Have you had multiple people you love murdered by psychopaths with access to firearms. I have, and when I think of unjust “cancelling,” that’s the first thing that comes to mind. How many millions of people are grieving loved ones lost to COVID-19 right now? (in many cases preventable in an alternate reality of greater civic responsibility) How many people’s impact on the world has been “cancelled” before it could even flourish because of the ways they were held back by forces beyond their control, whether nefarious societal scourges (racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, etc.) or just the dumb luck of bad things happening at inopportune moments.
On a more benign level, I think about one of my foremost musical heroes, James Williams. Really, James has been cancelled. Not because he offended anybody (indeed he spent his life making people feel special and uplifted) but simply because the powers that be at record companies don’t currently deem his music a priority to keep in print. A couple of his records currently are (and even that is recent), while most are not. “Truth, Justice, and the Blues?” Cancelled. “Magical Trio 2,” the album that literally made me want to pursue jazz? Cancelled. I’m lucky if the young people I meet have ever heard of Thelonious Monk or Wes Montgomery, and there are certainly a rarefied few (beyond those with personal relationships) who are still hip to James or Ted Dunbar. Never mind people like Herbie Nichols whose recognition came well after their own departure. Maybe it’s depressing or maybe it’s just the passage of time, but it’s true nonetheless.
And someday I’ll be cancelled too. Hopefully not while I’m still here, and I’m working every day to be a person who won’t warrant that (though intentions alone don’t protect me from hurting others, another topic for another time). But I harbor no illusion that my life or my actions are so profound that people 100 years from now will be talking about me, and frankly I don’t even want that – there are already too many people and too many accomplishments for the people of 2121 to be amplifying and that doesn’t even include those who will be doing profound things between now and then. If my someday-grandkids tell my great-grandkids about me? That would be lovely, and I hope I can earn that. But I’m also reconciled with the notion of my mortality. Putting aside the politics of who gets “cancelled” (by the current inconsistently-deployed use of the term) and who does the cancelling, my cancelling-antidote is to try to support, validate, and amplify the work of beautiful people who are doing beautiful things – or who, with some of that support, could do beautiful things.
Through this lens, you’ll have to forgive me if I can’t get that worked up about Mr. Potato Head’s legacy or the indignity that a few of Dr. Seuss’s lesser-known books are now unavailable. To summarize, in his honor:
I understand about censorship
I do, and that’s not just a quip
It’s true that it’s a slippery slope
And do I like that? Do I? Nope
But then we have these culture wars
That each FOX anchorman abhors
They anticipate the next “cancel”
“Is Gretel going to denounce Hansel?”
But what a luxury to care
If Aunt Jemima still is there
When folks are starving, dodging bombs,
When COVID has cancelled their moms
Don’t like cancelling? Eat some pickles
While listening to Herbie Nichols
And give your love to all those who
Deserve your full attention too