Performative “cancel culture” is only reproducing societal inequalities

In the wake of Finding Neverland and Surviving R Kelly, conversations around whether entertainers’ personal misdemeanours should impact people’s relationships with their work have been renewed. Unfortunately, condemnation is often hypocritical and disingenuous. 

Last week subsequent to the tragic murder of rapper Nipsey Hustle, occasional rapper and professional nonsense purveyor Kodak Black saw fit to make his intentions to pursue his newly widowed spouse Lauren London known via his Instagram story. Understandably his comments drew widespread criticism from the hip-hop community, notably Nipsey Hustle’s long time friend and collaborator The Game called Kodak’s comments disrespectful and warned him to keep the names of Hustle and London "out your f***ing mouth”. Rapper T.I. also took to social media to call out Kodak telling him to "fix that s**t quickly, expeditiously”. He has since removed images of Kodak from his Atlanta trap music museum. 

Photo: Theo Wargo/Michael Loccisano/Leon Bennett/Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images

Aside from teaching me what the word expeditiously means T.I.’s comments did solidify a perspective of mine which has been long brewing over the past year or so. Which is that social media bandwagons often lead people to promote ideologies that they don’t actually practice in real life. This is not to say that The Game and T.I. are not genuinely devastated by Hustle’s passing, they undoubtably are. The reality is, however,  condemning Kodak Black for disrespecting women on this sole occasion despite his myriad of sexual assault allegations and public sexual harassment of openly gay rapper Young MA literally a month before make it obvious that their “support” of London is the result of her relationship to Hustle, a man they respect. Game’s assertion that the new generation of rap “lacks respect” is rendered even more ridiculous by a recent snippet of an unreleased song in which he graphically raps about Kim Kardashian giving him oral sex. The idea that disrespecting women is wrong; if and only if they are someone’s spouse is absurd enough in itself. If that is The Game’s stance though, it would surely make sense for him to start by practicing it in his own music?

Wider conversations about whether artists should be boycotted due to allegations against them are largely within music, arguably with good reason. Music as an art form tends to be the expression of the artists’ actual personal life and views about the world. For example Michael Jackson’s hit song You Are Not Alone is alleged to have been written by R Kelly about a teenager girl who miscarried his child. On a financial level, boycotting an entertainer because you disagree with their actions and do not want to support them economically can seem redundant when said artist is probably astronomically rich regardless. In short, R Kelly is probably not going to suffer financially whether you boycott his music or not, so it could be seen as pointless self flagellation to rob yourself of music you enjoy. When said entertainer’s art itself is symptomatic of the actions you disagree with however, it becomes a more nuanced argument as to whether you can enjoy it in the same way.

This presents more complicated introspection than other forms of entertainment. For example within football, Luis Suarez was charged with racially abusing fellow football Patrice Evra in 2011. At the time Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish publicly (and wrongly) discredited Evra’s claims and the Liverpool team actually wore t-shirts with Suarez’ name and number emblazoned as a show of public support, for a racist. To this day you would struggle to find anyone who thinks supporting Liverpool or even Suarez (who has since moved on to Barcelona) is a support of racism as an ideology, even though his case has an actual charge. Even with all this in mind, whilst I will always despise him as a person and Liverpool as a club, I still enjoy watching Luis Suarez and Liverpool play football and think about the whole episode significantly less than musicians who have disappointed me with their actions.

Photo: Yahoo! Sports

Whether or not boycotting artists is the “right” thing to do comes down to personal perspective but what cannot be ignored is the disingenuous way we seem to decide who’s actions are worthy of demonising and who’s are not. For example, on American radio show The Breakfast Club Power 105.1 FM radio host Charlamagne Tha God condemned R Kelly for his alleged litany of sexual misdemeanours in the Donkey of The Day section, and not for the first time. Contrarily, Charlamagne Tha God and the rest of The Breakfast Club cohort have twice hosted and interviewed New York rapper 6ix9ine who prior to the interviews had actually pleaded guilty to use of a child in a sexual performance. Whilst it is a positive thing to make a stand against R Kelly if you genuinely believe him to be a sexual predator, doing so and then using your platform to promote someone who (unlike Kelly) has actually plead guilty to a similar crime makes it dubious how much you actually object to his actions. Due to his prominence and cultural relevance it would be much harder for The Breakfast Club or indeed any music outlet to boycott 6ix9ine due to his consistent charting and loyal fanbase. Kelly on the other hand has not been musically relevant in the past decade, perhaps longer, so boycotting him would not impact revenue or popularity in the same way. This is an example of how many media institutions, celebrities and the public in general arguably are not willing to condemn someone just because that person is immoral. It is only when pointing out their immorality is financially or socially lucrative that it is deemed worth doing. For further context on this media tactic, Condé Nast’s timing is severing ties with fashion photographer and alleged rapist Terry Richardson is a particularly poignant example, given the transparency of the controversy surrounding him for years before.

