Story Tellers and Cancel Culture

Story Tellers and Cancel Culture

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The concept of “cancelling” a human being has recently become very popular. You can be “cancelled” for all kinds of reasons, but usually it’s because you’ve expressed an opinion that is considered unsavoury, such as racism or homophobia. Sometimes it’s just because you follow somebody on Twitter who is deemed unsavoury. Perhaps you liked a tweet about something completely unrelated to the opinion that got someone “cancelled.” The variety of ways you can get “cancelled” is vast.

Personally, I find the concept of cancelling humans you don’t like incredibly worrying, let alone childish. Humans aren’t objects you can just cancel. I also believe cancelling a person is the equivalent of cancelling freedom of speech.

Thought Crimes

When a person steps outside of whatever arbitrary line has been established of which on one side are acceptable thoughts, and on the other side are unacceptable thoughts, and you therefore cancel them, you’re putting restraints on our society that are incredibly dangerous. Debate is essential, not just to try and change the mind of the person you’re disagreeing with, but also because you might actually come to find an understanding of the person you’re disagreeing with, perhaps even a compromise. Cancelling people disregards their humanity and makes the idea of “thought crimes” acceptable.

Who decides what the acceptable thoughts are? Who decides someone deserves the punishment of being cancelled? Who polices the thought police? Whomsoever it is that we grant that power, we are letting them cancel book readings, television appearances, speaking events. We are even letting them get people fired. People’s livelihoods are being destroyed because we are allowing a sector of society to dictate to us what is the acceptable opinion, and then we allow them to punish those who don’t conform. It’s a really dangerous trend that I loathe with a passion.

Disagree, argue, protest, refuse to spend money on a person or product that you find offensive. Fight with the freedom to express yourself that you have, just as I do, but don’t think you’re so morally pure that you should have the right “cancel” a person just because you’ve decided your offence at their behaviour matters more than their right to be offensive.

JK Rowling

As an author, I’ve particularly noted that JK Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter world and hero to many, has been “cancelled” more times than I can count. Most recently she was “cancelled” for following Ani O’Brien, a feminist with opinions on gender that some people don’t approve of.

Because of the most recent cancelling, it would appear that another bout of book burning has been set about. Really, whatever you think of Ani O’Brien or JK, or gender, or anything to do with any of these issues, we all know how well regarded by history the book burners are.

Cancelling Writers Because Of Characters

The idea that if I am not deemed “morally pure” by whoever is in charge of the thought police at any moment that I could be cancelled is quite frankly alarming. I have not consented to conform to anybody’s demands on me. However, what blows my mind more than the idea that I as a person could be deemed morally unacceptable is the idea that by writing characters that are considered morally unacceptable I could qualify for a cancelling on their behalf.

When characters are racist, homophobic, transphobic, that is not the views or beliefs of the writers. When I wrote about a man who murders women by burning them alive in Emerald Wren And The Coven Of Seven, I wasn’t secretly dreaming of burning women alive myself, nor was I thinking it was an appropriate course of action. When I wrote about a man who butchers mermaids alive in Lilly Prospero And The Mermaid’s Curse, I wasn’t suggesting that I agree with that either, despite making a rational argument for why it was justified within the story itself, or whatever version of that you could apply to our sadly mermaid free world.

Writers Need The Freedom To Write

The fact is, writers need to write. We need to write the good, we need to write the bad. We need to write evil and immoral and complicated and controversial. We need to be able to explore the things that scare us or horrify us or confuse us. We need to put words and actions that are downright disgusting into characters in order to explore the consequences or emotions that are caused by those actions. We need to have characters debate morality.

We need to write about people from all areas of humanity; all races, all religions. We need to represent people, because stories are about people, and people are as variable as the stories we can tell about them.

The Power Of Stories

Stories are incredibly powerful. From stories written in the past we learn about cultures and ideas and religions. From stories based on real events we see humanity in history that we don’t get from text books. From stories in our current world we get to explore our own thoughts and learn through the eyes and actions of the characters we follow. And it’s the story tellers job to give that to their audience. That is not a job I take lightly.

If you want to cut story tellers off at the knees and cancel them and their work because you disagree with characters’ behaviours, you’re not just cancelling a person or a story, you’re cancelling creativity itself. You’re taking the vast range of colour our world has to offer and crushing it into basic beige, because even though it’s boring, at least it doesn’t offend you.

Freedom Of Speech

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you have the right to force people to listen. It doesn’t mean you should be free from being protested. It doesn’t mean you’re free from being argued with. It doesn’t mean everybody has to read what you write. And, quite frankly, it leaves the door open to people I consider dangerous and would rather weren’t allowed to put their ideas out in the world.

What scares me most is the idea that whoever is considered the “wokest” at a moment in time is allowed to “cancel” somebody and should be given the power to silence them. Choosing not to listen is one thing, forcing others to do the same is another.

Why We Should Ignore Cancel Culture

For me it’s important that we refuse. We ignore when people declare a certain person is “cancelled” for any reason. We ignore the idea that disagreeing on one subject means that person is to be ignored on all. We aren’t all the same, we have different experiences that shape different views that form different opinions, and the variations of humanity that I so love to explore in my stories are such an intrinsic part of humanity itself. Embrace it.

Argue, debate, protest. Celebrate our freedom to do that, find common ground with people we don’t like, and stand firm on ground that matters most. But don’t force others to replicate your views because once you become judge and jury, you can be judged and found guilty by others.

I’m a writer. I represent humanity. Humans I like, humans I don’t. Humans I agree with on little, nothing, or everything. Because, no matter their political or ideological views, I know they’re human. And losing sight of humanity is incredibly dangerous.

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