Here’s a terrifying dystopian scenario for you:
Imagine a world where every artist is forced to behave exactly like a politician. Imagine a hellscape in which the role of the artist — expresser of truth; sharer of human substance; plumber of human depths, ambiguities, and paradoxes — is reduced to the role of the politician — winner of approval; crafter of sanitized messaging; steward of banal, generic platitudes devised to create a soothing, pervasive illusion of stability.
Well, abandon your keyboards, sci-fi writers. ‘Cause the dystopia of which I speak isn’t fiction. It already exists. And we’re all having the unfortunate luck of living through it.
I won’t share this op-ed on my Facebook page, as I’m currently shadow-banned there after having used the word “Karen.” Yes, Karen! I made fun of Karens, incited a real brigade of actual Karens (as in, women whose parents named them Karen at birth), generated a slew of reports to Facebook (i.e., complaints to the manager!), and found my posts getting so unpopular it was like I’d suddenly barfed at the Sunday buffet. I guess in this atmosphere of Soviet-style censorship, I had better smarten up and watch what I say!
Ms. Pelayo belongs to a loose, broad construct of which I am also a part, oft referred to as “the horror community.” She recently — as recently as two days ago — was preparing to edit a fiction anthology called “Cops vs. Monsters.” Sounds simple enough: cops fighting monsters. Many authors got excited, started to craft their submissions.
Until the Twitter mob came marching.
The “problem” was, Ms. Pelayo’s project, per the implication of its title, was set to glorify cops. The cops would be heroes, in other words. And Woke Twitter is simply exhausted by the perpetuation of such tired and dangerous tropes.
I italicized “exhausted” because it’s part of the mob’s (ironically exhausting) vernacular. They can’t stand the status quo, and yet somehow, bless them, they find the energy to make it to their phones each day and continue fighting the good fight.
I italicized “perpetuation” because it’s also part of the woke mob’s language. They think ideas are perpetuated in simplistic, linear fashion, as though the world is made up of empty-headed morons and the wrong ideas can all too readily occupy their hollow heads.
In this case, the dangerous idea is that cops, the very people whom the mob, like it or not, would call in an emergency, are good guys.
Never mind that cops wouldn’t even have necessarily been good in the anthology. And never mind that even a cynic like me can tell you that people are by and large not empty-headed receptacles for ideas; people are complex, multilayered, changeable, fluid, and diverse (and have their own ideas, too!).
No matter. Pelayo was perpetuating the “wrong” idea. She thus got trampled. And canceled her project, along with her whole writing career, posting on Twitter last night:
“So, I think everyone accomplished tearing me down as much as they wanted this week. I’m pulling out of the police anthology. I’m closing down Burial Day Books. I’m pulling out of Scares That Care.
I’ll finish up the anthologies I have committed to writing and the book I have scheduled to deliver in December, but then that’s it. I’m done writing after that commitment. I’m leaving Twitter and Instagram on Friday. Enjoy. Have a nice life.”
Pelayo is an accomplished author and poet. Her work was recently mentioned in The New York Times. She holds a Master’s degree in Psychology. She’s repped by The Rights Factory. She’s Latinx. She is a mother.
By all rights, the mob should want nothing to do with Cynthia Pelayo. They should laud her achievements. They should trust her judgment.
But the problem is, they laud nothing and trust no one. They claim to seek justice but seek only blood. And the bottom of the barrel has been by now scraped raw by their angry claws.
My favorite part of this activity (I guess I’m not supposed to call it “cancel culture” anymore, as the bullies have tried to gaslight me into thinking that that (a) doesn’t exist and (b) is a term used exclusively by right-wingers) is how it’s perpetuated by supposed social justice activists, yet it caves in the mental health of those it targets.
As Pelayo wrote on Twitter yesterday, “Like, I’m literally just a mom with a job who writes. Bitching at me for writing about cops is going to accomplish what? Going to destroy my mental health. Complain to your representatives. Ask for police reform. I just want to write/support stories. Damn.”
I too have suggested that the woke be more productive. And on the mental health note, I can unfortunately vouch. Being dragged on social media wrecks your mind. Robs you of your sleep. Deprives you of centeredness. Makes you unsure of who your friends are. And of where the next attack is coming from. As you don’t know how much blood they seek, or how far they’ll go.
The upside is, artists can approach this as a noble fight.
And no thanks to the horror genre’s Uncle Stevie, Stephen King, who came out like a proper Soviet in support of cancel culture in recent weeks. And no thanks either to comedian Seth Rogen, who laughingly, like a good, obedient corporatist, said around the same time that cancel culture’s no big deal.
So I guess we can count those two guys out as mental health advocates, huh?
Hey, look: As I implied at the start, I’m all for ambiguity. In some contexts, cancel culture can be good. But there’s a line to be drawn, and that line is simple:
It starts with an “A.” It has two syllables.
Abusers, I can’t defend against cancelers. Abusers deserve all the justice they have coming to them. Abusers, if their actions are provable and verifiable (and if we can all just pull ourselves together and agree upon a definition of abuse), have met with a form of technologically-induced accountability that should absolutely scare the living daylights out of them.
But let’s not use tools best reserved for abusers for artists who are simply trying to express themselves. The role of the artist is anarchic by nature. The function of the artist within society is to alleviate the audience’s loneliness by engaging in human sharing. And such sharing demands the artist’s truth — not slogans, not platitudes, not panaceas, not propaganda.
All of the above are the province of the politician.
And a world where the artist is compelled, let alone expected, to behave as the politician is a world that has buckled to totalitarian madness.