Written by a F.A.B.U Contributor
Back in early 2001, a group in a town in New Mexico started a bonfire. This bonfire wasn’t to roast marshmallows, it was to burn Harry Potter books. The boy wizard was accused of promoting satanism.
In 2005, a case in Georgia was taken to the supreme court to ban Harry Potter books from schools for this exact same reason.
Numerous fans laughed it off, calling these book burnings ridiculous. Do they really think that a book about a boy going to school to learn magic will really make kids worship satan and practice witchcraft?
It’s preposterous, yes.
But in 2021, people are now asking themselves “does Grease promote sexism?”
Now, in the age of cancel culture, we’re seeing more and more timely classics being censored or removed over problematic content.
Celebrities are being canceled, historical figures are being canceled, food mascots are being canceled. The list can go on and on.
But for today's portion of the blog, we’re talking about books, tv, and film.
Censorship is nothing new, especially when it comes to adults making decisions as to what may or may not be appropriate for young people.
In English class, you might have even been assigned to pick a book off of a “banned book list”, or at least a book that has been challenged due to its content. Some of these books include Catcher and the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, Animal Farm and many others that were challenged due to their adult themes and deemed too extreme for high school students.
To quote Oscar Wilde:
"There is no such thing as a moral or an
immoral book. Books are well written,
or badly written. That is all."
To move away from those old books, some recent “cancellations” from companies trying to get “ahead” of cancel culture include six Dr. Seuss books (note, none of the popular ones), Mr. Potato Head becoming gender neutral, and Pepe le Pew getting removed from the second Space Jam movie.
Are these books/toys/movies worth getting removed by their companies because they deserve it, or is it simply out of fear of being called out? Did anybody even give a second thought to an animated skunk or a plastic potato that you stick plastic noses and lips to? Is this what people really want?
Today, because of the ongoing discussions of race, sexuality and gender, many people are watching old pieces of media and reading books with a new perspective.
Some more of the recently accused include the 1974 musical, Grease, for lacking diversity and being called out for the way the female characters are treated.
Grease is a product of the time. Is there a lack of diversity and are there scenes that exhibit sexist behaviour? Sure.
But we cannot look at older pieces of media with today’s values.
We need to remember that people’s attitudes and social views have changed significantly, even within the past five years.
Due to social media, people are more vocal about having better representation in film, and Hollywood is striving to do better, especially with all the ways we consume media.
Media is powerful, and more representation is always welcomed, but going after old pieces of mainstream media is not going to solve any problems.
They were a product of their time and should be used as a tool to learn. It’s like history. We learn about history - the good parts and the bad parts - to learn about what happened so it doesn’t happen again.
When it comes to old pieces of mainstream media with problematic content that doesn’t align with today’s views, here are some things to consider:
1.What year does this take place or when was this filmed? What were the values of the time?
For a movie like Grease, for example, takes place in the 1950’s. Unfortunately, during that time, they were not having the same conversations about gender roles or diversity as we do now.
2. What were the intentions of this film/book/show?
When it comes down to it, Grease is a harmless musical. The producers did not have malicious intent or ulterior motives when making it.
But if the intent was meant to harm, damage, or promote hate towards certain groups, then, yes, the reason for cancellation is valid.
3. Artistic Merit - A movie or book can be problematic, but still have artistic merit (remember the Oscar Wilde quote above?) For example, Gone With The Wind contains problematic representations of how black people are portrayed at a southern plantation. This is 100 percent true, but the film does feature artistic merit that do classify it as a cinematic achievement, such as costumes, cinematography, acting and having the most iconic lines in film history: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
There needs to be some autonomy. Instead of calling for the removal or cancellation of books and mainstream media, people should educate themselves, especially by focusing on the younger demographic who might not understand how the social views/behaviour of the time affected how certain people were treated and represented over fifty years ago. If a movie is in black and white, you’re guaranteed to find something problematic.
People are more aware now then they were before.
Some things should be given a pass as long as it doesn’t create harmful, dangerous, or aim to do damage to a certain community.
These movies, shows and books should remain available, but feature some type of warning beforehand, like what Disney is doing with Dumbo and Lady and the Tramp, which portray certain racial groups in a stereotypical way.
Let things be how they are, learn from it, and strive for a better content.
What is your opinion on cancel culture? Leave a comment below.