Politics and Cancel Culture's Impact on Literature
Updated: Jul 8
Cancel culture's impact on literature is timeless
Classic literature and art defy time, which is why they remain relevant across decades and centuries. Orwell's "1984"(written in 1949) depicts a society dominated by totalitarianism, where individuality is crushed under the oppressive regime of Big Brother. The novel's timeless relevance lies in its critique of societal control, manipulation of information, and ‘Big Brother is watching you’ surveillance by the authorities via 'telescreens', all of which reflect present-day concerns of privacy invasion and abuse of power.
Similarly, Huxley's "Brave New World"(1932) presents a dystopian society where technology, consumerism, and social conditioning suppress individuality and dissent. The novel explores themes such as the dehumanizing effects of pleasure-seeking, the sacrifice of freedom for stability, and the dangers of suppressing critical thinking. Huxley's vision resonates in today's age of social media and commodified attention.
Krleža's "On the Edge of Reason" (1938) remains relevant, warning against the tyranny of the majority and advocating for the defense of differing views. It sheds light on the arbitrary nature of societal judgment and calls readers to reflect on the value of open dialogue, tolerance, and the protection of individual expression in a polarized era.
Each of these novels faced a cold reception and were censored at various times for various reasons by those who were offended by their political and philosophical implications. Despite being written decades ago, they continue to resonate, providing warnings and insights into the importance of protecting freedom of thought and expression.
Throughout history, literature has consistently faced suppression when it dares to challenge accepted cultural norms
D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" (1928) was censored for its explicit portrayal of sexuality and societal norms. George Bernard Shaw's play "Pygmalion" (1951) (which later was the basis for My Fair Lady stage and film productions) challenged social hierarchies. Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Underground Railroad" (2016) explored the harrowing experiences of a young slave seeking freedom.
These novels, which pushed boundaries and questioned societal conventions faced censorship and backlash, which suggests that literature does have the power to challenge the status quo, provoke critical thinking, and spark conversations that push society forward. The ongoing struggle for freedom of thought and expression highlights the importance of protecting and celebrating voices that challenge cultural norms, as these contribute to our understanding and the progress of human thought.
From Shakespeare to Salinger: cancel culture reinforces ideological boundaries
Cancel culture's impact on literature is often viewed as being driven solely by right-wing or left-wing ideologies, but its presence transcends political boundaries. While liberal ideologues seek to cancel works like Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" for its anti-Semitism, and Disney's "Peter Pan" for perpetuating stereotypes, cancel culture also extends to the right-wing, as seen in their targeting of books like J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” (1951) due to profanity, blasphemy and sexual references.
As for the Twain classic, "Huckleberry Finn" about a boy who flees abuse and sails down the Mississippi River with an escaping slave, it has been cancelled from both ends: first from the right because it featured a friendship between a black man and a white boy, and now from the left because of its recurring use of the N-word.
The consequences of erasing or distorting historical artifacts are profound
Whether cancel culture emerges from moral concerns, social justice movements, a desire to challenge power structures or reinforce them, the erasure or distortion of historical artifacts and literature to conform to prevailing ideologies has profound consequences. Omitting significant events like the Tiananmen Square massacre undermines historical accuracy and hinders our ability to learn from past mistakes. Burning books and toppling monuments, even with good intentions, erodes collective memory. Instead, we should confront our history by studying literature, installing plaques that contextualize monuments, and acknowledging the complexity of societal norms. Only by preserving the principles of freedom and intellectual growth an we confront uncomfortable truths while celebrating societal progress.
Navigating cancel culture and celebrating progress
Acknowledging cancel culture's presence across the ideological spectrum fosters a nuanced understanding. Engaging in open dialogue and promoting critical thinking is crucial to navigating tensions between freedom of expression, cultural sensitivity, and social progress. Striking a balance allows for respectful debate while safeguarding artistic and intellectual freedom.