Review Bombs: Cancel Culture’s Pettiest Epithet

Review Bombs: Cancel Culture’s Pettiest Epithet

In a world rife with injustice, it’s understandable that we sometimes turn a blind eye to minor hiccups or due process when it comes to getting results. How else are we to tackle the above-law antics of the Trump legions? How else are we to defend fundamental human rights when the odds are ever stacked in the favour of for-profit, billionaire conservatives? How else are we to be heard when all else around us is so loud?

Cancel Culture has become prominent in recent years for its maverick, f- due diligence approach to taking on those who would in (extreme cases) avoid legal penalty or in more trivial but common scenarios, go unpunished or challenged for the problematic viewpoints they espouse / funnel into the zeitgeist. It’s become popular because it’s effective, at least on an emotional and socio-political level. It helped topple the creeps in the #metoo movement and set some wrongs to right when it came to diversifying casting in Hollywood, demanding greater equality, and calling out BS journalism. One could argue it was a well-deserved slap-in-the face for the orthodoxy.

But in all this gesticulation and generalisation, where exactly am I heading, you might ask. Well, let’s face it. It’s not exactly an easy topic to delve headfirst into. Indeed, the previous two paragraphs are fodder for insulation, backtracking, and defence, as much as they are a prelude to what I’m about to criticise. For you see, such base, emotive reactionary attacks don’t always serve us well. They, often, lower the intellectual bar and nuanced appreciation for discourse we once cherished so dearly as part of a free-thinking society. They placate the once common-sense approach that all cases should be regarded individually and contribute zealously to the polarisation of political ideologies; you’re either with us or against this- none of this “on the other hand” schlep.

A case in point- Review Bombs.

What are Review Bombs? They’re basically attempts to undermine a work of art based on ideological speculation or information related to an associate partner of said art. For example, JK Rowling has recently received enormous backlash for her views surrounding gender theory and the place of women in society with legions of once-fans accusing her of transphobia and encouraging others with similar views, owing to her expansive Twitter following and influence in the media. This resulted in a swift bombardment of her latest novel, Troubled Blood (under pseudonym Robert Galbraith), even though no-one had had a chance to read the 900+ page tome, when it emerged from one review that the plot concerned a serial killer who dresses in women’s clothing.

It’s pretty easy to take sides when you have a predisposition. Especially in this scenario. When you read into it a little more, it gets complex and interesting, if depressing however. Is she transphobic? Possibly. Not in the robust sense of outright hatred but in the more coy (yet increasingly challenged) manner of trying to undermine LGBTQ progress by pushing far-less prevalent concerns surrounding the placehood of women if chromosomes don’t matter, etc. Some have expressed support for the trans community while pointing out she may have a point while others have pressed the importance of whole acceptance. In real life, they argue, trans people face incredible challenges the likes of JK Rowling cannot fathom. Why does she have to make things that much harder?

Most figures, faced with such controversy, have usually amended their positions with retractions or halfway-apologies. JK Rowling, seemingly, has buckled down on hers which has made the publication of this latest novel all the more controversial.

So when the novel’s general plot line was revealed, it was brought down by a series of 1-star reviews on GoodReads (alongside greater media coverage) with comments ranging from distaste for what the author had become to how they would never read this novel. When people then actually started to, the five-star reviews came abounding bringing the average up to 4/5, with some rebuking that previous assertions of transphobia were based on second-hand info and minor points, not central to the focus of the novel. Was she vindicated? In terms of commercial success, absolutely. It seems JK Rowling will go on. But even with the 5-star reviews, one has to wonder how many of those were written after a complete read of the novel (again, 900-pages long; these reviews came within a week) and how many of them were reactionary in the same way the 1-star ones were?

When it comes to Cancel Culture, a fine line is drawn between reasonable outrage and outright pettiness. In the case of JK Rowling, it seems both were there in measure, distorted by (let’s face it) an increased laziness in media coverage (mainstream too, not some poxy blogs like this) which sought to do anything but review the novel in its own merits.

And don’t take this as a defence of JK Rowling. At the very least, I find her concern with women’s issues vis-a-vis the trans community obsessive and tedious at this point. Having once made the point, herself, that you can’t have a reasonable discussion on Twitter, she should have then stopped proffering her points via Twitter. With that said, I tend to disassociate my love of movies/music/novels with the person behind them because frankly, a lot of the greats have been problematic and with generational changes in attitude, we’re only ever going to be disappointed by one thing or another if we dare to dig deep enough.

