The Moral Crusaders and Literary Criticism.

Lately there seems to be a tendency among some literary award juries to exclude the works of writers who’re not embracing the “correct” social causes.

This issue came first to my attention when Hugo Award Winner John Scalzi, wrote a post about a push following the upheaval caused by what he called the “Sad Puppy Movement” to delete the articles devoted to authors Michael Z. Williamson and Sarah Hoyt, on the grounds that neither of them is notable enough to warrant a Wikipedia article. Apparently this move was inspired because these writers were embroiled into some right-wing, anti-diversity voting campaign.

John Scalzi flipped the argument around and stated in his post, “…if neither Williamson nor Hoyt is notable enough for inclusion in Wikipedia, there’s gonna be some bloodletting in the site’s category of science fiction and fantasy writers, because there are a fair number of Wikipedia-article-bearing genre authors who are no more notable than Hoyt or Williamson” (post on the writer’s website of July 24th, 2019).

I still let this post pass without giving it much attention till I came across another post of a book reviewer who asked herself the question; “At what point does it end? What kind of problematic behavior makes us turn away from an author? Unhaul?”

She doubted about Roald Dahl because she suspected him of having anti-Semitic opinions, she unhauled Orson Scott Card because he spoke badly about Obama, she criticized J.K. Rowling for not introducing sufficient “diversity” in her Harry Potter series ( read LGTB and colored protagonists) and for apparently following a transphobic website. This book reviewer is clearly pushing people to stop buying books of writers who’re not having the “right” opinions in their social life, or behave in a way that displeases the moral libertarian crusader movement.

A lot of artistic icons wouldn’t have seen the daylight in the current atmosphere of corporate and social network fueled censorship, where the mere rumor of an accusation of inappropriate behavior can break a career on the premises that the accuser is always right and deserves to be believed. Even in the case when the accusers can’t substantiate their complaints. Very often there are strong suspicions that the claims are financially or politically motivated, or just uttered by some media seeking individuals.

Once an artist releases a product, it stands on its own and must be judged as such. The only views and opinions that count, are those ventilated or provoked by the artistic creation itself. There are probably good reasons for some famous contemporary artists, such as for example Banksy, to retain anonymity. The focus has to remain on the art and not on its creator, notwithstanding the voyeuristic tendencies of some to sniff around in other people’s personal life.

2 Comments

  1. This is a difficult question. I think there is a lot of overreaction in cancel culture, but it’s not always so cut and dry. Regarding Orson Scott Card–I think he’s a little bent in the head and that shows up in his work (which I find to be fascinating). But personally I prefer to purchase his works at library sales, thereby supporting my local library instead the author himself.

    It’s not just that he posted political opinions about Obama, it’s that he sat on the board of an organization which was fighting against gay marriage, and he continues to put his money and influence behind organizations which fight to suppress the rights of lgbt people. Knowing that, I personally prefer not to send my money his way.

    But I also feel like that’s a choice for each reader to make, and I don’t think it’s productive to launch cancelling campaigns. If anything, that just draws more attention to person you are trying to cancel. (There are whole ad campaigns built on outrage culture). It often makes more sense to simply stop talking about them altogether, if that’s how you feel about it. Otherwise it comes off as more of a narcissistic performance, not a genuine concern.

    In my opinion, it’s generally better to read all works critically rather than suppress or censor them. Everything (and everyone) is at least a little “problematic” to someone, and that bears examination, but not necessarily cancellation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Literature has always been a tension field between opposing ideas. All people who’re worried about literary diversity should encourage that. Censoring certain writers because they’re not divers enough has a perverse rhetoric that’s intrinsically contradicting their own agendas. And conservative censorship has also proven to be counterproductive for the reason you mentioned in your comment; the anti-campaign has a tendency to become the campaign.

    Like

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