PopWitch: Should Cancel Culture Throw Out the Good With the Bad?
When some of our favorite pop culture comes from people who are, really, just terrible, it feels as if the whole contribution, the whole universe of them is somehow tainted and shaming. But must we throw out the good with the bad? Is there space to denounce the unacceptable behavior of a creator, and still recognize the contribution of their work?
I remember her like it was yesterday, a repressed girl of 14, sunk deep in conservative America, begging the neighbor down the street to tape the latest episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. At least her dad let her watch shows with witchcraft and demons.
Ah yes, I was the closet goth kid whom everyone knew as strange and eccentric, drama-bound, sporting my one pair of JNKO jeans on casual Fridays at the Christian Academy I attended. There were other, more daring goth/anime/weird kids than I at that school, but that’s a story for another time.
And Then Came Harry
By the time I was 16, my parents finally let up on what they allowed me to read. After all, attending Christian rock concerts, reading my Bible, and starting prayer chains didn’t change me. I think they figured I’d still be the same after reading fantasy teen fiction like Vivian Vande Velde’s Companion’s of the Night or Dragon’s Bait, any of the Harry Potter books, The Druid of Shannara by Terry Brooks, or The Belgariad Series by David and Leigh Eddings.
I am truly amazed that I stayed a Christian for as long as I did. I was like a sponge, soaking up all the magic and imagination of the worlds in my books—especially with Harry, blending realism and fantasy. I kept reading Harry through high school and into college, finishing the last book with my infant daughter in my lap (Ravenclaw for life).
I’ve seen the impact these books and wayward tv shows have had on our society. Characters like Harry and Buffy changed people’s opinions about magic, the unknown, and even teenage angst.
The jargon from the books and TV shows worked its way into our language—from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, “What would Buffy do?” (and my personal favorite) “Did we not put the grr in girl?” to, “I solemnly swear I am up to no good,” “Yer a Wizard, Harry!” or “Mischief managed,” from the Harry Potter series of books. And still today, anyone coming into my bookshop not looking for occult things is referred to as a Muggle.
More so, we relate to theses characters’ dilemmas, and learn from them. I was destroyed when I separated from my first husband. Then, I stumbled upon Buffy again and started to rewatch with fresh eyes. I realized that I could be like Buffy. I could survive, not just for myself but for my children, as well.
My friend Mike messaged me about watching an episode of Buffy that deals with the death of the main character’s mother. After steeling himself for so long, to go through the necessary motions after the death of a loved one (the arrangements, the paperwork, and just holding it together in your day to day life), watching that episode helped him process his grief over his own mother’s death.
“I drove home and sat for several hours. Wondering if I should cook dinner. Thinking about feeding the dog. Doubting I’d be able to take a shower. I decided to turn on the TV. That was easy. Buffy was on. That’s a safe place for me to spend an hour. Turns out it’s the episode that Buffy’s mom, Joyce, suddenly dies from a tumor she’d been dealing with for the course of at least a season. Watching Buffy come home and call out to her mom, her voice getting quieter and younger and more desperate as she found her mother, it dawned on me that what I hadn’t done was [really] cry. I joined Buffy on the floor as she lay next to her mother. I lay there crying and hurting. My stomach crawling up into my throat and cutting off most of my air. So damned angry but even more tired. We just lay there and wept together.” — Mike
The Fans Speak
It’s come to light that both J.K.Rowling and Joss Whedon have said and done some awful things in regard to transgender people (Rowling) and women (Whedon). It’s been hard for fans to look back at their work and now see some damning evidence.
In light of the controversy, my friend went on to say, “This far down the road, I am still grateful to Joss and his players for giving me MY time to mourn. The older I get the more times I’ve learned that often we need to separate the art from the artist and appreciate the way their art makes us feel. I’ve had to learn the difference between evil and human. Evil is uncorrectable and unforgivable. I hope that Joss accepts the weight of his actions and either works to fix himself or gets help. If he turns out to be evil, then thanks for the art and the memories.” — Mike
Others’ have expressed similar sentinments.
“I kept the Harry Potter stuff I had. I refuse to give that woman money but I won’t completely disregard the awesome creative work she did either. I can still enjoy Harry Potter and support indie artists and Etsy artists who create HP things without giving her any money. That’s where I draw my line personally. Also I’m fine pirating the work of these people too. I figure they’ve brought it upon themselves. If they change and show they are making amends and being better and giving back where they harmed in the past I’ll change my opinion.” — Rebekah, Germany
“I watched Buffy when it was on air and I have watched a lot of Whedon’s work. I loved Buffy, it was exciting to see a girl in charge and taking care of herself without someone saving her all the time. […] I haven’t actively sought out Whedon’s work in a long time (this is not new news, it’s been discussed periodically over the years). As far as rewatching anything, only the stuff I own will I watch. I won’t buy or see anything he is a part of that is new.” — Angela, Maryland
“Yes I watched Buffy when it was airing and several times after. That show was one of the only healthy coping mechanisms I had growing up in a household where I was being physically and emotionally abused…it was very influential for me.
