Suzanne Harrington: Cancel culture literally cancels culture, it sucks

It’s immature, it stifles debate, it nails shut the lids of our echo chambers
Suzanne Harrington: Cancel culture literally cancels culture, it sucks

Cancel culture is unsustainable, and frankly a bit stupid. Can we cancel it?

So here we are again with cancel culture.

Turns out that not only was Philip Roth, the 20th-century literary giant, a raging misogynist but that his latest biographer, Blake Bailey, has recently been accused of sexually assaulting two women. No charges have been made against Bailey, and he has denied any wrongdoing. But in response to the allegations against him, his publishers have stopped selling and promoting his Roth biography.

The book – yes, full of Roth’s hideous, unchecked misogyny, and written by someone who has since been accused of sex crimes – has been cancelled.

Conveniently Roth is already dead, plus we all knew he was a massive misogynist anyway. They were all massive misogynists back then, all the dead white male literary titans of the last century – it came with the smoke-fugged, martini-drenched territory. But what about Bailey’s book? Blake Bailey is a brilliant biographer. His books on Richard Yates and John Cheever are sublime. His Roth book is already a literary bestseller. And now it’s been pulled.

Cancelling the book, as well as the man who wrote it, is cultural Stalinism, no matter how abhorrent the crimes he’s being accused of. 

Cancel culture literally cancels culture; it’s immature, it stifles debate, it nails shut the lids of our echo chambers.

And no, I am not defending misogyny – Roth – or alleged sexual assault – Bailey – because only misogynists and rapists defend either of those. But are we really going to culturally cleanse our world of anything unpalatable that doesn’t chime with evolving ethics? Jane Austen’s family had links with slavery – do we delete Pride & Prejudice? Roald Dahl was antisemitic – do we kill Charlie and his chocolate factory? Lewis Carroll was possibly a paedophile – no more Alice?

I say all this as a feminist Black Lives Matter supporting bunny hugging trans ally lefty snowflake or whatever we are called these days – the word ‘woke’ gets bandied about a lot, mostly as an insult from those identifying as the opposite (the still snoozing?) – but wherever you are on the political spectrum, cancel culture is cultural Stalinism and it sucks.

You may find the views on trans women expressed by JK Rowling, Graham Linehan and Germaine Greer anything from inexplicable to abhorrent, but does that mean no more Harry Potter, Father Ted, or once seminal texts like The Female Eunuch? 

Cancelling people whose views we find revolting is the cultural equivalent of bleaching our house so thoroughly we destroy our immune system and all die of cleanliness. The only way ethics, culture and humanity develops is by discussion, debate, exchange. Pressing delete is digital Maoism.

So while I personally feel individuals like Roman Polanski should be in jail – and possibly Woody Allen too – I still love their films. Bukowski, Hemingway, Henry Miller, John Updike – all raging misogynists who wrote brilliant books. Great art is often made by terrible people. Cancel culture is unsustainable, and frankly a bit stupid. Can we cancel it?

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