Sunday Tea: Cancel Culture in YA
Sunday Tea is a new bi-weekly series I have started up, where I ramble/discuss some tea filled topics. Please note, the tea I serve is to just open up a window of conversation and not to point blame or whatever, my blog is and will forever be a NO JUDGEMENT zone. You can take that negativity somewhere else. I reserve the right to delete any comments that goes against the above. Again–Sunday tea is to be sipped and talked about, not chugged and thrown.
Throughout the years, the internet has blessed the world with the ability to practice the right to express ourselves more so than ever before. No longer, do you have to be a Journalist to ensure that your voice is heard. In today’s era, we have the privilege of having multiple different mediums and platforms where the everyday person can broadcast their every thought, concern, and passions. However, this coupled with our society’s new-found (or re-found depending on your outlook) social awareness, has caused a consequence that some could say has been long overdue–being held accountable.
Cancel Culture is a social institution where, essentially, people who have said or done problematic things in the past or present are ultimately “cancelled”–no longer being supported. Everyday there are new examples of cancel culture at work, some justified and others not so much.
Now before I continue, I would like to preface that I am NOT talking about cancel culture in regards to sexual assault, but rather the limitations that cancel culture brings to the YA community.
Just like in every other area of society, the book community is no exception to warding off cancel culture–especially in the YA sphere. Recently readers have lifted the banners for more representation and diversity in the novels that are published, a demand that has been long overdue in my humble opinion. But as voices grew louder, others with opposite opinions came forth as well, and decidedly by the masses those who didn’t align with these sentiments were “cancelled”.
The cancel institution grew like wild-fire in the book community these past few years, where past interviews, statements, and social media posts are brought to light and books are scrutinized with a fine toothed comb. Readers became culture judges and most of the time Twitter was their courtroom of choice, where the gavel came down on many. But as the gavel struck, few noticed the limitation of the newly instituted culture–the lack of a second chance.
Cancel culture gets rid of the option to educate and encourage those in the wrong to seek out education and awareness.
A main con of cancel culture is a lack of the chance to grow from one’s poor choices. Typically in cancel culture fashion, those on trial are more times than not written off–all support, endorsements, etc. is taken away– no matter the apology given or statements made. These types of write-offs can be seen a lot in the Young Adult Book Community. An example of cancel culture can be seen with the production company FOX, where recently they made the decision to recast/reshoot the role of “Chris” in the film adaption of award-winning and groundbreaking YA novel “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas. This decision was made after firing the initial actor, Kian Lawley, from the role when footage surfaced of Kian expressing racists slurs. Lawley apologized, making a public statement saying:
First of all, I am deeply sorry to those that were effected by my choice of language. I understand that I am in the public eye & have many supporters, but none of my actions that took place should be supported. Words have power and can do a lot damage. I own mine and I am sorry.
— Kian Lawley (@KianLawley) February 6, 2018
I respect Fox’s decision to recast this role for The Hate U Give as it is an important story, and it would not be appropriate for me to be involved considering the actions of my past. I understand the impact and I have grown a lot and learned since then.
— Kian Lawley (@KianLawley) February 6, 2018
However, the book community was not so easily appeased. Rather than using the moment to encourage awareness and use this as a learning moment for Lawley, many in the community began ridding themselves of association with him, retracting any support they had once given Lawley.
You can see this same action with the 2017 controversy surrounding debut YA Fantasy novel, The Black Witch by Laurie Forest. With seven weeks left from its publication date, the novel was lauded with rave reviews–many calling it “an intoxicating tale of rebellion and star-crossed romance,” and “an uncompromising condemnation of prejudice and injustice.”
However, all the hype surrounding this debut was suddenly halted when a review was published by bookstore employee and YA blogger, S. Sinyard. In her 9,000 word review that consists mostly of pulled quotes, Sinyard claims the book to be “the most dangerous, offensive book I have ever read.” Dragging the novel to thine kingdom come, Sinyard describes the book and endless mass of bigotry.
It was ultimately written for white people. It was written for the type of white person who considers themselves to be not-racist and thinks that they deserve recognition and praise for treating POC like they are actually human.
Synard took to Twitter asking people to spread the word on the book by retweeting her review–which as we all know, is like a siren’s call to the YA book Twitter community. Led by multiple authors and thousands of readers, a campaign–based almost solely on Synard’s review– began to void the world of this work, and the author’s career. Publisher, Harlequin Teen, began to be overwhelmed with an onslaught of angry emails demanding the removal of the book from their publication line.