Yes I will still watch it because one person does not compromise the integrity of the show for me. It is just as much Sarah Michelle Gellar’s show. And Charisma Carpenter. And David Boreanez and James Marsters. And Marti Noxon and Jane Espenson etc etc…
A lot of people put a lot of labour and love into creating that show, not just Joss.” — Dani, Ohio
“I fall into both categories. I watched Buffy, and read HP. I will continue to watch/read and enjoy them, because despite the fact that knowledge has come to light that the creators were monsters in their own right—it doesn’t change the way these things made me feel. I can look up to Buffy Summers as a heroine for all girls to aspire to and still think Joss is trash for being an asshole. I can think Harry Potter is a loyal and kind soul despite JK being a trans-phobe narcissist. If anything, the knowledge of their wrongdoing will make me embrace the affected communities more, reaching out to them and letting them know that while these two are assholes, there are people out there who support them.
TL;DR: Joss/JK are trash, Buffy/Harry are golden.” — Kori, Ohio
“Joss might have created Buffy, but there were hundreds if not thousands of people who worked on that show, many of them good people. Many of your favorite episodes were not written or directed by Whedon. In the case of a TV show it’s not just one person who is responsible for everything.
Rowling on the other hand. . . .” -Jason Mankey, Author
“So Buffy is my comfort food. I have watched the series an uncountable number of times through PTSD and depression. This recent revelation about Joss, though not completely surprising, makes it difficult for me to find the comfort I once found.
In theory I can separate the art from the artist and I fully believe that Buffy was a collaborative venture. I adore most of the actors and actresses and the writing. But I feel like my comfy blanket was defiled.
I feel like I will eventually be able to circle back around to the series and have that separation that I can intellectually understand is there. But for now, I’m in search of a comfy blanket. It has actually made it more difficult for me to fall asleep because I would often pick an episode to go to sleep to.
Maybe it will even help me find better coping mechanisms to be without the familiar faces, conversations and plot.” —Nikki Rozsko, Editor
Keeping The Good
Should we boycott the Harry Potter Universe at Disneyworld? Are we going to stop watching The Avengers, or Buffy, or Firefly, because the creator is a Narcissist? Or, have we put these creators on a pedestal too high to climb? When confronted with the awful things they’ve said or done, we’re suddenly reminded that they are human, and prone to being stupid.
Maybe the disappointment is why it hurts so much. But does our discomfort mean we have to throw out the good with the bad? The Fandoms and fan fiction that has been created, the imaginations that have taken off, the careers launched and still thriving cannot be ignored.
This thing we call Cancel Culture, it’s been trending for a very long time now, since civilization started, really. We hold an idea that the voice of the people can overcome the evil inherent, and the culture can straighten itself out and begin again with a new self-regulation. So far, to a point, it’s worked. The French Revolution, the American War of Independence, the Russian Revolt of 1918—these are excellent examples of people being tired of the those in power and taking them down. That’s how it works; We the People knocking the top to their knees, and built something new (to be honest, I’m still here for canceling the Monarchy in England).
But, sometimes we take it too far; hello Satanic Panic of the 80s, I see you. Growing up in a conservative culture, as I did, I was used to not getting involved with things because they were deemed evil.
Are we going to cast out all of the epic space cowboying of Mal and the gang from Firefly? There have been several excellent stories in the fandom worthy of reading (fan fiction.net, I’m sayin’). Are we going to quit movies and shows that touch our souls? The Three Witches of Eastwick was written by John Updike, it’s amazing and I loved the movie, but when asked about writing women Updike replied, “I think of a man, then I take away reason and accountability.” Ernest Hemingway was the same.
Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote The Mists of Avalon, considered a masterpiece of feminist fiction, blending 20th century feminist thought with the Age of King Arthur. The book brought to the foreground an amazing genre of feminist prose in Sci-Fi and Fantasy. It broke the glass ceiling, ushering in a new generation of female writers that continue to expand and push the boundaries of the imagination (we would not have Jaime Fraser without it). Yet Bradley is accused of being complicit in her husband’s sexual deviance with her own daughter and other underage girls.
Fans, nerds, geeks, cosplayers, role players, us! We’ve built beautiful worlds off of the shoulders of these giants, let’s keep the worlds, and put the giants to bed, like the children they are, until they realize their mistake.
Is that too much to hope for in 2021?