Cancelled! by
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Cancel culture is the new form of pillorying. But instead of showing up in the town square, we in essence cancel our relationship with the alleged perpetrator — for our purposes here, the artist — ostracizing them as a way of extracting penance. Careers have been ruined by a tell-all documentary, fairly or not…because doesn’t it depend on who’s doing the telling, what their motivation is? Will I ever watch a Woody Allen movie again? Rock out to Michael Jackson? Maybe. Probably. Most likely. Okay, yes.

But sometimes it’s personal.

My close friend was married to a musician, a household name, though I choose not to name him. He left my friend — his wife of 40 years, the mother of his three children and grandmother of five — for a woman half his age. What a cliché. But because of what he did to my friend, now I can’t listen to his music without my feelings affecting my appreciation of it. Without choice, sometimes I happen to hear it — while grocery shopping, for example — and while I acknowledge his artistry and maybe even hum along for a moment, my knowledge of what kind of person he is makes it impossible to enjoy, and I stop humming,

Maybe you CAN separate the art from the artist. But you can sure as hell choose not to.


Profile photo of Barbara Buckles Barbara Buckles
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.

I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.

As a memoirist, I focus on the undercurrents. Drawing from memory, diaries, notes, letters and photographs, I never ever lie, but I do claim creative license when fleshing out actual events in order to enhance the literary quality, i.e., what I might have been wearing, what might have been on the table, what season it might have been. By virtue of its genre, memoir also adds a patina of introspection and insight that most probably did not exist in real time.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Yes, Barb, personal feelings and choice certainly enter into the equation. The choice is not simple, as you point out. And no one knows the entire story. We can use our economic power (not buy a movie ticket or record) to express displeasure with how a person conducts their private lives (or we THINK they do), however you have skin in the game in your example and that is a whole different ballgame.

    Thank you for this nuanced reflection.

    • Thanks, Betsy…I like that you mentioned it being hard to choose when no one knows the entire story, because that’s the crux of the matter for me. And I love that expression, “having skin in the game”!

  2. Completely understandable Bebe, when things get personal it’s hard to be impartial, nor should we be.

    Brava to the team for this thoughtful prompt!

  3. Your last line says it all, Barbara. “My” Barbara, a retired professor of social work, and I have had discussions about “feelings” and “actions”. Her mom, also a therapist, used to tell her, when she (her mom) acted according to her feelings, “well, I can’t help it, that’s how I feel”. Barbara used to try to squelch her feelings when they tended to suggest actions she’d rather not take. My point is, let the feelings run free. Our executive function determines whether and what we do about them. Re “cancel” – I reject the term. But, from an “abstention” perspective one is perfectly free to follow one’s feelings. Or, in some instances, override them. That will be 5¢ please.

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    You raised some important points, Barb. Cancel culture is a very personal thing and often unfair (Al Franken for example, although he wasn’t cancelled as a comedian but as a politician — minor distinction?). I can’t get past what Michael and Woody did, but I defend your and anyone else’s choice to forgive them or not believe their accusers.

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    This reminded me of a friend whose ex owned a local hardware store chain–I still hate to patronize it out of loyalty to her. It took many years to allow myself to drink Gallo wine, and I still avoid Coors beer because of their policies (Okay, there are other reasons one might avoid those beverages too). So our choices on many things, not just art, are governed by what we know of those who create them. And that may be okay.

  6. Jeff Gerken says:

    You got right to the point. There are people about whom I can be persuaded to change my opinion, and there are others for whom my dislike will accompany me to my grave.

  7. John Shutkin says:

    I really appreciate this story — different from most of ours in that you actually know the artist and not simply know of his bad deeds. As you note, in this case it’s personal. Indeed, as you describe this, it sounds not so much as a choice on your part, as a visceral reaction to him. Which I fully get.

    Thank you for sharing!

  8. Suzy says:

    Wow, Barb, I know who you are talking about, and I totally understand your decision to avoid his music. When you know someone, and know they did something wrong, that makes a huge difference. In contrast, I love your take on whether you would watch Woody or listen to Michael: “Maybe. Probably. Most likely. Okay, yes.” That was just perfect!

    • Thanks, Suzy…I’m glad you understand. Yet there are still gray areas, I guess…all the reasons people divorce, for example. But there are ways of doing it. You’re honest, or you try to work it out. You don’t just shove their face in it. Not when they haven’t done anything to deserve it.

      Anyway, glad you enjoyed my stream of consciousness re Woody and Michael!

  9. Marian says:

    Everyone else has said most of what I’ve been thinking, Barb, but you’ve pointed out how critical first-hand proof is to what you decide to do.

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