Cancel Culture Club

Paul Fitzpatrick: March 2023

When used properly, the use of contemporary music in movies can be extremely impactful, the union of the right song with the requisite set of images can ensure that a key scene will live with you forever.

Think Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” at the start of Trainspotting or Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You” in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

That’s exactly how I felt when I saw the scene in Joker using Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll part 2”.
It was the perfect soundtrack for Arthur Flex’s rebirth as the Joker, a pivotal moment, driving home the epiphany that this Joker is a ‘bad-guy’ after all.

The use of “Rock & Roll part 2” exhilarated and shocked at the same time in a way that I’m not sure many other pieces of music could.

Rock & Roll Part 2

A big part of that shock-factor of course was the choice of artist, the infamous Gary Glitter, which I’m pretty sure figured in the film makers thinking.

You never hear Gary Glitter any more, not on the radio, not on re-runs of Top of the Pops and not even at sporting events where the use of the anthemic “Rock & Roll” was a constant until he was locked up.
Artistically he’s been erased and these days its his notoriety as a sex offender that keeps him in the headlines.

Due to this, I figured the director Todd Phillips would come under fire for using the Glitter track, and he did.

As perfect as the song choice was there were mixed feelings about its inclusion until we learned that Glitter would not profit, he’d signed away all his recording and publishing rights decades ago.

I was never in Gary’s gang so his lack of profile or airtime doesn’t bother me, but it does raise the question – why was he cancelled when others weren’t?

For example, for reasons I’ll assume most people are aware of, some radio stations and streaming services refuse to play music by Michael Jackson, R Kelly or Kanye West, whilst other channels and services refuse to show films or programmes featuring Woody Allen, Bill Cosby or Kevin Spacey.

Similarly, some retailers have not stocked JK Rowling books since she was branded a transphobic TERF by some.

Presumably the justification for this type of cancelling is to avoid offending or triggering people.

However, lots of radio stations and streaming services still play music by Jimmy Page, David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Steven Tyler and Iggy Pop, all of whom it’s well documented, have allegedly broken the law of the land when it comes to engaging with girls under the legal age of consent.

The King feeding his 14 year old Princess
Jimmy Page looking like one of the Osmond’s with a 14 year old Lorri Maddox

Likewise, it’s common knowledge that there were plenty of predators in Hollywood before Harvey Weinstein came along, yet channels still show films by studios that were run by moguls like *Harry Cohn who was renowned for seeking sexual favours in exchange for employment with all of his female stars.
(*in The Godfather the character of Jack Woltz the movie mogul who finds a horses head in his bed was based on Cohn).

This leads people to question why it’s okay for a radio station to play Zep’s “Stairway to Heaven” or Bowie’s “Changes” but not “Thriller” by Michael Jackson?
I’m not sure what logic, criteria or justification is applied in these cases, but it seems like a fair question.

The discussion that interests me more however is….
Is it possible to separate the art from the artist?

Are you able to enjoy a song or a stand-up routine or a movie featuring someone who’s material/performances you like even though you may not agree with some of their actions or at worst, you find them morally bankrupt?

If you’re a fan of R Kelly’s “I Believe I can Fly”, can you still enjoy listening to it knowing that he’s languishing in jail for sex trafficking and won’t be flying anywhere for 30 years?

If you can, you’re certainly not alone.

To support the theory that there’s no such thing as bad publicity – the day that the last episode of the documentary highlighting his many misdemeanours (Surviving R Kelly) aired, the streaming of R Kelly songs actually rose by 116%.

When it comes to what you want to watch or listen to I’m not sure anyone can judge, in the end it’s got to be a personal choice, we’re all capable of self-censorship.

When the American comic Louis C.K. was cancelled in 2017 for sexual misconduct it wasn’t his finest hour but rightly or wrongly it didn’t spoil his comedy for me, (although I could understand why it may have for others).

When the article about his behaviour was published in the NY Times he owned up and apologised immediately but got cancelled nonetheless.
Subsequently, all of his content was removed from certain platforms, he was dropped from TV & movie projects, tours were cancelled and a movie he’d just completed was never released.

Personally, I think the quote from the legendary Soprano, Jessye Norman, aligns pretty well with my thoughts on the matter….