Readers in the thousands began giving the book a one star rating, though many of them later admit to having never read the book. Twitter threads reaching to the hundreds, dragged and damned the book, cancelling anyone and everyone who liked or gave a high rated review of the book.
One of these victims was Kirkus, who gave the novel a heavily starred review. An uproar for a retraction was so intense, Kirkus’s editor Vicky Smith, was forced to release a follow-up statement on why they would not be retracting their review:
“This simple fact that a book contains repugnant ideas is not in itself, in my opinion, a reason to condemn it…Literature has a long history as a place to confront our ugliness, and its role in provoking both thought and change in thought is a critical one.”
Cancel culture isn’t just for the new or young either. Former Powerhouse and beloved children’s author J.K. Rowling can attest to this statement as she has slowly made her name known as the “problematic fave” (A famous individual who one likes though they have clear problematic faults). However, unlike the others mentioned, Rowling hasn’t been crossed out entirely. Just like in life, when you love something so much it’s hard to fully let go and move on, even though the source has been infected. This is the case for Rowling–a woman who has been justifiably “cut off” but is still supported in some shape or fashion.
Since late 2007, there were a few major controversies that have popped up with Rowling in the center of the backlash. Many of which, fans of the Wizarding World creator pointed out have been long since standing that were overlooked in her Prime time.
Rowling has stopped being the iconic household figure, where her inspirational story and beloved characters touched millions, but rather she has become the author people now choose to stay away from.
The beginning of her downfall and entrance into the cancelled institution could be said to be with the theatre adaption of the Wizarding World, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The play was an eagerly anticipated show, where many fans lined up by the thousands to gain tickets to see and others to purchase the script. It was new material for those who grew up immersed in the land Rowling created. However, that love halted when the play became public. Rather than the intricate and well-developed storyline and setting that fans had grown to love, the play read like a really bad fan fiction that had heavy themes of queer baiting (a term used to describe a relationship between two persons of the same gender that is romantically coded, though not made explicit). Many fans saw the relationship between Harry and Draco’s sons as a romantic one, but were quickly shut down by the end of the story.
A form of queer baiting can also been seen with the character Albus Dumbledore. Back in 2007 during a visit to Carnegie Hall, Rowling answered a fan question that asked if Dombledore would ever find love, to which Rowling replied with: “Dumbledore is gay”. According to New York Daily News, Rowling went on to explain that the beloved character had indeed been in love with his then rival, Gellert Grindelwald. Fans were thrilled with the news, many now eagerly waiting to see this representation on the full screen. However, when the time came to see this relationship in action with the newest film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald; Director David Yates told fans that Dumbledore’s sexuality would not make it to the big screen–“not explicitly” that is.
“Not explicitly,” Yates replied when asked if the film makes it clear that Dumbledore is gay. “But I think all the fans are aware of that. He had a very intense relationship with Grindelwald when they were young men. They fell in love with each other’s ideas, and ideology and each other.”
This is one the many instances where Rowling added representation after the fact. Instead of admitting that her stories have lacked diversity and representation across the board, Rowling grew content with the choice to cram in rep after the fact–making the representation (if you can even call it representation) feel cheap. LGBTQ+ fans were outraged at the news, deeming the add-in as a way to add diversity when it was never really there to begin.
People grew outraged even more so with the release of Ilvermorny–the American wizarding school which was founded by an Irish witch. This new place and setting was intended to be an interesting and cool expansion to the wizarding world; however, it flipped. Ilvermorny School uses Native American folklore as the foundation of its naming system. Accusations of cultural appropriation and insensitivity to Native American Heritage came flooding in. Numbers of Native Americans strongly came against the author’s writings, specifically her writing about skinwalkers, which in Native American Navajo legend are said to be evil sorcerers who can shapeshift into the form of animals. One passage stating: “The legend of the Native American ‘skin walker’ — an evil witch or wizard that can transform into an animal at will — has its basis in fact. A legend grew up around the Native American Animagi that they had sacrificed close family members to gain their powers of transformation. In fact, the majority of Animagi assumed animal forms to escape persecution or to hunt for the tribe.”
Yo, @jk_rowling my ancestors didn't survive colonization so you could use our culture as a convenient prop.
— Brian Young (@hungrynavajo) March 8, 2016
One Cherokee writer, Adrienne Keene, took to her blog to vent about Rowlings actions saying, “Rowling is completely re-writing these traditions. Traditions that come from a particular context, place, understanding, and truth. These things are not ‘misunderstood wizards.’ Not by any stretch of the imagination.” Keene has since been very vocal on Twitter about Rowling’s insensitivity; and in a reply from Rowling to another person, Keene let her thoughts known.
