Calling Out Call Out Culture

thoughts orangutan

What with freedom of speech week coming up, I thought now would be a good time to start pissing people off *ahem* saying all the *controversial things* I’ve ever wanted to say. Starting with the fact that I HATE cancel culture… which I guess means I’m going to cancel myself with this post 😉

Just kidding- I know that the blogosphere is basically the sanest place on the internet and I’m probably just talking to an echo chamber of people who agree with me 😉 But you all know what I mean by cancel culture: those dumpster fires that rage online daily and seem intent on destroying everything in their path.

two minutes of hate
And people call 1984 too far-fetched 😉

I’m referring to the fact that many ordinary people are walking on eggshells for fear they’re about to receive their FIFTEEN MINUTES OF SHAME! I’m talking about the way people try to cancel YA for being too dark or daring to cover a controversial topic or the author saying something that strays from a rather niche-and-ever-evolving hymn sheet. Many of the articles I’ve included in my sources will give you examples, yet the one of the most striking is the curious case of Blood Heir, where critical advanced reviews promoted the incorrect idea that the reference to slavery in the book must inherently refer to the Slave Trade and therefore this was cultural appropriation (gosh, so many things wrong with that view, not least that slavery is endemic across history and an ongoing global issue). There was good news on that front recently, with the book now being scheduled for release in November (after people came to their senses and realised Zhao did *nothing wrong*), but not everyone that comes under fire lives to tell the tale.

Most authors can easily have their career ruined by these actions. No one is immune- I’ve seen the most famous authors and virtual unknowns attacked. And I’m often ASTOUNDED by how blasé so many creative people are about it (sometimes even being ringleaders in this regard). Too many seem to be kidding themselves that “oh well I believe all the ‘right’ things so they couldn’t possibly come for me”- when in reality I’ve seen the goal posts change a million times in the last few years. I’ve seen some books praised for covering difficult topics… and the next one condemned. The perceived *target* seems to be as guilty as the next person. All at the whim of select reviewers, social media activists or journos.

Now, far be it for me to criticise negative reviews! You all know I’ve defended them at length. No, I’m talking about targeted campaigns to get a book cancelled because of something (usually) one individual disliked about it. Which to me is a bizarre attitude- as Angela Carter said “Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms”– no two people will read a book the same way (I know, very death of the author 😉). And I think we all experience this with reviews. I know I can’t be the piles of booksonly contrarian that’s read a negative review and thought “huh but that thing they’re complaining about really appeals to me- ADDING IT TO MY ALREADY INSANELY LONG TBR!” (#bookwormlogic) That might even be why some authors seem to thrive off a little healthy debate.

let it goOf course if you had a problem with a book *wrestle with it, examine it, dissect it to your heart’s content*, but also LET IT GO! Because, not only are we all individuals who experience books differently, but it isn’t a healthy attitude to have such a visceral reaction. You know why I write negative (and to some extent positive) reviews? To get it out of my system. I think the thing, say the thing, move on from the thing- never have I thought “I’M GONNA GO ON A CRUSADE AND RUIN THIS AUTHOR’S LIFE!”

Shockingly, there are people who do think like that. Annnd this is the part of the post where I’m going to throw some real shade. Cos the agitators behind this know *exactly* what they’re up to. They think they’re getting good publicity and that no one could possibly think they’re the jerk. They think that the cover of social media grants them anonymity- and yet I’ve spotted a pattern with repeat offenders. While they may be happy to destroy careers on a whim, they like equally problematic things in other books (cos it’s pretty easy to have a little looksie at their goodreads 😉). Hypocrisy aside, there’s nothing wrong with them liking some books over others- the problem arises from them trying to act as the moral arbiters here. Because who the hell crowned them the king or queen of taste?! Most people rightly realise opinions are *SUBJECTIVE*.

Being the worrier that I am, I fear I’ll get a chorus of “name names” and “tell us who’s doing this”- but that is the antithesis of why I’m doing this post in the first place. I don’t see how turning the mob on these individuals will help calm things down. Besides, too often we’re so fixated on the named “criminal” we forget what we’re even talking about. Recently, I’ve written articles in response to some statements by famous authors and, rightly or wrongly, I chose not to include names. While I don’t want to rely on hearsay, I personally think it’s usually better to focus on their ideas and avoid the possible (totally unnecessary) author-bashing. Especially since the one time that I did name an individual for off the cuff comments, it ended up being a distraction to the point at hand. Naturally, this isn’t to say every journalist or commentator is wrong to do so, I just think sometimes it is possible to argue your point without making it personal.

As much as I hate call out culture, I know not everyone who gets caught up in it is an awful person. We’re all human (or in some cases monkeys) and we all make mistakes. But maybe, just maybe, it’s time to stop liking those tweets from people saying “let’s end so-and-so’s career”. Maybe we can stop posting and reposting the angry diatribes directed at individuals. It might just be a little too late in some other areas of life, but we can do better in the bookish community at least. Or else, all art will be dictated by the mob and books can be nothing more than drab, colourless, lifeless autobiographies. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? 😉

Other blog posts on the topic…

Katie @Never Not Reading – Book Twitter is Kind of the Worst

Nicole @Sorry I Am Booked – Bookish Thought Sensitivity: Cancel Culture in Literature

And elsewhere around the internet…

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/15/torn-apart-the-vicious-war-over-young-adult-books

https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/in-ya-where-is-the-line-between-criticism-and-cancel-culture

https://slate.com/culture/2019/01/blood-heir-ya-book-twitter-controversy.html

http://www.papermag.com/cancel-culture-doesnt-work-2602364106.html

http://www.womensmediacenter.com/fbomb/the-problem-with-cancel-culture

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/17/opinion/sunday/cancel-culture-call-out.html

https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/04/228847/own-voices-movement-ya-literature-impact

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2019/05/writers-blocked-even-fantasy-fiction-is-now-offensive/

Phew- that was a big topic to get through! And now I’m terrified of what everyone is going to say! Even so, this has always been a platform for free speech and I want to know your thoughts on the issue. So, do you agree with me that cancel culture goes too far? Or should I just head off to the gulag? 😉 Let me know in the comments!