On this side of the Atlantic this double standard is exemplified by the post-humous loving accounts of David Bowie in 2016. The silence around his alleged paedophilia (which actually included the victim testimony of Lori Mattix who claimed an adult Bowie took her virginity when she was 14) was deafening in contrast to the media storm surrounding the predominantly black musicians who have faced criticism for their conduct with regards to women. This is not to say that black musicians should be absolved of culpability just because white musicians are, but there is a clear synergy between the way society seems to pick and choose who should be held accountable for their crimes and criminal justice systems which frequently disproportionately criminalise black men. The justified mistrust of biased law makers likely contributes to the suspicion and victim blaming within the black community when musicians have accusations made against them, which only serves to harm the victims more. 

Another interesting case is the condemnation of misogyny and sexual assault brought about by the #MeToo movement. When Hollywood actresses Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan bravely recounted the alleged sexual misconduct of Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times it sparked conversation across much of the United States and Western Europe about sexual harassment in the workplace, and society in general. Many took to Twitter and Facebook to share their own accounts of sexual harassment and Judd and McGowan deserve to be praised heavily for galvanising conversation through sharing personal memories which must have been very traumatic for them. It was definitely not the intention (nor is it the fault) of Judd and McGowan, but the narrative surrounding the #MeToo movement perfectly encapsulates how feminism and the ‘protection of women’ are typically code phrases that only apply to privileged white women. The anonymity of the movement which was actually started by an African American women called Tarana Burke over a decade before serves to highlight this (though her comparative lack of fame is obviously a large factor as well).

Photo: The Daily Show

Sexual misconduct and the subjugation of women is not a new phenomenon anywhere in the world, particularly in the United States. The systemic rape of native American women was a key tool implemented by white colonisers in stealing the United States from its aboriginal owners and continues to be a tool used to suppress and destroy the dignity of native American women . There is also the often ignored reality that modern gynaecology has only progressed to where it is because James Marion Sims hailed as “the father of modern gynaecology” with a statues in New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina to boot conducted brutal vaginal experiments on slave women under the proviso that they were inhuman and therefore did not feel pain in the same way. Unfortunately for these victims, because they are not white it is not viewed as a problem in American society in quite the same way. Some women are apparently more ‘American’ than others. 

On this side of the pond there are boundless similar examples. The “concern” for Muslim grooming gangs preying on young British girls has been a rhetoric tirelessly exhausted by Tommy Robinson and his far-right cronies. A selfless battle he has fought so valiantly that; his excitement to let the world know he was the one to “expose” a grooming gang comprised of Asian men via video, nearly caused a case against a genuine grooming gang to be dropped allowing a gang of child rapists to go free amidst fears it would be impossible for a jury to remain non biased. When British schoolgirl Shemima Begum recently had her citizenship revoked by the home office after being groomed online and joining Islamic State where she birthed three children all of whom have now died, Robinson was strangely silent about a British schoolgirl who had been groomed by Islamic extremists and impregnated. One would think that if the protection of British schoolgirls against jihadist grooming is such a concern for Robinson, then the very public case of a British school girl being groomed to the extent she literally flew to Syria to join Islamic State and was impregnated three times would be higher on his agenda. Unless of course his whole agenda was actually to just villainise Islam, or even more unlikely; being Bangladeshi British does not constitute his watchful aegis. 

The point of all of these examples is not to say that people should not speak out against injustice. Even though the performative “wokeness” social media seems to ignite is cringe inducing at best, if the byproduct of it is people thinking more deeply about social issues then it is still a good thing vicariously. What does need to be acknowledged however is that; the idea that disrespecting women is wrong if said woman is associated to a man you respect, we should publicly hold artists accountable only if they are not socially relevant and/or white, or that sexual assault is only a societal issue if it impacts rich white women is actually the opposite of progressive. We should all be wary of those who hide under the shroud of phony liberalism, because what lies beneath the cloak is the reproduction of the same old inequalities that have always mired the world.

Article by Martyn Ewoma. See more from Martyn here


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