Cancel Culture: Should We Separate The Art From The Artist?

How has cancel culture affected you? I don’t know if you got the memo that St. Patrick’s Day was canceled? It was considered too controversial due to its “Druidicphobic” origins. The “Snakes of Ireland” were in reality the Druidic people. They weren’t “chased out of Ireland” as much as tied to the trees in their sacred groves and set afire. To be sensitive to the Druid Culture, St. Patrick’s Day has been cancelled.

Cancel Culture has been sweeping our nation at a rapid pace. Whether or not it is deserved, or even fair, has been debated. The problem is there are no set rules to define where the line is drawn. There are those that have been held accountable for their actions, words, or perceived publicized prejudices. Then there are those that seem to get away with it.

Proposed Question: Should we separate the art from the artist?

Laura Ingalls Wilder

The works of Edgar Degas are considered priceless throughout the world. His misogynistic views were well known, as were his raving Anti-Semitic opinions during the contemporary, French, Dreyfus Affair (1894-1906). But be honest; if someone gave you one of his paintings, wouldn’t you keep it? Wouldn’t you show it off with pride? Or would you shun it for being the work of a bigot? If people got rid of all the art that a ‘controversial artist’ ever created, the Louvre would be an empty set of hallways.

Laura Ingalls Wilder gets held accountable for the portrayals of Native Americans in the “Little House” books. The views of a child, that made these books so endearing to the public, expressed the common opinions of the day, living in the Dakota’s, in the mid-late 1800’s. In 2018, 89 years after the first book was published, the controversy erupted and caused her name to be permanently removed from a national children’s literature award.  In 2021, six books by the beloved Dr. Seuss have had their printings stopped because of the way some of the drawings are considered ‘racially insensitive’.

On the other hand, the works of Charles Dickens are taught throughout the world as masterpieces. If you examine Oliver Twist (1837) you will see Fagin is referred to as “The Jew” more than 200 times. Gross, stereotypical descriptions are used for this character that would cause no end of retribution if printed today. No other character’s religion (in the book) is used to define their person – except Fagin. Then there’s Roald Dahl, author of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (1864) among other beloved children’s tales. He originally described the “Oompa Loompas” as “small black pygmies with war-like cries” that lived in the “darkest part of Africa where no white man had ever gone before”. It wasn’t until the 1970 film that they were changed to the green haired, orange skinned people that lived in fictional “Loompaland”. In 1983, in the British periodical Literary Review, Dahl wrote: “Never before in the history of man has a race of people switched so rapidly from being much-pitted victims to barbarous murderers…” later stating “those powerful American Jewish bankers…utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions over there.” In a 1990 interview with Britain’s “The Independent”, Dahl came out and blatantly said, “I am an Anti-Semite”.

Why does one author get penalized for their written words, while the others do not?

The family and estate of Roald Dahl have made public their remorse for his actions. Rolf Mengele, son of Dr. Joseph Mengele of Auschwitz, has made public his remorse for his father’s actions.

roald dahl

Roald Dahl answers a telephone while filming an episode of the science fiction show “Way Out” in Central Park, New York, March 25, 1961. Photograph: CBS Photo Archive

Is an apology enough?

In film, Mel Gibson’s radical views are well known. He referred to a Jewish party guest as being an “Oven Dodger”. He also said that Jews were “responsible for all the wars of the world”. Yet, how many people would still go see a Lethal Weapon film festival? John Wayne is considered one of America’s greatest actors – a “man’s man”. In an interview with Playboy Magazine (1971) The Duke said, “I believe in white supremacy. We can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of blacks”. Of the Native Americans he said, “I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them…our so called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”

Then there is the Disney Corporation. People will gladly overlook anything to do with the Magic Kingdom, but is it The House That Bigotry Built? Walt Disney shared the racist views of his time. Song of the South (1946), although pulled from circulation, used the word “darky” throughout the motion picture.  The animated classic, Fantasia (1940) shows a disclaimer before the film, because it presents a black female centaur eating a watermelon, among other ‘racially insensitive’ animation. Walt Disney himself was also a member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a notorious Anti-Semitic organization. He also attended meetings of the German American Bund – a US based pro-Nazi organization. “Uncle Walt” personally hosted the Nazi propagandist/filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl on a tour of his Disney Studios.

Where is the line drawn? How do people step over it, and how can it be erased? How do we make sure all people are held accountable for their bigotry, instead of some avoiding Karma’s harsh punishments? It’s a shifting, morphing boundary that no one can define. Or maybe, no one wants to define. Newton’s third law states: ‘For ever action there is a reaction’. It would also be wise to remember; words have repercussions. It is easy to say, “just don’t be a bigot” but as the saying goes: “He without any prejudice…”

Proposed Question: Should we separate the art from the artist?

 Resolution: Evidently, only when it’s convenient.

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

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