.@Weasley_dad In my wizarding world, there were no skin-walkers. The legend was created by No-Majes to demonise wizards.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) March 8, 2016
You can't just claim and take a living tradition of a marginalized people. That's straight up colonialism/appropriation @jk_rowling.
— Dr. Adrienne Keene (@NativeApprops) March 8, 2016
J. K. Rowling gave us Harry Potter, and she deserves our thanks for that. But that isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. She isn’t excused from accusations of queerbaiting or cultural appropriation or racial insensitivity. She isn’t a mythical goddess none dare to criticize. As fans, it is our duty to be aware of what we are consuming, and what we are putting out into the world. — Colleen Etman
This isn’t the only issue that has caused Rowling to be cancelled in the eyes of the YA community. Rowling’s agreement and support of the casting of Johnny Depp for the role in the Fantastic Beast franchise after news was released of Depp being accused of domestic violence. Many fans threw up arms to boycott entirely, demanding a recast; however, as the communities voices grew, so did Rowling’s support of Depp.
jk rowling legacy is literally about a boy who has been emotionally and physically abused and the danger in looking the other way bc the truth is inconvenient. jk rowling saying she doesn't believe amber heard and is happy to keep a wife beater employed is disgusting. fuck her
— leonardo (@fumegar) December 7, 2017
With every controversy that Rowling brings upon herself, the YA community raises arms in solidarity and demand for change, but unlike others a pardon is passed in the court room and support–though little it could be–is still granted. Why is that? Why do we trample the new and banish them without a second thought, but when our favorites have been caught with the same theology and accusations, they receive a slap on the wrist and maybe even a citation?
This is what the cancel culture looks like in the YA book community. We strive and have nearly become obsessed with bringing social awareness into our literature that we have begun to not tolerate mistakes and growth to be apart of the process. However, the obsession and need fades when our heart is close to the subject being charged. Because of this, we have removed authenticity from our activism, and have made the court room a mirror image to our very own judicial system. Where the well-loved are pardoned and the unknown are terminated.
“I’m afraid. I’m afraid for my career. I’m afraid for offending people that I have no intention of offending. I just feel unsafe, to say much on Twitter. So I don’t.” – Anonymous NYT Best Selling Author
Life is full of grey areas where nothing is black and white–good or bad– and just like life our moral system is the same way: a completely evolving entity that with each generation it morphs into something completely different. So you may ask where is the line? Where is too much, too much? Or when does it become too late to forgive those who have been problematic?
I’m not sure. One of the beauties of life is that each individual is righted to their own opinion and each opinion differs from the next in regards to morality and who deserves forgiveness. In an article for School of Library Journal, Jason Low of Lee & Low comments saying:
Controversies should help us see our blind spots better, and inspire us to take the time to become experts in areas where we fall short.
There is a need to have conversations about heavy topics–conversations that are built on a foundation of learning without fear of an outcry of censorship and banishment. We grow from each other, from listening to different Peoples and groups, from taking the time to see the world through another pair of shoes and eyes. My passion for reading and storytelling stemmed from this, to give an individual a chance to see life through my eyes in hopes to make them a better person. However, with cancel culture in YA–don’t we take away that opportunity?
I’m on the fence to believe that in our pursuit to be #woke we have somehow created a new form of censorship. Cancel culture has bulldozed its way through the YA community and what was once a critic’s humble opinion is now a call to arms to ban the world of a story that for someone could change their life for the better.
Should authors do better–yes. We live in a colorful world and that should be represented. But if a book doesn’t have that representation, then I am not going to disengage from the author completely and force everyone else to turn their backs on that author as well. It doesn’t solve the root of the problem but rather lets the infection fester. How can we demand awareness if we don’t show the authors what we need them to be aware of?
And if we show those authors their injustices, it is then their job to act upon it, to do better next time. To not add the vibrancy that is our world in later as an afterthought to escape criticism. One of the beautiful things about literature–about art–is that we are huge proponent in how the world is shaped in the future. Why not make the world better by becoming better?
So what do you think? Do you think Cancel culture should give those who have done wrong in the past a chance to better themselves? Or do you think cutting off all ties is part of the consequence for their actions? Should the YA community show favoritism in who they do and don’t cancel? Or do you believe we have made social awareness a new form of censorship?