Life & Culture

Young people can separate the art from the artist - why can't boomers?

Middle aged columnists rush to Roger Waters defence - just because they like his music


2F03HT4 Roger Waters performs in concert on The Wall Live tour at Time Warner Cable Arena, Tuesday, July 10, 2012, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT/Sipa USA)

Every evening before bed, I like to spend somewhere between 45 minutes and five hours mindlessly scrolling on TikTok. You see all sorts there: dancing teenagers, recipes, antisemitism - the usual internetty stuff.

But recently I found something slightly novel.

It was a clip of the show House of Cards (the good version, not the dull British one from 50 million years ago) with Kevin Spacey, former artistic director at the Old Vic theatre and alleged sexual harasser.

Now, from what the media tell me about young people and their cancel culture, their intolerance, and their ‘woke’ tendencies, I expected the comments to be a bonfire of screams and for TikTok to ban him.

And not just Kevin Spacey himself. I expected TikTok to cancel all AI variants thereof and for the act of watching one of his films to be deemed worthy of the death penalty. But the reality was very different.

There were hundreds of comments saying how great Spacey was, how “fire his performance” was, how he “truly be GOATED fr fr” (ask your kids to translate) and little to nothing attempting to “cancel” him for the dodgy stuff of which he has been accused.

And it’s not just Spacey. Elsewhere on TikTok, I’ve seen people grapple with the challenge of separating the art from the artist with everyone from Jerry Seinfeld (dated a teenager when he was in his 30s) to Kanye West (raging mentally ill antisemite) in a much more nuanced way than people decades their senior.

Far from being the sort of cancel-happy snowflakes that puce men like Piers Morgan claim them to be, maybe the Zoomers of today are actually better at drawing lines around people who make great stuff, but who also say problematic things?

Perhaps when you’ve grown up amid Twitter mobs and people getting fired in the heat of the moment, you have a better understanding of the consequences of these actions.

Boomers, who discovered the power to cancel late in life, after decades of getting their own way, now expect everything with which they disagree to be banned as quickly as sending a tweet.

Call me old-fashioned, but unless creative expression directly puts people in harm’s way, I think it should be allowed to exist even if people disagree with it.

Not a hugely controversial statement you might think, but for a certain generation, especially when it comes to touchy issues, all nuance goes out the window and statements of condemnation must be made as fast as they can be typed.

Which brings us to Roger Waters. Personally, I don’t care about Pink Floyd or the several dull albums they’ve pumped out and I think it’s pretty clear that Waters’ views towards Israel spill over into antisemitism more often than not.

I can be honest about the fact that I’d rather he didn’t play every arena in the UK, but would probably feel icky if he was totally banned.

It’s fine to say you want someone to be cancelled, but it shouldn’t always happen.
But in the absence of his cancellation, we’ve seen something much more peculiar happen with the middle-aged men who have written about his concerts.

In a few reviews in major newspapers, critics have bent over backwards to avoid saying what everyone can see: he’s a nasty man who happens to make music that some people like.

By downplaying his actions, by minimising crude and ill-thought-out gestures like diminishing the memory of Anne Frank, what they’re doing is harmful. It makes those views more palatable in polite society. If something’s made acceptable in the pages of The Times then that filters through to the real world.

Unlike TikTok teens who can say, yes, that’s a bad person, they’re clearly bad but I like their work, Baby boomers feel compelled to merge the two and make the art a reflection of the artist.

If we can all accept that bad people can make great art, it avoids downplaying the harm that can come from the bad things that they say, and stops this confusing muddling of the two where you have to pretend that their views are acceptable, just to enjoy their art.

Happily for me, I don’t like Waters’ views or his music.

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