Conservative blogress Kathy Shaidle pleaded with voters not to enshrine Yusuf Islam, a.k.a Cat Stevens, into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and then, when they added him anyway, expressed her disgust. Her objections were not based on music criticism (as would be justified with nominees like Yes), nor on Cat’s honor blocking more worthy nominees (like, say, The Zombies). She objects to Yusuf Islam on political and ethical grounds, complaining that during his activist days and perhaps even now, he qualified as a Muslim radical.
It doesn’t matter. Cat Stevens belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because of his art, not his character. His character is irrelevant to the reach, influence and value of his art, as are his politics. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes no pretense of making difficult measurements of an artist’s character, unlike the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, which has come up on Ethics Alarms frequently. Baseball players are cultural icons and societal heroes, whose symbolic exploits on the field of play evoke and inspire young people as well as the rest of us, embodying positive traits like courage, perseverance, fortitude, sacrifice, team play, loyalty, honor, fairness and honesty. As derided as it is by sportswriters and jaded fans who would like to see both the baseball Hall and its rosters filled with enabled and highly paid cheaters, felons, thugs, miscreants, deadbeat dads, and worse—like those of professional football and basketball—the character clause holds baseball players, at least those who want to be remembered as great ones, to a higher standard. And that higher standard is relevant to the game they play and our appreciation of it.
The character of artists, however, are simply accompanying trivia to the artist’s contributions to society. If there was a character clause in the Crooner’s Hall of Fame, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby might be barred from entry, meaning that it would then be the Imitators of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby Hall of Fame. For entrance to the Classical Composers Hall of Fame, Mozart and Wagner (and a lot more) would need to buy a ticket. Don’t get me started on the Novelist’s Hall of Fame, or the Hall of Fame for American Playwrights. Beautiful, transcendent, moving and immortal works have issued from ugly, warped, cruel and diseased minds, and it has always been thus, in Rock and Roll as well as every other art form. Picking on Cat Stevens, among all the others, smacks of anti-Muslim bigotry to me. Sure, I hated Cat’s politics; I hated John Lennon’s politics too.
It’s the art, and only the art, that matters.
Sources: PJ Media 1, 2