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.