The culture of cancellation: The British deconstruct even Shakespeare

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“In his book entitled “1984” o George Orwell predicted that by 2050 the entire literature of the past will have been destroyed: Chaucer, the Shakespeare, Milton, Byron will only be available in versions Neolingual, transformed not just into something different, but transformed into something opposite from what it was before (…) In fact, there will be no thought at all, as we perceive it now. “Orthodoxy means not thinking – not having to think.”

With this gloomy forecast of the British writer begins the extensive article in the British Times which focuses on the “culture of annulment” [cancel culture], that is, the late censorship of artistic and cultural works of the past under the “pressure” of movements such as #metoo or #blacklivesmatter.

So it seems that it is his turn “Avon Bard” to go through the censors of 2021 and to “cancel” literary masterpieces that, let us not forget, were written almost 500 years before today, in other times and with different minds.

So William Shakespeare is now officially one of them “Dead white men”, the “dead white men” that many accuse of racism and sexism in his works. There are many in Britain who strongly argue that Shakespeare is now completely unfit [και σίγουρα, 100% λογοτεχνικά παρωχημένος] in order for his works to be taught in school curricula.

And it is not just these demands that are heard here and there: already, the famous Globe Theater in London organizes various training seminars for teachers and teachers of misogyny, sexism, and racism in Shakespeare.

According to the article, “the aim of these scenarios is not to condemn Shakespeare, but to give teachers the knowledge that will allow them to approach his works in a different, more modern way, some of which are… problematic according to with the supporters of cancel culture. For example, in “Storm” the issue is the enslavement of the barbaric, black “Caliban”, while in “Day of Strigla” the misogyny towards the central heroine is accused.

It makes sense, however, that apart from Shakespeare, it is no longer just the dead who are threatened, but the living who (not that they did anything reprehensible or criminally infernal, but simply) are involved in Bard’s work. Recently resigned from academic duties at the Chair of Composition named after Leonard Bernstein at the famous University of Michigan Distinguished Chinese-American composer, pianist and conductor Bright Sheng.

What kind of offense did he commit? That he tried to introduce his students to “Othello” by Giuseppe Verdi through the Shakespearean / cinematic “Othello” directed in 1965 by Stuart Bertz, starring Lawrence Olivier. The problem is that the leading British actor had played “Othello” wearing a curly wig and having painted his face black and his lips red, so that they look more fleshy. Some reacted angrily, the professor apologized through an extensive letter, but the university authorities chose to remove him from his position.

Of course, this is specifically the case “Blackface”, an old theatrical practice, in which white actors painted their faces black in order to play black characters.

The #DisruptTexts movement

And not only that: a new educational movement in the US is banning the teaching of classic writers, such as Homer and Shakespeare, denouncing the texts for sexism and racism.

This is the movement #DisruptTexts [Ανακατέψτε τα Κείμενα], which aims to prevent students from accessing works of classical literature, such as King Lear or the Odyssey, because, according to its proponents, they have nothing to offer in the pedagogical process as they were written many years ago describing incidents of violence, racism and misogyny, which send the wrong behavioral messages to students.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal makes extensive reference to the ban on Homer teaching in a Massachusetts school. According to this post, the school teachers say they are proud to have “cut off” Homer from the curriculum:

“We are very proud to say that the Odyssey has been removed from the curriculum this year!” says a professor, who estimates that “in Homer there are racist and sexist reports that confuse the child’s mind”.

There were, of course, many Opposite reactions, such as that of author John Del Aroze:

“It is a tragedy that this anti-intellectual movement aimed at banning the classics is gaining ground among educators and the publishing industry,” he told the American newspaper, concluding meaningfully:

“If there is something wrong with classical literature, it stems solely from its non-teaching. Compared to their better educated peers, however, [όσοι μαθητές δεν διδαχτούν τα κλασικά κείμενα], will suffer from linguistic poverty and incomplete cultural references “.

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