Review Bombing and Cancel Culture, however, is an issue worth tackling and it applies to conservatives as much as it does those easily agitated PC-liberals. For example, Captain Marvel was met with a slew of negative buzz before anyone had a chance to see it because women-starring role-traditionally men-change = bad. With increased diversity and promotion of minorities in these major budget movies, there was always going to be a push-back. It’s a recurring aspect in generational passing of torches but the review-bombing of this movie proved the other side, to appropriate their claims, had equally fragile egos.

The Last of Us 2 racked up its fair share of hatred this summer upon release for the PlayStation 4 as well. Taking the slow-burning, zombie-survivalism of the first game (from 2013), it should have been a hit. But they ruined it. By making the lead character gay and inserting a bunch of LGBTQ stuff into the mix. Typical Hollywood, right? Or whatever libtards got their hands on this… Actually, I thought it was a very entertaining sequel and fun game but as with many things now, the actual entertainment value doesn’t matter as much. It’s all about subtext.

That’s why Star Wars: The Last Jedi is bad- because it promotes a different world viewpoint to what we had grown accustomed to when really, it’s actually bad because they disregarded the tone of the previous movie and f-d up the trilogy.

Anyways… It’s a new way of being heard; online assault. And it’s a petty, oft-misdirected means of making your point, whether that point is valid or not. So as much as we should oppose discrimination, perhaps reviewing a book we haven’t even read isn’t the way to do it. If you think Hollywood and associated media are inserting too much liberal ideology into your favourite franchises, then stop watching and don’t ruin it for others (as some did by leaking the plot of The Last of Us 2). Acting this way doesn’t gain you kudos or respect and it doesn’t even have the desired effect most the time. Last of Us 2 still sold impressively, Captain Marvel grossed over a billion, and Troubled Blood recently topped the charts. Congratulations review-bombers. You saved marketing a bucket load of money!

A couple years ago, in a debate on political correctness, the author, comedian, actor, etc. Stephen Fry remarked that one of the great failings of our time is when people prefer to be “correct rather than effective”. This self-righteousness has increasingly frayed political and social-political discourse. If we can’t even offer each other a presumptive measure of respect, can we really go on saying, “if only we had politicians as good as our people?”

“You’re #cancelled Bro”-Cancel Culture

“You’re #cancelled Bro”-Cancel Culture

Part One- John Wayne Rediscovered

Recently, an old Playboy interview with John Wayne from nearly 50 years ago was rediscovered which revealed some horrendous beliefs he held about race relations, white supremacy being a good thing, and homosexuality. This sparked outrage with the usual suspects who a) don’t contextualize anything and b) know nothing about John Wayne. Now, let me preface this with the painfully obvious but excruciatingly important detail that I am, by no means, defending John Wayne or what he said. In fact, I’d even go so far as to posit that his opinions were particularly racist for a racist white guy in the early 1970s. They were vile, stupid, and yes, offensive but- they were not made by someone alive or of our generation or even the two before it.

john wayne

If you have ever watched a single one of Wayne’s movies, you simply wouldn’t figure him for some kind of liberal. You might even, to take a very minuscule leap, gather that he was of a very old, patriarchal, white-bred kind of background. That doesn’t make what he said okay but to be shocked or outraged by someone’s words, I would at least attest that you’d have to have thought of them in some other kind of context. Basically, it’s not that surprising to learn an old white star, who was by then in his 60s, held some bigoted beliefs. And it doesn’t make much sense (and this is the fundamental point) to make a career of sifting through an old star’s interviews from decades ago with a modern lens of morality. Years from now we will undoubtedly be judged for what we did, yes, but for the likes of Wayne, we should probably still be able to enjoy his output while acknowledging that he wasn’t exactly a symbol of tolerance.

 

Part Two- The Rise of Cancel Culture

The modern trend of social justice, in the forms of #metoo, political correctness, and cancel culture has risen and taken storm as a result of frustrations built upon years of a lack accountability on the part of powerful figures. The courts can be slow to deliver proper punishments, if any, in even the most high profile cases. Political systems have been infected with a slew of problems, so cumbersome that they’ve become almost insurmountable. And even shows like The Big Bang Theory continue to thrive despite the fact that they are clearly dreadful. In such times, the mantle of social media can appear attractive. It has given a voice to the voiceless. It has helped promote awareness of issues we never would have thought of. It even gets you quick customer service where all other avenues fail. It’s also dangerous however.

The problem with social media is not so much that it can present biased, clickbait visions or news pieces, without much resistance, but that it’s populated with the worst kind of people you could ever listen to. Any given day on Facebook, I can scroll through my newsfeed, and find a barrage of comments on an article that has obviously not been read in full or countered. Too many people don’t want to have their viewpoints challenged so they cling to familiar publications or channels (like liberals for the Huffington Post and conservatives for Breitbart) and ignore that which falls between, taking in sensationalist headlines which eventually build up a picture of someone or some idea without much shade or nuance.

