“Sunflowers for Ukraine,” Russell Amenta, artist with autism
I am taking a bit of a Choral Ethics break during the summer, and today we have a guest blogger. I will be working on the fall’s Blogs during the summer, so if you have a Choral Ethics dilemma or query or comment, please email me: .
Choral Ethics Guest Blog: Issues for Our Time Part 2, Canceling
by Benjamin Amenta
Sir Winston Churchill, after WWII proclaimed, “one thing’s for sure, we have seen the end of the beginning.” In the decades afterwards, the cultures of the world have undergone changes. Benefits such as the United Nations, the founding of Israel, the at least perceived wholesomeness of the 50s, the Civil Rights enactments, the peace movement of the sixties, the blooms of the seventies, feminist waves, and later a win for the “free world,” cc. 1989-1991. These developments during the decades after WWII, along with reorganizing our musical canon, are surely benefits and progress. Currently, we are entering phases of globalization, a “smaller world” largely because of the Internet. That the Internet has information travel instantaneously, has enabled, concurrent with our relatively recent decades’ progress, the concept of “cancel culture.” With this term coined from the movement only a couple years ago, we now discuss its possible proper and mature understandings.
The concept is relevant to us in choral music because we are interconnected and sometimes see cancel culture apply to our lives. Those who are canceled are leaders we were to have trusted. The types of people “canceled” include overpaid celebrities, politicians, businesspeople, prominent media members, world-class artists (including musicians,) and local teachers and clergy. These people may be canceled because of bigotry, sexual abuse, and virtually any other heinous act.
Before we get into the canceling of individuals, we need to understand what to do with groups of people. Hate groups need to get shut down, and those in them “before they get caught,” should not be considered worthy leaders. We need to discuss a less clear type of canceling of groups, with the recent example of Putin’s Russia, and need to get on the side of Ukraine. Thankfully most people are, Ukraine which has its own culture and never asked to be part of Russia. This war is unjust, not to mention the war crimes of the Russian military! I used the term Putin’s Russia for a reason because not all Russians are bad. We might like to think in terms of Garry Kasparov’s Russia, for example and I think most people understand this. Those who are of current Russian descent need to be treated fairly, but firmly. We might also enjoy Russian culture perhaps a little less than before this, but not completely shut it out. To shut out a culture completely is too dangerous. As a pianist, I might still play Rachmaninoff, but just a little less than before. Positively, we may value Ukrainian things a little more, to affirm their identity and dignity. Marie, the regular Choral Ethics blogger in this space, decorated with Ukrainian eggs for Easter, my brother Russell posted a collage of a Ukrainian flag with real sunflowers, and we replaced a Russian folk song with a Ukrainian lullaby for our June choir concert. The right balance and understanding are needed for canceling in terms of groups of people.
Canceling more in terms of individuals, I suggest different levels of canceling, depending on scope and degree of repentance. The first level could be someone who has been cleared after a fair investigation of sound forensics, whom we may still be cool with. The second level is someone who has disappointed us but is forgiven shortly after afterwards because the offense was relatively mild, and the person did repent and apologize. The third level could be immediately, but not completely, gone from the public after repenting and apologizing. The fourth level is someone who remains in an earthly purgatory for several years, repenting and apologizing, then partially getting back after a while. The fifth level is a scumbag, who did something bad, did not repent or apologize, and is canceled for a long time.
We should also discuss gray areas in cancel culture. One side considers a person offensive, but the other side does not. We lose about half of one fan base but intensify the other half. We can get into people of different eras who like to “take into account historical context.” There tend to be generational gaps. The way I personally deal with this is to apply current and solid standards of renouncing any act, then I apply the “wheat and chaff parable” of their works not they themselves, to hate the sin and not the sinner. In terms of behaviors, I “pan for gold” and clean off the dirt; I try to make a critical analysis. In terms of works, an example using Stephen Foster, I might enjoy “Gentle Annie” and “Oh, Susanna,” but have zero regard for him in his racist songs.
In conclusion, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, the arc of justice does move upward. That does not mean we do not analyze new tools to further just causes properly. Globalization that produces “cancel culture” is a tool to further justice. So, we feel we may “cancel” with a clear conscience.
Benjamin Amenta began piano lessons at the age of eight and received B.M and M.M. degrees in Piano Performance from the Chicago College of Performing Arts of Roosevelt University, where he was introduced to Social Justice issues in the context of Classical Music. Ben now focuses on Sacred Music. An active member of the American Guild of Organists (AGO), Ben often writes on a multitude of subjects for AGO newsletters. He holds dual AGO memberships; the Southwest Suburban Chicago AGO Chapter and he is Dean of the Northwest Indiana AGO Chapter. Ben is the Midwest Motet Society’s Assistant Music Director, as well as accompanist, and sings baritone with the chamber choir.