Cancel culture and inclusiveness: how to avoid censorship without losing our sensitivity

Cancel culture and inclusiveness: how to avoid censorship without losing our sensitivity

Cancel culture and inclusiveness

Let's make a disclaimer right away: this is not a polemical piece. Although it may seem like an excessive preamble, it is a necessary premise, considering that we are about to delve into a very thorny and incredibly current topic in recent days: cancel culture. Current events have associated this term with two recent events, the censorship of Gongoro in the Scrooge McDuck saga and the sweetened reissue of Roal Dahl's books, but we have been accompanied for some time by this cultural revision, which has seen its apex in the decision to eliminate Gone with the Wind from the Disney Plus schedule, a film guilty of telling a story with racist connotations, given the presence of slavery. With little consideration of the fact that the story is set during the Civil War, which saw one of its main causes precisely on the abolition of slavery.

Although controversial, the principle of cancel culture is understandable, and falls within in the desire to show greater awareness of different sensitivities, which have historically been subject to attitudes which, although socially a reflection of an era, clash with a necessary social evolution. Attitudes once in common use and the result of a mentality born of their time are not always particularly happy historical memories, a sad memory that it would be all too easy to eradicate as a sign of greater sensitivity, but is this really the right path to follow?

Is cancel culture the only way to respect different sensitivities?

If on the one hand this shrewdness represents a commendable instinct, it cannot be denied that it often takes on tones of easy damnatio memoriae which appears more like an easy escape from potential controversy. An example of this is the aforementioned case of Don Rosa's Gongoro, where the choice of The Walt Disney Company to eliminate this character, seen as a potential offense to the sensitivity of the black population, shows that it is more the result of a preventive defense than of a reasoned possibility of making this character a key figure in a more concrete, educational discourse. Don Rosa's Gongoro is not the caricature of the operetta tribal African, but part of an allegory involving the richest duck in the world in an examination of the consequences of wicked colonialism, offering the attentive reader a culturally relevant and educational examination.

Rather than remove this character from The Scrooge McDuck Saga fearful of how his presence could turn into a scandal stone, a different approach could have been followed, re-proposing the beloved cult saga of Don Rosa in a new edition, accompanied by editorial content that contextualized the Gongoro and offered a reading key that proved to be educational, especially for the new generation. The decision to hide potential critical issues or to make draconian cuts to works of popular culture is not a way to show that you have reached a more mature social stage, but rather it risks being a saving oblivion for our past shortcomings.

A tendency towards self-absolution that risks turning out to be extremely harmful. While on the one hand the intention of showing greater caution for certain sensitivities can be translated into a protection of the latter in contemporary productions, an unholy historical revisionism risks undermining part of our cultural past. It is all too easy to save only what appears in line with modern times, not recognizing how the works and the authors who compose them are children of the time to which they belong, and should be interpreted as such, especially in the dissonances with our perception of the contemporary. In the case of The Scrooge McDuck Saga, it would have been preferable to take the opportunity of the discussion on the figure of Gongoro to propose an updated edition of Rosa's work accompanied by editorial contents that would frame from a historical point of view- the figure of Gongoro is cultural, highlighting Rosa's narrative intent and her criticism of the colonial perspective.

If on the one hand we have witnessed harmless and indeed well-contextualized changes of terminology, such as the disappearance in recent editions of classic works of the odious N-word, on the other hand it must be recognized that imposing drastic revisions proves to be a lost opportunity to transform a flaw of the past into a moment of growth for the present. Not forgetting how historical works that today might seem harmful to certain sensibilities have contributed to bringing to light critical issues of their contemporaneity, prompting the formation of a collective critical conscience. Merciless cuts, on the other hand, could fuel an out-of-control spiral that risks turning out to be an act of fanaticism fueled by cancel culture, leading us to see yet another victim of this reforming wing everywhere. How can we forget how in certain passages even King's narrative can be seen as prose to be sweetened by certain terms (certain parts of IT are dangerously at risk, think about it), yet in his unmistakable style the American novelist uses this contemptuous and annoying terminology just as a tool of connotation of their characters. By depriving them of this odious characteristic, would they still have the same intensity? And let's not look into the Lovecraftian corpus of literature, the symbol of a never fully eviscerated discussion on the need (or not) to separate authorial figure and author's personality.

The best-known case of the last few hours, however, is the heavy revision of the work of Roal Dahl, considered one of the most influential authors of children's literature. His style has always been considered quite caustic, with a tendency to connote villains as epidermally repellent, characterized by expressly unpleasant physical peculiarities. It must be recognized that the criticism of this typical trait of Dahl's production is certainly not new, considering that already in the past some of his texts, such as the description that was given of the sorceresses in the novel of the same name, had not even been unjustly accused of misogyny:

Witches are all women.

I don't want to speak ill of women. They are usually adorable. But all witches are women: that's a fact.

We could now highlight how Dahl was an author who grew up in a still strongly male-dominated society, but this trait of his is still part of his narrative, it characterizes his work and going to modify it would be like depriving his expression of a component which, however unpleasant to current sensibilities, is an integral part of it. The idea of ​​the British publisher and the Roald Dahl Story Company to provide a new publication of the novelist's literary corpus in which unfortunate passages are modified from a contemporary point of view may represent an act of respect for current readers, but it is some cases of rather specious corrections:

Deleting the mention of Kypling and Conrad due to their colonialist conception, replacing them with two authors who are profoundly different in terms of themes and style, does not take away a characteristic from the character presented to us Again, instead of giving in to cancel culture, wasn't it better to include an editorial component in which the nature of Dahl's production is explained, showing both his commendable fantastic intuitions and the limits of a man who is the son of another time? A definition of the work that can go so far as to show how society has made progress towards greater inclusiveness and awareness of the various components of civil life.

Sharing and discussing: an alternative road to oblivion

The introduction of new professional figures such as sensitivity readers, a term that can be translated as "sensitivity readers", is welcome. With a view to going beyond certain limits of previous mentality and also playing an educational role within mass culture, sensitive readers can and do highlight elements that may offend particular sensitivities in future publications. In addition to the publishing field, this consultancy should also be extended to other sectors (from cinema to the videogame context), sharing a wide range of personal perceptions and experiences that can prove essential in continuing a process of collective awareness. Also by entrusting these professionals with care in the recovery of dated and tainted works from a lack of tact in a contemporary perspective, allowing them to highlight in depth why certain terms or idioms are no longer acceptable today.

As we said in openness, the boundary between cancel culture and respect for the sensitivity of others is a complex subject and often the victim of an almost ideological struggle. It is difficult to establish a fixed point that separates salvific oblivion from the claim of a sacrosanct right to have one's sensitivity respected, but what could be the solution to this controversy? Dialogue, always and in any case. While it is true that older works are asked to be accepted as daughters of different times, on the other hand it is also legitimate to accept the voices of those who are still hurt today by certain terms or descriptions. Ideal is a reasoned comparison, a shared and conscious reading on both sides, arriving at the creation of new works that are finally daughters of better times but also accept the mistakes of the past. Without hiding them, without hypocrisy, but taking them as stages of a journey that is still far from finished but which is helping us to create more aware consciences.

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