The Cancel Culture Conundrum

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Words: Kinga Kusyk (she/her)

Cancel culture was never meant to remove a platform from an artist – no one has the right to do this. It is a simple means to check the morals and views of those around us. 

How many times have I heard echoes of men justifying their support for Kanye without concern for the antisemitism which he spews and incorporates with his image (dare I mention his associations with the republican party or publicly dissing his adolescent daughter)? The separation of the art from the artist is a convenient answer to this conundrum, yet not when the problem is integrated into the art itself. And, in our consumption of culture, we are dragged by the legs into this conundrum of cancellation whether we like it or not. 

When Kanye sampled Ozzy Osborne’s Iron Man in his new album Vultures 1 without his permission, Sharon blatantly tweeted at Ye saying that he ‘messed with the wrong Jew.’ Nevertheless, the album skyrocketed to number one. So what does this tell us about the ethical considerations of listening to chart toppers?

Our ethics are reflected in each of our actions – the moral scale tips with every decision. While complacency and ignorance may seem an attractive option, they reveal the privilege of being apolitical, unaffected by the oppression that an action may support or, even worse, enforce. 

Getting cancelled has arguably never been about removing a platform from an artist. We do not get to decide who deserves to create art and who does not. We are, however, allowed an opinion. I do not believe in a censor state…at all. Allow me to explain:

An artwork is not really art if it is not given a platform. The question is not whether the art should exist, but rather whether the art should be given a platform and what the nature of that platform should be. By actively engaging in conversations about what is going on around us and giving active positive support, we allow for a platform for the artist to exist. The platform is designed and constructed by us, the audience. 

This goes beyond boys who search up Ye’s lyrics and practise rapping alongside his tracks in the privacy of their bedrooms. Throughout the decades we have seen many controversial artists. One exemplar artist offered his art to the world and the world applauded, only to realise shortly after that perhaps his art is not deserving of its platform. Egon Schiele is an interesting case to consider when discussing the free-speech-cancel-culture conundrum. Taught under the established Klimt, Egon Schiele was a genius when it came to composition and portraiture. However, it is safe to say his choice of subjects was questionable, to say the least. Schiele’s studies of the human form are perhaps even more breathtaking when you find out that many of his subjects were child prostitutes which he paid to sketch. His work is fuelled with a nervous sexual energy which is uncomfortable, at best, within its context. Schiele’s work, however, continues to be celebrated and studied across the world. His configurative studies greatly influenced the art world, but at what cost? The answer to that question lies not with the individual, but in the hands of the collective. In my humble opinion, this exploitation of children calls to mind the words grotesque and unsavoury. Despite pleasing the eyes of experts and art admirers alike, his name leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

The art itself deserved to exist. It offered inspiration and allowed for other techniques to bloom. However, his art is undeserving of the platform it has been given. The pedestal has been lowered, destroyed, and burned to the ground. The discussions based around his work are often not appreciative but rather concerned. Those who are appreciative of his work expose their ethics, and I encourage them to do so. There are many reasons for this, and I mainly borrow from John Stewart Mill’s essay On Liberty. It is slightly dense, but the root of the argument is that people should be free to act however they please, unless their actions cause harm to others. The proposition of opinions of varying degrees of credibility allows for the full-frontal cortex to be engaged, as we use our critical reasoning to decipher their argument as reasonable or unreasonable. It allows for discourse; it allows for the opposition to further their own understanding and to at least try to persuade the other person to join the right side of history. As Mill wrote, ‘he who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that’. Without hearing objections, truth as we know it risks deteriorating into prejudice. 

Art deserves to exist for many reasons; enjoyment and pleasure are hedonistic traits which we are conditioned to prioritise. ‘Don’t listen to that, he’s a racist!’, ‘But it sounds good’… What a fantastic display of self control! The extent to which we provide art a gratuitous platform reflects not just our individual morals, but our reasoning abilities as a collective.

Human beings are fundamentally complex and must always exercise their opinion audibly. An exchange of beliefs teaches us to adapt, and this cannot be achieved in silence. I dangerously encourage you to speak your mind! Tell me how much you love Kanye – but if I don’t text back do not act surprised.“It’s%20ironic%20that%20Kanye%20replaced,our%20song%20into%20the%20picture.


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