This digital discussion on cancel culture occurred Friday, September 10th, and is the first in a series of Zoom-powered lectures that will be held this semester. What follows is a thoughtful write-up of the event by contributor Lucy Mackintosh.
Cancel culture is something that pervades the modern psyche; as readers, we have a hard time figuring out where cancel culture fits in with our favorite books and authors. Several English majors and professors planned and attended this digital lecture in order to have the most educational and productive conversation; student leaders Siena di Sera and Carlos Fuentes helped prepare questions, and professors, including Dr. Brassard, Dr. Hiro, Dr. Larson, our new professor for the poetry workshop, Dr. Ösel, and leader Dr. Hersh, helped bring in points of view that some of us students do not have yet.
The hour-long conversation was a great dialogue between students and professors as a way to understand how to read literature in this current culture. Our conversation was bookended by J. K. Rowling and her transphobic tweets and essay and whether we can continue to read Harry Potter without her being connected to it. In short, no we cannot, but the informal consensus we came to was that we cannot accept apologies, if she intends to give them, unless we are in the community that has been affected. Similar to how white people cannot accept apologies given to people of color over racism, the transgender community (among the many other communities that were hurt by her, including the Chinese and Irish communities) are the people who have to make the call as to whether we can look past this.
With the topic of cancel culture in literature, we cannot avoid the idea of censorship. Almost any literature lover would say that censorship is a crime, but one of the questions raised in the discussion was whether it would be better to have these books taken off the shelves to avoid hateful conversations. The jury was out on this one; we could say that it is not okay, but we cannot speak for the insulted groups. Censorship has to walk a fine line between totalitarianism and keeping safe spaces safe.
Overall, this was an amazing way to connect to other English majors and minors and professors that we either miss having or have never had. I know that I was scared about this semester and the fact that online learning might not allow for healthy and constructive conversations, but I think that this was an amazing example of how we can all still have these connections with our peers and that we are not alone in this crazy, Covidian world (coined by Dr. Larson).