I should say up front that I’m okay with canceling those who engage in actual fascist theatrics:
Watching this video of saluting youths in a shopping mall in Kazan wearing the Z Russian army logo side and then looking at the photographs coming out of Mariupol and it’s hard not to feel sick. pic.twitter.com/7N6QGdiJlc
— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) March 9, 2022
Oh, and the entire Russian economy. That should also be canceled until Russia withdraws.
Threatening Russian performers and making a bonfire of Russia’s culture is where I get off, though.
In light of the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra, with the agreement of @stdavidshall , feel the previously advertised programme including the 1812 Overture to be inappropriate at this time.
— Cardiff Philharmonic (@CdfPhil) March 2, 2022
It’s stupid to balk at playing the 1812 Overture — a tribute to heroic resistance against an army of conquest — in the name of showing solidarity with Ukraine. But it’s worse than stupid to decline to play it for fear that the philharmonic might be accused of sympathies with Russian warmongering. It’s cowardly.
That’s an underappreciated facet of “cancel culture.” For all the overweening moral outrage exhibited by organizations scrambling to cancel someone, as often as not those organizations are scrambling because they fear being canceled themselves if they fail to act with sufficient alacrity. The Cardiff Philharmonic wasn’t bothered by playing the 1812 Overture, I suspect, they were bothered by the prospect of being perceived as not being bothered by playing the 1812 Overture. They didn’t want anyone in the media or the local community on the lookout for “insensitivity” to make trouble for them so they cashiered the piece and chose to play something else.
At least they weren’t canceling Tchaikovsky altogether, just one of his compositions. Far more obnoxious is what the Montreal Symphony Orchestra did to a Russian piano prodigy named Alexander Malofeev — who’s spoken out against Russia’s war, please note.
“The OSM feels that it would be inappropriate to receive Mr. Malofeev this week,” wrote a spokesperson for the orchestra, Pascale Ouimet, in a statement…
Some Ukrainian Montrealers had emailed the OSM to ask it to cancel Malofeev’s performances, saying it wasn’t about his stance on the war but about promoting a Russian product, in this case a “cultural product.”…
The orchestra at first declined, saying Malofeev had spoken openly against the invasion. But it ultimately decided it was the right call “considering the serious impact on the civilian population of Ukraine caused by the Russian invasion,” Ouimet wrote…
In two Facebook posts, Malofeev has decried the war, first writing on March 2 that “the truth is that every Russian will feel guilty for decades because of the terrible and bloody decision that none of us could influence and predict.”
If Malofeev isn’t being canceled for his views of the war or for some relationship with Putin, and if canceling won’t put pressure on the Russian government in any way to withdraw from Ukraine, then how is this anything short of raw prejudice against ethnic Russians?
When do we reach the phase of this moral panic in which people post “No Russians allowed” signs in their store windows?
Other examples abound. I wrote last week about an effort to cancel a seminar on Dostoyevsky at an Italian university (which was later reversed) and a new policy from the International Cat Federation(!) to ban cats owned by Russians from competitions. More sinister was this NYT story from last night describing businesses in New York City with some sort of link to Russia being harassed or informally boycotted in the form of canceled reservations. “People have kicked in our door at night,” said one of the owners of Russian Samovar, a restaurant in midtown Manhattan. “We have people on the telephone calling us Nazis.” She’s Russian — but her husband, also a co-owner, is Ukrainian.
What is the point of all this? Do the cancelers and vandals think they’re “doing their part” in the great global effort against Putinist fascism by harassing random people of Russian ancestry?
Intimidating a segment of the population on the basis of their ethnicity is itself fascist, come to think of it.
Even so, Something Must Be Done, notes Kat Rosenfield, and bullying the innocent certainly qualifies as “something”:
Even as reasonable voices beg the general public to maintain a sense of perspective — and as countless articles seek to remind us, “the war is not about you” — the impulse is nevertheless easy to understand. No longer is politics a topic thought to be best avoided in public; these days, your good standing in polite society (not to mention the continued operation of your business) requires your vocal participation in the cause du jour. One is reminded of that moment in mid-2020 when every corporation suddenly felt compelled to announce its support of Black Lives Matter in the most strident possible terms. Neutrality was complicity; silence was violence. Somewhere along the way, we decided that we need to know who our neighbours vote for. We need to know if the local hardware store supports the LGBT community. We need to know Doritos’ deep thoughts about racism and police brutality. We need, we insist, to know how the International Cat Federation feels about Vladimir Putin.
Because in spite of everything, we remain convinced that this is, somehow, all about us: our sense that we are owed complete political solidarity by the brands we consume, our histrionic sense of betrayal when we don’t get it. The ski resort bartender pouring his Stoli down the drain would probably like to think of himself as a resistance hero; really, he’s more akin to the angry Republicans who set their Nikes on fire when the company hired Colin Kaepernick as a spokesman.
We all need to “do our part,” if only to ensure that we’re not accused of not doing our part. If that means throwing a tarp over Russia’s greatest art or sidelining an anti-war Russian kid from performing, the canceler may find solace in the belief that it’s better to be the bully than the bullied.
Oh, a fun fact about Tchaikovsky: He loved Ukraine. He even featured motifs from Ukrainian folk songs in some of his music.