I don’t want to get into bi-partisanship however. I’ve impressed the above point only to account for the lack of accountability people afford themselves when they interact with others on Twitter, Facebook, etc. They react instinctively and without good measure when allegations arise, which brings us back the way of cancel culture. Let’s take the not-so-comfortable example of notorious racist Liam Neeson. The thing about Neeson is he’s not our classic idea a notorious racist. Some say he’s just another human being who admitted to a detestable moment in his life, when he sought vengeance for a friend of his who had been raped, by roaming the streets and looking for a “black bastard to kill.”

2018 NYFF - "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" Premiere, New York, USA - 04 Oct 2018

Let’s unpack this slowly and carefully. First of all, it was racist and horrible and I don’t think anyone can expect any black person to take this account without offense or anxiety. After all, this is the kind of hate many have had to deal with their whole lives, resulting in unwarranted arrests of murders. Neeson’s story, however, was not happened upon by some journalist. He told it himself, as a way of admitting his own guilt, clearing his conscience perhaps, and illustrating the the deep-rootedness of bigotry in society. He felt shame, yes, but he also said he could’ve killed someone. So, do we #cancel him or at least, evaluate the details of his story first?- because it if both a typical and untypical example of prejudice influencing a person’s mindset.

Putting aside whatever conclusions you may come to, the problem for me with this story, was how it got reported and discussed by the majority of people in social and regular media. For one, many seemingly missed the point where Neeson asked for the details of his friend’s attacker (height, hair, etc.) as well as the details of the story as a whole, and focused immediately on the headlines. For another, people called him an “idiot” for simply bringing the story up which granted was stupid, given he was promoting a movie. If we can’t discuss difficult topics like this however with some grace, how can we begin to actually solve them?

 

Part Three- Art and Morality

Woven into the tapestry of this debate on cancel culture is the thread of modern morality and “wokeness”. Can we separate art from the artist or do we need to stop making excuses for facilitating the careers of harmful individuals like R. Kelly?

Undoubtedly, a few good things have arisen in this current climate of social justice. The #metoo movement, for instance, finally got a great many people to pay attention to the rampant culture of sexual harassment dominating work spaces. It impressed upon men, in particular, that if you behaved a certain way, you would be held to account (not that it’s been wholly effective or noticed everywhere). We’ve come to appreciate that racism is systematic beyond the plain and obvious insults and attacks of past generations. We tolerate less so that more are accepted. We’ve also come to confront an issue that never seemed like much of an issue too; toxic fandom.

In a sense it’s easy enough to cancel a celebrity like Neeson or Kevin Spacey by refusing to entertain any more of their work. With someone like R. Kelly, it’s tougher because he had a large fan base and produced many hits, for himself and an array of other artists. A radio station can withdraw “Ignition” from the airwaves but they can’t exactly strip it of its appeal. And what about Michael Jackson then? The controversial Leaving Neverland documentary, which aired in our parts last week, saw two fresh allegations presented over the course of four hours against the late King of Pop. Are people really going to forget or condemn songs like “Billie Jean”? Some radio stations have already begun to stop playing these, on the basis of this wound being “too fresh”. Many of his fans however, on the opposite end of this spectrum, are flat out denying the validity of these allegations. Their concerns aren’t without logic but as documentary favorite Louis Theroux has pointed out, they can act “willfully blind” in the name of their hero.

MJ

That’s where we come to the idea of toxic fandom as a tide fighting against #cancel culture. It’s a lot easier to stand by an artist like Michael Jackson who’s greatly influenced you than it is to accept the allegations leveled against him. It’s almost too much to bear for people who want everything about this icon to be pure and unquestionable. In this sense, perhaps the trend of social justice is doing us a necessary, if painful service, like ripping a bandage off. We need to learn to accept our favorite stars might not be as great in their personal lives as they are in their art which has been true throughout the course of history.

Balance will be the key to all of this and it will take some time but I don’t think it’s necessary to discard the works of these fallen giants. After all, MJ opened a lot of doors for black artists in the industry. That can’t be taken away from him, just as Cosby’s influence on comedy can’t be eradicated. The fans don’t need to feel guilty for enjoying these people’s work but they should accept that deification of such figures gives way to a toxic and irresponsible culture, where abuse of power rests comfortably and heartache inevitably follows. In extreme cases such as theirs, we cannot turn a blind eye to their conduct (alleged or proven) but we should also not shackle ourselves to the notion that every celebrity, politician, or Twitter provocateur deserves to be cancelled and erased from history. Nuance is key, redemption is possible, and forgiveness is not at all a weak act.