I don’t know why this particular op-ed brought the headline above vividly into my mind; it would easily have been dozens of other episodes. But as I was reading the standard issue, progressive censor essay in the Times by Jennifer Finlay Boylan (not to be confused with the Boylan who first accused Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment), my mind flashed back to turning on the lights late at night in the kitchen of an Arlington, VA. house I was renting with four law school classmates in my first year at Georgetown. There were more than a hundred roaches in that room, all over the counters and floor, and they scattered and vanished in seconds. We had seen perhaps one roach in our first weeks in the house. The sight made me physically ill. How did the owners allow such an infestation to happen?
Boylan is a left-wing ideologue who has been outed here before. She’s an English professor at Barnard who periodically spreads her bad ideas in the Times op-ed pages after injecting the poison into the brains of her trusting students. The essay in question was titled, “Can We Separate the Art From the Artist?,” and in it she raises, gingerly, seductively, the question of whether works of art should be torn down like Thomas Jefferson statues if the artists who created them behaved or thought in ways that the progressive thought police found offensive.
The past several years have seen a reassessment of our country’s many mythologies — from the legends of the generals of the Confederacy to the historical glossing over of slaveholding founding fathers. But as we take another look at the sins of our historical figures, we’ve also had to take a hard look at our more immediate past and present, including the behavior of the creators of pop culture. That reassessment extends now to the people who wrote some of our best-loved songs. But what to do with the art left behind? Can I still love their music if I’m appalled by various events in the lives of Johnny Cash or Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis? Or by Eric Clapton’s racist rants and anti-vaccination activism?
Of course, there is no easy answer here.
Of course there damn well is; Boylan and her censoring, culture-strangling fellow bullies just refuse to acknowledge it. The ideas, innovations and artistic creations that have advanced society, human knowledge and inspiration remains exactly as valuable and deserving of honor, circulation and, often, immortality regardless of the personal transgressions of the thinkers and creators. Frankly, I’m sick of writing about this topic and even got bored wading through my own posts about it. Here: in this one about Disney World denying the worth of Bill Cosby’s contributions to humor and entertainment because he is a rapist, I begged,
Stop airbrushing your history, your heroes, your geniuses and your trailblazers, America. It is wrong—dishonest, incompetent, unfair, irresponsible, destructive….and so, so short-sighted and stupid.
It is particularly destructive in the field of popular music, because musicians, like comedians, are typically maladjusted social misfits who are too often unfit for civilized society when they aren’t doing what they are best at. Boylan’s totalitarian reasoning leads directly to bad art by politically-approved artists supplanting transcendent art by creeps. And people like her really and truly believe that’s the better choice.
Boylan also takes the inevitable next step, advocating the elimination of the art itself if it doesn’t jibe with Leftist Big Brother’s cultural edicts. She notes with approval that The Rolling Stones have removed their hit “Brown Sugar” from their current U.S. tour set list because it has “racist lyrics.” The song does NOT have racist lyrics; the song is about racism and the slave trade (not that 99% of Stones fans ever had a clue what the lyrics were or meant):
Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in the market down in New Orleans
Skydog slaver know he’s doin’ all right
Hear him whip the women, just around midnightBrown Sugar, how come you taste so good?
Brown Sugar, just like a young girl should, oh noDrums beatin’ cold, English blood runs hot
Lady of the house wonderin’ when it’s gonna stop
House boy knows that he’s doin’ all right
You should have heard him, just around midnightBrown Sugar, how come you taste so good?
Brown Sugar, just like a young girl should, yeahBrown Sugar, how come you dance so good?
Oh, got me quittin’
Brown Sugar, just like a black girl should, yeahNow, I bet your mama was a tent show queen
And all her boyfriends were sweet 16
I’m no school boy but I know what I like
You should have heard them, just around midnightBrown Sugar, how come you taste so good? Oh, no no
Brown Sugar, just like a young girl shouldI said, yeah, yeah, yeah, woo
How come you, how come you dance so good?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo
Just like a, just like a black girl should
Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo
Oh, well, it’s offensive just to hear a white British band sing about slavery: better to just ban the song.
I don’t feel like explaining—again—why this is an unethical result. This post is to muse on how the United States was so apathetic and inattentive to its core values that people like Boylan so completely infested our universities, schools, entertainment industry, professions and politics that they are like those cockroaches that horrified me and provoked the instinctual response, “I have to get out of here! It’s hopeless!”
