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Enid Blyton was ‘cancelled’ by a UK charity this week, and twitter has been abuzz. But can we look at problematic dead authors in a different way?
This week Enid Blyton joined the long list of people we woke, know-it-all netizens have cancelled. I woke up to the shock, and I am still unable to process where we are heading.
English Heritage, a charity in the UK, had found it offensive that in Blyton’s story “The Little Black Doll” from 1966, the doll’s face is washed “clean” by rain. Subsequently, she had been called out for racism, xenophobia and lack of literary merit. A commemorative flag was put up outside Blyton’s residence in 1977 (that is, around 45 years ago, eleven years after her passing away).
When this news came up in The Daily Telegraph last week, there was a massive rally cancelling Enid Blyton on twitter.
For those who don’t know, cancel culture is the process of dissing someone, putting down their work, trolling and humiliating them. It is a lot like a bunch of people or a village panchayat ostracizing someone, keeping them out of the village they inhabit, invalidating their existence.
Blyton, who died in 1968, joins an elite list of people who have been cancelled, including JK Rowling, Ellen de Genres and Jimmy Fallon, all of whom are still alive. Closer home, the media trials in various situations are evidence of the same cancel culture.
Aren’t art and literature reflective of the times we live in? If a piece of work from the past sounds, for example, racist, it tells us about how a larger section of people thought in those times. To that effect, it is a window to the past and the journey that society has made ever since. While we can observe how unjust the situation was, should we really be cancelling the author for holding up a mirror and showing the truth? The author was very much an integral part of the society she lived in.
Let us agree upon the fact that not everyone is ahead of their times. Racism did exist, and that is why leaders opposed it, leading to the apartheid movement. If you purge racism from a book, you are purging the subsequent struggle and victory.
A better way to put a point across than cancelling someone is marking a line or a movie reference as racist or including a preface (like the cigarette ads before a movie). But then, I am yet to see people cancelling Pablo Neruda or Woody Allen or Weinstein or Kevin Spacey for that matter. So outrage is selective. We choose victims of cancellation who make us look good about what we rant on and who will not fight back.
We are so consumed by ourselves and our woke opinions. We forget the purpose of reading or writing for that matter. We forget that, if humanity were the same through history, there would be no history at all. If every author starting from Shakespeare had the same opinion, writing, or art for that matter, would be purposeless and practically dead for lack of creativity. To put it simply, every piece of work would be like reading the same book or watching the same movie or art again and again.
We have been programmed to analyze everything through a boilerplate lens, rather we have not been thought to analyse art or literature or anything the right way. As a result, we don’t look out for the beauty in characters or situations. All we seek is scope for woke political commentary everywhere. We spare nothing in our quest for cancellation, more to satisfy ourselves and to pour out flowery sentences, than anything else.
Opinions on cancelling people, as I see, are more about asserting oneself and one’s social prowess. The loudest voice in the room cancelling someone, for reasons only known to them, becomes the breeding ground for herd mentality. Because then, the validation of the rest is incumbent on sounding equally woke and providing in-depth analysis as to why this cancellation is right.
Is someone reading Lenin? Cancel him, he is pseudo-intellectual. Is someone wearing an orange dress? Cancel him, he is a ‘right-wing retard’. What if these people were simply exercising their choice of book or colour at that moment? What makes one assume they are sending out a political statement? From when did symbolism become so ingrained in our systems that people must read and dress in line with your beliefs to gain acceptance and validation? Don’t we read because we want to know the world better – its fairness and injustice, love and hate, crime and innocence? Isn’t fashion a splurge of colours and cuts?
This cancellation is increasingly evident everywhere, not just among celebrities. We start our arguments, obsessed with our ideology over logic. We create our own reasons for actions that have no intentions, in order to suit our narrative. We speak about mental health. Yet, we go about cancelling people for ego satisfaction. When something unfortunate happens, we wax eloquent with our concerns and eulogies.
So what is ok? Can we call out instances of racism or misogyny from the past? Yes. Can we highlight social injustice and incidents that are against the sentiments of a nation? Of course, we can. But does that mean we cancel the creator? Aren’t we shooting the messenger in the process? Can’t we hold them accountable in some real way instead?
Cancellation, in effect, is an attempt to purge history. You invalidate a person and a piece of work when maybe you are just uncomfortable with what you read or saw and don’t know how to express it well? By whitewashing history, all we end up doing is create our own illusions about the past! And how far away are we from the plundering kings we read about in this process?
Perhaps, cancel culture is just a manifestation of the inner bully en masse. It is up to us curb this tendency and use reason.
First published here.
Image source: Goodreads & Sandhya Renukamba
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I write short stories and random blogs when I am not living my cubicle life.
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