Nick Cave has provoked a huge storm in the most recent of his often excellent Red Right Hand series where he answers fan questions. When asked about cancel culture he replied with a long and thoughtful answer that has prompted a huge debate.
The key lines from his answer are…
“As far as I can see, cancel culture is mercy’s antithesis. Political correctness has grown to become the unhappiest religion in the world. Its once honourable attempt to reimagine our society in a more equitable way now embodies all the worst aspects that religion has to offer…”
The whole debate runs along many generational and cultural fault lines and asks where the boundaries of art lie. Can you separate the art from the artist? Should there be boundaries that cannot be crossed? Who decides these boundaries? A committee? Who makes up the committee? Nick Cave has written many brilliant songs with very dark themes over the years – should he have reined in the imagery and subject matter a bit? Should art work within narrower parameters so as not to offend anyone with any views, whether left or right? Should artists think carefully about their art to make sure it doesn’t offend anyone? Can you embrace darker and more awkward art? Can you embrace art made by people whose opinions you don’t agree with? What if someone made music that ticked all the right boxes but you didn’t like it?
Is Nick Cave right to decry cancel culture or is it a necessary set of brakes on what can be considered the right or wrong thing to say? Culture has always grated against people’s ideas of right and wrong. Punk was offensive to some people, and yet punk saw the start of cancel culture with its black and white sense of right and wrong. Mary Whitehouse was famous in the Seventies for taking a stand against filth. Are we in different times with people having much stricter moral codes than Nick Cave’s generation?
If there is one thing that is true in culture, someone is always going to be offended by something!