George Orwell once said (or didn’t say, depending on who you believe), “the most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history”.
The most dangerous thing about the ‘cancel culture’, which over the past couple of weeks has engulfed everything from classic movies and TV shows to bands and cheese (yes, cheese), is that it suggests a re-writing of history and pretending something didn’t happen can alleviate serious issues at hand.
Worse, perhaps, it robs younger generations of the proper understanding of how far we’ve come, or haven’t come, on said issues, and suggests that we should judge the past on current standards and values.
And it problematically hints that altering history is as easy as deleting one of those awkward Facebook memories that pops up on your profile every day.
History can’t be altered, of course. It is what it is. But in 2020, hiding it is in vogue, even if only parts of that history may be problematic.
In the wake of the Black Live Matters protests and movement, the avalanche of outrage has begun.
A streaming service in the US removed ‘Gone With The Wind’ (albeit temporarily) because the 1939 movie, set in the late 1800s, has “racist depictions”.
‘Little Britain’ has been erased too, by Netflix, which has also booted Australian comedian Chris Lilley’s shows.
There’s calls for statues and monuments to be removed, as if the people being honoured did no good at all. Those complaining have meticulously researched each individual, of course.
Decades-old sketches, long-forgotten, are bizarrely being resurfaced to prove some kind of point.
A record label changed its name. Country music group Lady Antebellum changed its name too, dropping the word ‘Antebellum’, which is Latin for ‘before war’. The band was named after an architectural style.
They’ll be named Lady A from now on – until the word Lady is deemed offensive, which shouldn’t be too far away.
And the best of the best, Australian comedian (I use the term loosely) Josh Thomas wants Coon cheese banned, because erasing the name of its creator is far better than calling for anyone who uses the word in a disparaging way to be hauled over the coals.
Hey Australia – are we still chill with this? pic.twitter.com/3pY2wyZ3IY
— Josh Thomas (@JoshThomas87) June 14, 2020
When I’ve had conversations about this topic over the past week people have expected me to join them in anger about their rights to watch these ‘cancelled’ shows being taken away, about our sense of humour being stolen and about people not being able to ‘take a joke’ or understand satire, or context.
All that may be true, but that’s not really what I’m upset about.
What I’m angry about is that we have turned an important, teachable moment in history into displays of political correctness and virtue signalling.
The race conversation will now join the modern equality and feminism movements in being dominated by frivolous, useless debates that miss the entire point.
And instead of being able to teach and inform, we’ll now waste time defending movies and TV shows (and bloody cheese), while much of society will see what the whole thing has descended into and choose to ignore, rather than embrace, the movement. Worse, they may revolt against it.
All because a bunch of privileged executives and celebrities were swamped with guilt. Well done guys – you’ve made the whole thing worse and hijacked what should have been a pivotal moment in history.
Yet again, we’ve blown everything out of proportion. Minor mistakes, slight misjudgments or out of context clips from the past become major scandals, helped along by an obedient mainstream media desperate for clicks and a social media generation that likes to curate every bit of life with filters and re-takes.
HBO Max shouldn’t be ashamed of ‘Gone With The Wind’. It should instead be proud of the content it has that embraces diversity. Proud of the documentaries it may house on black history. If it doesn’t have any, or enough of them, that’s where its focus should be – not on a moment of virtue signalling.
Removing or altering the past is never the solution. More education is. And movies, monuments, songs and people who represent the very things we’re fighting against need to be part of the process, ugly as it may be at times.
If we’re going to allow the confected outrage machine to win, it’s the end of reason.
Whacking a filter on the past or pressing the delete button is surely not the way we want the next generation to learn about history – good and bad.
We can all do better, but surely pressing the cancel button on everything isn’t the answer.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.