Cancel culture’s not a thing?
Cultural movements are never really properly categorised when they’re happening, and the idea of ‘cancel culture’ is an essentialist view of ‘kids these days’ again, where there’s a sort of general fear about ‘a public’ reacting ‘too much’ or ‘wrong’ to learning some things. It’s an attempt to attach a broad, general singular cultural movement, a sort of singular unreasonable cultural position that transcends across platforms, forms, groups and audiences, and almost always is at the behest of well, what if change, but too much?
I have sympathy for my academic colleagues who are concerned about it. In many cases there’s a very real fear of what it could mean if, say, you’re a respected expert in psychology who then spends several years angrily speaking out against things in a different field like, say, sociology, feminism and gender studies, and then after your book deals and bestseller status and literal cult of actual followers that something like actual debilitating malnutrition and brain-injuring illness might finally give the people criticising you for not knowing what you’re talking about the room to point out all the times you talk about how great the Nazis were and why your audience has all these antisemites in it. God, that man’s story is weird. Wait, no, I mean, there’s a fear that if while working on an idea you say something impolite you might get a disproportionate reaction.
I’m not wild about that fear because that’s kind of a fear a lot of people have to deal with all the time and it doesn’t tend to come with book deals for them. I’m willing to accept the idea that I may have to sometimes just accept that I’m wrong about something.
The thing that worries me these days is more a sort of natural selection process in my own platform when it comes to what I promote and what I don’t.
I don’t tend to mention Youtubers I watch. I tend to save those for December, because at that point I’ve usually had a few months to check the user out and see if anything terrible of theirs has blown up or if they’ve said slurs on camera or something. There is an entire network of interconnected responsibilities where we do not just view media as the media but also the web of paratext around it.
If I write anything about say, Quidditch, there is an immediate need that I have to spend talking about how the creator of that game is an awful transphobic billionaire who should not be respected and who is currently growing in power and influence due to the continued success of her work. Now, normally, I don’t like doing this – it’s a distraction at the best of times and it often involves me trying to wade into conversations where I do not feel qualified. I don’t want to negotiate JK Rowling’s positions on genders; I want to dismiss them, because she’s an old silly billy.
But at the same time, I know her work matters to people around me. People who are hurt and disappointed and in many cases, looking at their love and appreciation and feeling bad. My stance on this is the thing you love is something you love because of you, not because of its creator. The creator has no divine right over your feelings. So, if you love Harry Potter: That’s okay. You are not beholden to her. You can still enjoy the things abotu it you enjoy.
When I forwarded this opinion on twitter, there were some folk who wanted to talk angrily about the bad content in the work… which is a different conversation. One I’m not qualified to talk about, by the way: I fucking hate Harry Potter, so I haven’t bothered to become well-versed in it. Derailing my point about how we relate to media to instead get into how this one piece of media sucks and nobody should love it is ignoring my point.
And it’s not like any work is truly pure. Everything you love has probably been worked on by a complete monster somewhere in the pipeline. If nothing else, the widespread use of Biblical terminology and iconography in english speaking media is a sure fire sign of moral poison.
But these conversations, with sprouting defenses and demands of things, starts to change the way we can talk about things. And when I talk about big name things (hey, I talked about Transformers this week, bet that’s had some bloody monsters working on it), there’s an armour those things have usually. When it starts to focus on smaller things, I find myself being cautious.
Should I retweet this artist’s self-promotional post? None of my friends follow her, but … maybe they did once, and there’s a history? Should I search? What’s her position on ‘bi lesbian?’ Am I going to start a fight, or am I going to restart a fight? I just want to platform interesting things I see, and I want that to be frictionless. I want it to feel very easy to promote the work of people who Aren’t Just More People Like Me…
And because of these splintering conversations and the nature of promotion on the hellbird site, I grow cautious.
And I stop sharing and promoting things because I can’t be sure I’m not hurting someone.