Culturally, the signs of the infestation are everywhere, and unceasing. Last week, the New York Times pronounced “Porgy and Bess,” blessed with one of the most brilliant scores of any work of musical theater, on “shakier ground” because Gershwin’s work “carries the baggage of American history.” The book was written by a white man (who was raised in a poor black neighborhood like the one portrayed in his play and musical); it involves black stereotypes (not that there aren’t real people who embody the same characteristics), and “can feel like cartoons”—you know, like the characters in every other opera, While the reviewer pronounces the work “a discomfort to be experienced, pondered and managed, not removed,” his same complaints will easily support removal later, after the indoctrination by professors like Boylan take effect. In another Times review this week, reviewer Maya Phillips probably dooms “The Visitor” to failure by condemning the musical as “out of step with the times, or “Times,” an intriguing double-meaning. It’s out of step because the story, based on a film, entails a college professor who finds illegal immigrants living in his apartment after he returns for a conference. Phillips declares the new musical insufficiently woke, failing to reflect a President “who fiercely fought to keep immigrants out, and before calls for diversity echoed throughout our institutions.” Immigrants and illegal immigrants, after all, are indistinguishable, or should be regarded as such. And any stage work that doesn’t advance progressive cant is indefensible.
The critic writes,
The immigrant characters still ultimately function as markers of Walter’s emotional growth and development; they have bits of personality and back stories but can’t stand on their own in a plot without him.
Yes, that’s because the musical is about him. But Walter is white, so we can’t have that. The only shows permitted must be about “people of color.” She adds,
So what does one do with a work of art that, by the time of its premiere, has already been outpaced by the moment? How can you contemporize a work whose very conceit — its whole plot, its central perspective — will land like a well-meaning but ignorant cousin’s comment in a conscientious cultural conversation?
We can see where this is going, no? That framework requires that virtually all plays, operas and musicals created before “the resistance,” before a black, lifetime criminal died in Minneapolis under the knee of a white officer whose equal opportunity brutality finally went too far, before Black Lives Matter, and #MeToo, and the Democratic Party’s insane enabling of open borders, are “problematic,” and either must be de facto banned or re-written to reflect RightThink.
I wanted to move out of that cockroach infected house, but I didn’t. I, and my roommates eventually cleared out the insects. OK, we had them exterminated. Americans can’t exterminate the censors, indoctrinators and agents of mind-control, of course; even though it often appears that they would like to do that to us if we fail to submit. Human Raid is never an ethical option. Moreover, there are so many of the nascent totalitarians, because those whose responsibility it was—that’s us— to guard our freedoms, liberties, and this unique nation,were lazy and inattentive like the owners of that filthy house in Arlington, The only way to deal with this infestation now is by being vigilant, courageous, having better ideas, and by showing people like Boylan that the path they are so certain is the right one and the only one is in fact ruinous.
Fortunately, people are not cockroaches. They think. If they can think, they can learn.
I know I have told this anecdote too many times here, but when I had my lucky opportunity to chat with the futurist Herman Kahn for more than an hour, he said that society periodically forgot lessons they had once learned, and had to learn them all over again. “It’s painful, and a lot off unnecessary damage is done before they remember why things were the way they were before they started ruining everything. But usually, usually, they figure it out.”
We have to make sure that they figure it out.
4 thoughts on “The Censors, Woke Dictators And Mind-Control Activists Are Like Cockroaches. How Can Society Protect Itself From Them?”
I fear that ridding ourselves of this ‘infestation’ will be a long and vicious fight. I am sure you Jack, as well as many others, have observed that once these types get a foothold into positions of power, influence, and authority they can be extremely difficult to get rid of-barring some sort of extreme circumstances, usually in the form of accusations of a sexual assault type nature, or via something dredged up from their social media history.
I’ve watched much of my favorite entertainment media over the years (film, video games, comic books) get infiltrated and eventually taken over by these censorious ‘woke’ types, one needs only to take a cursory glance at the state of Marvel and DC comics, or at once great and culturally influential franchises such as Star Wars and Star Trek to observe how badly the infestation and rot has spread.
Their purpose has been diverted from entertainment, story telling, and admittedly yes sometimes trying to send a message, or engage in satire-has been completely subverted, instead their purpose now is use as a platform to spread more agitprop. Hell, it has gotten to point where even the re-releases of past video game titles are seeing their more ‘problematic’ elements such as dialogue, gameplay, and character designs, get ‘updated’ (censored) for ‘modern audiences/sensibilities’.
I realize these examples may seem trivial-small even when compared to what has been observed taking place politically over the last several years, but as it has been observed by those much more politically savvy and astute than myself, that politics are downstream of culture.
I agree with your ultimate assessment Jack, that we will have to fight to protect much of what many of us take for granted, and re-learn many of the lessons that previous generations fought, and sometimes even died to try and teach us. I just hope that there will be enough who finally ‘figure it out’ before things get worse.
My father used to repeat the adage that instead of blithely “accepting the things we cannot change,” people must concentrate on changing the things they cannot accept. We as a people, certainly most of those in my own generation, have been too intellectually and politically “lazy and inattentive” as you say, too preoccupied with wealth and possessions, too distracted by mindless amusements and excessive self-indulgence, to be good citizens. Look no further than the normal abysmal voter turnout in virtually every local election.
The dilemma we face in “showing people like Boylan that the path they are so certain is the right one and the only one is in fact ruinous” is that their radical beliefs and behavior have been proven beyond any doubt or speculation, time and time again, to be destructive. If indeed these people were capable of critical thought, they would be able to see the obvious. I am beginning to conclude that their beliefs have permanently blinded them to rational examination of any objective facts, much like many “true believers” of other destructive political ideologies throughout history.
