Can you appreciate the art, but not the artist? Cancel culture has permeated almost every part of modern society, especially in an era where social media can quickly determine the fate of individuals and their work.
In the world of literature, “canceling” books by authors with controversial backgrounds has become a contentious issue, even here at Haverford. Some advocates for this cancellation argue that learning, reading, and supporting the works of these controversial people perpetuates discrimination and inequality. They believe that accountability is essential in promoting a virtuous society and that canceling someone’s work helps them reflect on their actions and seek personal growth.
On the flip side, others assert that the value of these works of literature outweighs the issues, and that canceling culture stifles creativity and leads to a more homogenized society lacking artistic diversity.
An example of this dichotomy is present when talking about Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The dystopian novel tackles complex challenges such as censorship and the suppression of knowledge. It aims to teach people what society would look like if there was no free thought. The book is banned in most schools because of Bradbury’s problematic views on the civil rights movement. In the 1960s, Bradbury was criticized for downplaying the issues and the extent of racial inequality. Despite this fact, it is essential to recognize the importance of the book, as it remains one of the most powerful critiques of totalitarianism. That fact should not be overlooked just because of the author’s poor personal choices.
When I browsed the summer reading catalog before Fourth Form and found that Maus was the required reading for Modern World History, I thought I would be reading a simple graphic novel. I did not expect the complex, moving story that Maus actually is. Crafted by Art Spiegelman, Maus is a comic-style book that tells the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of Spiegelman’s father, Vladek. Due to its subject matter and format, the story often finds itself at the center of different controversies and discussions. In the novel, anthropomorphic mice and cats represent the Jews and Nazis of WWII. Some argue that this fact trivializes the Holocaust, while others believe that it provides a unique perspective on the event. Along with this, the visual aspect of Maus is highly disputed: is it ethically correct to juxtapose the Holocaust onto a medium that has been known for superheroes and crime-fighting adventures?
Many people believe that Maus is unethical because such a horrific event is the basis of a creative work. However, I believe the book is a good way for students to think critically about how we remember the Holocaust.
Even if authors of certain books share disputed opinions on sensitive topics, it is imperative that we do not discount their work. Instead, we need to learn from it. If Haverford really does “prepare boys for life,” our curriculum needs to include books that will prepare us for the broad spectrum of opinions that arise in the real world.