Is It Possible to Separate the Art From the Artist? – “Cancel Culture”

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Ansel Elgort, J.K. Rowling, and Doja Cat are all countless public figures who have been dragged into “cancel culture,” a practice in which individuals “cancel” celebrities by withdrawing their support for them after they have committed a social offense. 

Cancel culture is perpetuated mainly by Twitter, a social media platform in which 280 words can act as receipts, causing a public figure’s transgression to spread a message like wildfire. Supporters of cancel culture say that it’s about accountability; they argue that celebrities must abide by the same standards their supporters are held to, and that “canceling” a celeb ensures the removal of their support. Others, however, argue that cancel culture is ultimately toxic; that by canceling someone, they are left with no means to be vindicated. cancel culture - jk rowling, ansel elgort. doja cat

A pertinent issue within the notion of cancel culture is the idea of separating the art from the artists. With revered authors, musicians, actors, and directors being exposed daily for participation in sexual misconduct, offensive language, and other objectionable acts, many former supporters are unable to enjoy anything associated with the person in question without being tormented by the moral implications behind supporting someone of questionable character.  

Then arises the dangerous matter of a double-standard. Why is it that it’s easy to cancel an individual, but not corrupt large-scale corporations? We consume from venues and are easily able to say that we don’t support their practices; why shouldn’t it be the same with people?

Here’s my take on the issue: there is no right answer to whether or not we should be able to separate the art from the artist. The topic has so many layers to it; for example, books versus music. Often musicians self-project into their work. Subsequently, it’s harder to support a specific musician’s album or project without supporting their character as an individual. However, authors are less removed from their work because it can be fictionalized; in that sense, it’s harder to conflate a novel with its creator. 

But what about actors? For me, this is the hardest to separate; as audience members, we are seeing them play another character, but we are seeing them. We see actors emote– laughing, crying, yelling, arguing– all as someone else but ultimately themselves. 

What then, can I say without question? I think that in order to consume someone’s work, one must acknowledge who they are supporting when they buy a book or rent a movie. Whether they are truly learning and growing from their past selves, or if their troublesome tendencies are unable to be remedied, I think it’s important that we, as consumers, are able to hold our favorite creators accountable.