Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Don't cancel me, bro

After reading about Charlotta Bass I wanted to know more about the top of that ticket, Vincent Hallinan.  When he died in 1992 the Independent called him "one of the last survivors of that small group of American lawyers who were prepared to risk everything in the 1940s and 1950s to defend the victims of anti-Communist witch-hunts."  He kept Harry Bridges of the longshoremen's union from being deported and himself went to jail for contempt of court.  People accused of political incorrectness had to put everything on the line in those days.

Last month Harper's published "A Letter on Justice and Open Debate" deploring what is increasingly called "cancel culture" and signed by a lot of intellectual heavy hitters.  "The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted" by "public shaming and ostracism...a blinding moral certainty."  The catalyst seems to be widespread shock at the anti-transsexual views expressed by J.K. Rowling.  Then Bari Weiss and Andrew Sullivan quit the New York Times and New York Magazine respectively because their rightwing views made them unpopular there.  (Weiss complained of "ax emojis next to my name" on the company Slack channel, whatever that is.)  Really?

First of all, there's no cancelling Joanne Rowling, who is probably the richest woman on earth and got that way through her own efforts.  (Yes, she signed the letter.)  Second, when you walk away from an enviable job on the Times because people don't want to have coffee with a Trumpoid, surely that's self-cancellation, not to mention self-dramatization.  I don't know what Sullivan's deal is but I'm sure they both have new gigs by now.  (Weiss signed, Sullivan didn't.)

Cancel culture is not having your feelings hurt.  It's being blacklisted by a well-financed, government-connected, extortionate organization so you can't work.   You have to write under a pseudonym like Dalton Trumbo or move to Europe like Sam Wanamaker.  You accumulate a ridiculous FBI file because the agency can't tell Groucho Marx from Karl.  You worry about the State Department lifting your passport like Leonard Bernstein.  Those are four famous victims -- the vast majority of accused teachers, librarians, professors, administrators and movie technicians were just gone one day, and few could afford lawyers like Vincent Hallinan.  That's why Lillian Hellman, who went on writing for the stage but not the movies, called it "scoundrel time."

We live in "unfriend-me time" or maybe "block-me time."  People want to exercise their right to express any view, in any words, without being criticized.   Unpopular opinions always come at a price, and right now it's a bargain-basement everything-must-go price.  You might get booed!  People might stop buying your canned beans!  Outrageous. 

Michael Hobbes went into this in much more detail but it can be boiled down fairly simply:  Say what's on your mind but stand behind it and don't complain because the whole world doesn't agree.  Leave the whining to Trump.


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