Victoria Jelinek


XV: Cancellation Culture

My brief response to a recent event in France in which, “…the entire board of the César awards, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, has resigned two weeks before its gala ceremony amid growing controversy over the French-Polish director Roman Polanski, whose film An Officer and a Spy leads the 2020 nominations. ‘The French film academy says unanimous resignation was to honour the film-makers and ‘regain calm’ of the festival.’” https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/feb/14/leadership-of-french-oscars-resigns-amid-polanski-controversy

“Liberalism is totalitarianism with a human face.” Thomas Sowell

Femme and fierce - hand drawn lettering phrase about feminism isolated on the white background. Fun brush ink inscription for photo overlays, greeting card or print, poster design.If I disagree with your brand of “feminism,” am I no longer a critical person? If I don’t believe a woman’s claim over a man’s denial, am I no longer a lifelong feminist? By being skeptical about the “Me Too” movement, or French subsidiaries such as Nous Toutes (All Of Us) and Osez le féminisme! (Dare Feminism), am I immediately branded as an unwitting stooge who has been blindly indoctrinated by the global patriarchal system? If so, doesn’t it define those that would judge me thus as narrow-minded, illiberal, and non-progressive?

With the inalterable definition of what it means to be “liberal” in mind, how do many women (and some men) think boycotting a retrospective of a body of work, or a film by Polanski, or ‘banning’ songs written in the 1950’s, or admonishing folks not to look at art that has breasts on display, is going to change the power dynamics between men and women in the workforce, in political representation, even in domestic models? As Johnnie Tillmon once declared: “Every woman is one man away from welfare.” Social systems in which women have to fight to be educated, are judged differently than their male counterparts, are paid less for the same job, are called derogatory names for the same traits men are lauded for, do not form at least half of our representatives in public governance, or on corporate boards, are held to traditional standards as a mother (by both men and women), are expected to be both a mother and a worker (in that order), are the societal elements that need to be challenged and changed. Not the filmmakers, artists, and writers who are generally the first to be killed by a fascistic regime. Nor does forcing the resignation of an entire board of an organization which celebrates excellence in filmmaking going to make a real difference other than to headlines and articles, for the moment.

To be absolutely clear for the more zealous or obtuse: I am not defending the fact that the most of the voting membership for the Cesar’s (or the Oscar’s) are men and that’s not fair. Nor am I defending Roman Polanski the person. I am, however, defending Polanski the filmmaker, whose body of work includes several modern masterpieces. If it’s necessary to attack the cultural industry in order to receive more media attention in the name of modern feminism, could these movements not focus on, for example, why it is that the heads of departments on almost every film (with the exception of hair, makeup, and wardrobe) are invariably men? Or why, even as there is an overwhelming amount of women in publishing, most publishers are men?

Infighting about art and culture is what the capitalistic white men who dominate the world want. They do not care about national boundaries, much less culture, while they play their geopolitical power games. Division, scandal, and media sensationalism decreases the credibility of these feminist movements. Moreover, boycotting films, art, and books is akin to censorship. Does this suppression help or hinder women’s movements that claim to be fighting injustice? Art and the humanities are meant to enlighten us, provoke us, trouble us, entertain us, and inform us. To broaden our minds. To create space inside us that invites redemption, hope, possibility, and reflection about what it means to be alive – even if it’s uncomfortable. Familiarizing oneself with and having a general appreciation of culture develops critical abilities (the basis of democracy and why public education – and the arts – are always under attack). Art celebrates humanity with all of its foibles. The film, the painting, the book is not the same as the person who created it. The person who created it forms part of the context in which the ‘product’ is created, but the operative idea, here, is to have a sense of context.

By fighting over the personal lives (based on hearsay) of filmmakers, artists, and writers, one denigrates their works, many of which are fine and deserve to be honored by us, the public, by both men and women. Otherwise, we risk destroying excellence in film, literature, and the fine arts, and in my opinion, these fields make the world more beautiful, arguably more complicated, and definitely worth living in. By jumping on bandwagons with pithy and/or emotive “handles” because of our justifiable frustration, one is operating within a mob mentality, rather than with judiciousness.  Is it okay to believe a woman over a man simply because of gender? Is it fair to try a man in the media first rather than a court of law? By publicly destroying the careers of those who have brought art into the world by slandering and censoring them in the name of ‘justice,’ are we not also undermining art, artists, culture, the rule of law, and, ultimately, ourselves as rational women?

Just as it’s advisable to “follow the money” to get a sense of bias in politics, I ask you — who does this censoriousness of culture ultimately serve?