The Case of Cancel Culture
Thirty years after his death, Dr. Seuss got “canceled” by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company in charge of continuing his legacy. They discontinued six Dr. Seuss books due to “hurtful racial stereotypes.” The price of these canceled books ironically increased. Some sold for thousands! The popularity for Seuss’ books depended on the communities’ political views; some increased their celebrations for Dr. Seuss Day, while others threw out all their Dr. Seuss books. The communities who shunned his books must ask themselves if, while reading Seuss, they ever thought he “portrayed people in ‘hurtful and wrong.' ways.” If not, they are letting other people think for them. That is the problem with cancel culture.
Even though it is widely accepted and taught today, when Maimonides’ “The Guide for the Perplexed” came to Europe, it was banned by prominent rabbinic leaders and burned as a heretical work. It was burned because of its content, the ideas contained within it being against societal views at that time. Ironically the controversial aspect of the book was how Maimonides tried to bridge Judaism and Aristotelian philosophy — Torah and science. The Rambam wanted to prove that faith and reason were not mutually exclusive. This is now a fundamental idea of Modern Orthodoxy, but when it first arose, people’s responses ranged from hesitancy to hatred. Later in Europe, the ban was lifted and the burning ceased.
While book burnings are more extreme than angry tweets, J.K. Rowling, like the Rambam, has also been hit with cancel culture. In her case, it was not her books’ being disputed, it was her LGBTQ+ beliefs. Even after receiving death threats, Rowling didn’t back down and continued to defend her views. Although minimally, “Harry Potter” sales actually increased. Much like Dr. Seuss.
It is imperative to understand the reason behind the canceling. Is the author’s view disagreed upon? Is the artwork insulting? Understanding the reason will give insight and knowledge to the viewer. The Rambam’s case shows how the people of that time felt about their religion mixing with other views. They were okay with Jewish philosophy, but not the idea of torah umadda.
Earlier this year, Chaim Walder, the author of “Kids Speak” came into the limelight for alleged child abuse and molestation. His books were promptly pulled off the shelves in Judaica stores in New York and later in Israel. People wanted no mark of Walder in their houses or stores; they did not want to read the books of a rapist. The canceling was not about the quality of Walder’s books, it was about showing support to the survivors of Walder’s horrific abuse. Walder was a renowned individual. The shock and sense of betrayal when the allegations started produced major responses, including burning Walder’s books by his grave.
In addition to censorship, there is also canceling at Yeshiva University. Most modernism, postmodernism or French Revolution classes at other schools would bring up the modernist slogan of the late 1800s and early 1900s: “make it new.” It was coined by Ezra Pound, a raging antisemite. In no English class in YU would you ever read Pound’s poems because we don’t want to continue his legacy by reading antisemitic poems.
Ezra Pound was a prominent poet. He edited “The Waste Land” by T.S. Elliot and reviewed James Joyce, Robert Frost, Gertrude Stein and other famous artists. But few are taught about him because of his beliefs. The main problem people had with Pound was that he was a fascist. Pound was infatuated with Mussolini; in 1941, his radio show blasting Jews, Roosevelt and American intervention in the war took off. Some say "he contributed to a climate of opinion that enabled the Holocaust to happen.” He was arrested for treason and put into a mental institution in the U.S., but was released after campaigns by Robert Frost and T.S. Elliot, two prominent poets. Pound’s poems showcased his control over clarity; he had the ability to be extremely articulate or ambiguous. His works would have been taught alongside Frost and Elliot had he not broadcasted his views regarding Italy during WWII.
Cancel culture is a hot topic in debates about free speech, censorship and the idea of “separating the art from the artist.” Cancel culture is also known as “call-out culture” and was used in the #MeToo movement. It should be talked about and debated before banning someone or their work because of a difference in opinion. With Rowling, Walder and Pound, it is not about the art, it is about the artist. Their artwork is not appreciated due to their actions and opinions, while the Rambam’s and Dr. Seuss’ work was objected to because the content was viewed negatively.
No matter what pseudonym is used, the act of revolting against someone due to a difference in beliefs has always existed. However, cancel culture gets out of hand when the cancelers try to prevent others from reading the work of that author without thinking about it for themselves. Before canceling something, that work must be read critically. People must ask themselves if this is something they don’t want anybody else reading. Cancel culture isn’t black or white, each case needs to be analyzed critically for the sake of knowledge everywhere.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on May 15 to correct that Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that they were “dropping six of the 60-plus titles because of ‘hurtful’ racial stereotypes,” not 60.
Photo Caption: Cancel culture
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