to play devil’s advocate and ask about if perhaps any allegations of this nature are false, as if women have anything to gain by opening themselves up to the abuse you receive online as soon as you speak up. However, it’s important to note that men are significantly more likely to be raped than falsely accused, and you’ve also got to question why someone would lie about it. Especially when looking at the amount of abuse that the victims receive from the fans of the accused.

Overall, people need to stop blaming cancel culture and start considering why it is that their favourite artist is being ‘cancelled’. If you do something bad, you should expect consequences. That’s not unfair persecution of conservatives, it’s responsibility. People are free to act in whatever way they desire, but that doesn’t mean they’re free from consequences. It is absolutely possible to separate the art from the artist, but the debate is much more complex than that in the sense that the questions also exists of whether we should and how this varies between situations.

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