“If I were not able to separate the art from the artists, I think I would limit myself a great deal, and life wouldn’t be nearly as interesting”

12 thoughts on “Cancel Culture Club”

  1. Agree with pretty much all you’ve said. I think a lot of the time it comes down to timing – Jackson and R Kelly have been in the news (and court) for their crimes much more recently than Bowie et al. There’s also some musical snobbery involved, I think, as its presumably easier for people to live without the music of Gary Glitter than without Led Zep or Elvis. I’m all for seperating art from artist, though I do understand concerns about the offender still getting royalties. (As an aside, with Rock n Roll Part II in Joker, was it not also a case of Americans being pretty unaware of who Gary Glitter is…? I think that only shocked British viewers.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Agree on the timing and to some extents the popularity of the artist.
      Up until 2012 Rock & Roll was played at pretty much every American sporting event until the NFL banned it so I do think there was an awareness of Glitter in the US. Also, the guy who curated the soundtrack for Joker admitted that Glitter’s notoriety played a part in its selection for that particular scene.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Ah I see, I didn’t realise that it had become less popular in the US! There’s also, I suppose, a difference between enjoying a ‘disgraced’ artist’s music yourself, and blasting it out to thousands at a sporting event…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yep, gotta agree – where do you draw the line? The answer basically seems to be (with music at least) if you’re a one hit wonder, or minor star and do something wrong , you’re gone. If you’re a superstar you’re gonna be played for life ad nauseum no matter what. I haven’t yet come across a ‘pop’ or ‘oldies’ station that refuses to play Michael Jackson or , for that matter anything with Phil Spector and his wall of sound – and he was a convicted murderer – but Glitter, yeah, his song is buried and heaven help anyone who tries to dig it up. Me, I prefer it when the music I love is made by people I respect but I am resigned to being OK with liking some music made by scummy types just like I’d be OK with my car’s oil being changed by a scummy type so long as they put in fresh oil and put the caps back on.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. There’s never been and likely never will be a consensus on art vs the artist. I also agree that popularity has a lot to do with it, as well as the passage of time in some cases. In the case of convicted child predators one would hope that we’d all be happy to have them and their art erased. I understand that art or in this case the reuse of song creates some shock or other perceived value. However, there must have been one or two other pieces of music one might add in this case that didn’t include GG. Great topic and very thought provoking.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. It’s a complicated topic and I’m not sure there’s a general answer. The truth is music artists may be extremely talented but they aren’t angels.

    One of my greatest music heroes of all time, John Lennon, was known for his jealously and slapping his first wife Cynthia Powell. He also wasn’t a great father to Julian. Both things were not cool!

    “Mr. Rock & Roll” Chuck Berry did time in the ’60s for having transported a 14-year-old girl across state lines to have sex and later on also faced other sexual abuse allegations.

    You mentioned Michael Jackson.

    There are countless other examples.

    The extent to which I can compartmentalize varies from case by case. The Beatles remain my favorite band of all time, and I also love many of John Lennon’s solo songs. His active support for peace helped redeem himself.

    I also still listen to Chuck Berry. He didn’t invent rock & roll, but rock & roll wouldn’t have been the same. He was a great lyricist and a cool guitarist.

    On the other hand, I have a bigger problem with Van Morrison who joined the loonies spreading crazy conspiracy theories about COVID. Eric Clapton happily joined him. Both arguably put lives at risk! Of course, this doesn’t change they were excellent artists. That said, I will no longer buy any new music they may release or proactively cover them on my blog.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Yea I don’t believe in cancelling people…I just don’t an d I do believe people are starting to rebel against it some now.
    Is it possible to separate the art from the artist? I do it all of the time. You know I’m a huge Beatles fan…I didn’t move to India, take LSD or marry Yoko because they did…The art is why I listen in the first place.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. My point is…let things work naturally. I still enjoy Woody Allen movies…I would not let him babysit a daughter or anyone else…but the man is a great director.
        If people don’t want to see their work…they won’t. Look at what happened to Johnny Depp…not that he was completely innocent but…it wasn’t all on him.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Thought-provoking post and comments. I think the question will be debated for eternity, and it’s one that pulls us in all directions. One of the aspects I feel sad for is the collaborative effort: say, a movie gets cancelled in some quarters because of the criminal actions of one of the actors, then it’s a hard pill to swallow for the rest of the cast, crew and direction who put their personal art into that movie, which now becomes tainted by the action of one.

    Likewise music. I was never a big fan, but felt bad for the rest of the band in Lostprophets when lead singer Ian Watkins was convicted of his horrendous crimes. Would I listen to that band now? No. I really don’t think I could.

    Would I watch a Woody Allen or Polanski movie, or something once produced by Weinstein? Yes, despite feeling conflicted.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yep, totally agree. There’s no right or wrong answer, it comes down to the individual and how strongly they feel.
      Also, it’s a great point about the collaborative effort, I was looking forward to seeing that Louis C.K. movie, it had a great ensemble cast, but it will probably never see the light of day now….,_Daddy#:~:text=I%20Love%20You%2C%20Daddy%20is,is%20the%20second%20film%20C.K.

      Liked by 1 person

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