You probably would not have been able to persuade the cockroaches to voluntarily end their infestation of your rented home, nor will these dedicated woke ideologues voluntarily “learn” that they are wrong. Evil can seldom be negotiated with. Although I am not advocating “extermination,” some effective method of isolating this blight on our civilization must be found and implemented.
Our commitment to preserving the Republic must exceed their own dedication to destroying it, and our zeal in advancing our agenda must exceed theirs, else we will surely fail. We are in, as Thomas Paine said, “Times that try men’s souls.” In these chaotic times, those who “shrink from the service of their country;” as Paine said, must be called out as energetically as those on the extreme left. In short, it is time to choose sides. I choose liberty.
This post sent me down a rabbit hole. I’m not sure if I can make a lot of sense of my mental wanderings without a lot more work than I’m willing to put in, but let me give it a try.
We cannot insist an individual must always divorce the artist and the artwork in considering the latter. Whereas it’s not that difficult to appreciate the work of Shakespeare without being a monarchist, or Diego Rivera without being a socialist, or Richard Wagner without being a German nationalist, it may be more difficult in other areas. For example, I can appreciate an individual person’s rejection of, say, August Strindberg for his extremely gynophobic world view (even by the standards of his time), provided (importantly) that I am still allowed to appreciate his craftsmanship and influence, especially as regards his transformation from naturalism to expressionism: and to do that, I need access to his plays in both styles.
Importantly, knowledge of the life of the artist is merely one of a group of influences on the reception of an artwork that have nothing directly to do with the artwork per se. One of my grad school professors called these influences “para-aesthetics.” These can be intentional (e.g., the poster for a movie) or not (e.g. a rainstorm at an outdoor concert), applicable to the entire audience (e.g., a very expensive entrance fee to see a special exhibition) or to one individual (e.g., the lead actor is a dear friend… or an ex). So it does matter if I know whether that painting was created by my niece, by Adolf Hitler, or by someone I’ve never heard of.
Interestingly, in the specific case of knowing something about the artist, the more cognitive dissonance, the more influential that knowledge becomes. It’s reasonable to feel uneasy at watching Bill Cosby as good-guy husband and father, but it may be especially satisfying to learn that a favorite rockstar with a carefully calculated bad-boy image discreetly gave a million dollars to a children’s charity or hurricane relief or whatever. By contrast, finding out that Johnny Cash the person left something to be desired, or that Fred Rogers was a great guy has relatively speaking little effect.
There’s another variable, too, which we might be able to loosely classify as mediation. In the visual or purely literary arts, the artist is usually physically absent from the work itself. Other art forms get more complicated: think slam poetry, where a single person is simultaneously a creative and interpretative artist. In dramatic arts, the writer, director, and designers are absent, but the actor is present, but may nonetheless be mediated through technology, as in film or television. The same general principles apply in music: the composer is absent, but the singers and instrumentalists are present… but there’s an entire continuum ranging from live, in-person, performance, through live video, to film, to audio recordings or radio.
The further away from live and in-person, the less para-aesthetic influence. If we’re watching Bruce Springsteen live, we’re more likely to think of this alleged voice of the working class contemplating selling the rights to his songs for something in the neighborhood of $400 million than we are if we simply hear “Born in the USA” on the car radio.
Also, without visual cues, it becomes easier to forget the identity of the artist altogether. My wife and I not infrequently hear a song from our youth in the background of a movie, in a tv commercial, or on the radio, and turn to each other and ask, “who is this?”. That’s less likely to happen if we can see the performers, and (I hope) pretty nearly impossible if we bought tickets to see a particular artist perform (although “who did this song originally?” is still a reasonable question).
I don’t necessarily see Boylan’s comments as quite as problematic as you do, Jack. It’s reasonable to wonder if “I [personally, as an individual] can still love their music if I’m appalled by various events in the lives of Johnny Cash or Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis? Or by Eric Clapton’s racist rants and anti-vaccination activism?”. She’s absolutely free to use whatever filters she chooses to determine her own preferences. That would be… erm… freedom.
The Times critics, too, have a right to express their personal opinions. But viewing any artwork exclusively through the lens of one’s own parochial predilections and biases, and—worse yet—expecting to impose those idiosyncratic impulses on others: that’s problematic in critical terms and potentially terrifying in socio-political terms.
A couple of weeks ago, I was describing to my theatre history class the Soviet Union’s imposition of “socialist realism.” That was the Stalinist insistence that it was insufficient for art in the USSR to not be “counter-revolutionary”; it had to actively serve the communist state. I noted that in structural terms, this argument corresponds to current demands that individuals and programs be anti-racist, not merely not racist. So far, there has been no blowback from the Woke Folk. We shall see.
Thanks a lot, Jack. Just when I sent my cape to the dry cleaners.