Bob Shell: Cancelling Culture

God Bless America. Sculpture by Seward Johnson
God Bless America. Sculpture by Seward Johnson.

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2022


Cancelling Culture


Amid the ‘Cancel Culture’ movement’s weird actions have been calls to pull down monuments and statues of important historical persons. Even Queen Victoria’s and Gandhi’s statues aren’t safe from these rabid radicals. Gandhi? Yes, some want statues of this great man of peace torn down! Let’s just tear down all statues and be done with it!
I was surprised recently to learn that even classical music is under attack. Cambridge university, that bastion of learning, now has a class called ‘Decolonizing the Ear.’ According to the University, this class teaches students to listen to music in a ‘post-colonial’ way, because classical music is ‘complicit in projects of empire and neoliberal systems of power.’ It teaches that ‘genres like opera seem particularly susceptible to racialized representations.’
The class uses Aida, Giuseppe Verdi’s masterpiece as a starting point. Aida, which is set in Egypt, premiered in Cairo in 1871.
According to Oxford University, ‘Professors said the classical repertoire taught at Oxford, which spans works by Mozart and Beethoven focuses too much on white European music from the slave period.’ One Oxford professor even wrote that the musical notation system we use represents ‘white hegemony.’ I wonder what system he would have us use instead?
The most celebrated classical composers had absolutely nothing to do with the transatlantic slave trade or colonialization of Africa, Asia or the ‘New World.’ Austria, home of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, and many others, was not a colonialist country. Nor was Russia, home of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, Scriabin, and many others.
Many classical composers were Jews, persecuted since ancient times.
One less radical professor stated, ‘I teach my students we are not judging the music, it is judging us. It has been around much longer than we have, and it is reckless arrogance to think we can dismiss its impact on human civilization with our extremely short-lived blips on the human timeline.’
As I said, Aida did not premiere in Europe, but in Cairo. The story is about an Egyptian warrior fighting to free Ethiopian slaves. Aida is one of those Ethiopian slaves. The Egyptian warrior’s love for her is a beautiful example true love that transcended racial barriers.
Verdi was a political activist in his time. Verdi’s name became an acronym for the people’s struggles against oppression and desire for nationhood. And we want to ‘cancel’ this man? His music should be revered and preserved.
Unfortunately, the majority of people today don’t listen to classical music, except perhaps the short sound bites used in commercials. I was very lucky to have a father who appreciated classical music. He’d been a DJ on a classical music radio station for a while, and had an extensive collection of classical recordings. In those days it was all on 78 rpm records, which I listened to over and over. Very few children today grow up in homes where classical music is played, and that’s a real tragedy.
Yes, I do listen to modern music. but most of it is musically pretty primitive. Rap has much in common with the way the ancient Greeks chanted their poetry, rhythmically, to the beat of drums, clash of cymbals, and other accompaniment. And there are parallels in Gregorian chants, compositions like Carmena Burana and some others.
Basically, I believe music is music, it’s good or bad.
Recent music I’m listening to other than classical include:

Apples From Mars
Jenifer Lopez
Taylor Swift
Lady Gaga
House of ILL Repute
Fighting Friday
M. Ridho
Tasya Rosmala

All are capable of producing very good music, but don’t always do so.
Should we cancel great art just because we don’t like the artist? We will lose much of cultural importance if we do.


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 15th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here:

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