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The internet has changed how we do things, even the way we think. We live in a time of instant and continual exchange of thoughts and ideas, our collective beliefs merging and clashing – with just one tap on a social media screen – with millions of others. There are amazing aspects to the landscape of the internet, and that's probably why it's taken over the world. In just the time it takes to load a webpage, you can order a book from a specialist website, organise a delivery of your evening meal, hear a new album that's just been released – or even track down long lost relatives from across the world.
Take too, the collective accomplishments that people have achieved through internet access to the population. Protests, petitions and global movements connected to injustices and poverty have all had a light shone on them through organised agendas across the net.
Like everything in life, nothing is perfect. With the popularity and ever growing engagement on social media sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, we have seen in recent years a type of movement that has blown away the once treasured concepts of individuality, freedom of speech and open debate. Essentially, cancel culture, the woke brigade and the oft-offended politically correct online army are slicing away, bit by bit, the value of independent thought and expression.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the entertainment world. Often we see respected and talented artists (across the spectrum from musicians, to authors, to actors) targeted if they dare say a single word out of line of the current agreed-upon version of the “truth” that proves popular with the online mob that day. Even when we do see artists making a stand that is perceived as potentially controversial, it is often swiftly followed by an apology typed in haste to placate the hoards of critics who are usually boiling themselves alive in their own anger.
We have seen it again and again with no one more than the artist Morrissey, who, through a career now spanning over four successful decades, has been blasted and hounded by a certain demographic of social media users and the mainstream press, for simply remaining resolute to his personal views – views that are, in reality, not offensive at all. The actual “offence” caused by Morrissey is apparently this: that his opinions are not always in accordance with armies of the intolerant who mistakenly (and ridiculously) see themselves as the open-minded and liberal ones, hash-tagging their days away limply by trying to silence or remove those who they view as a threat to their ideas.
When you think about the greats of the entertainment world, you usually have to look to the past, or at least to figures who emerged before the internet armies and press began trying to censor. Why is that? Amongst the best or most loved are the ones who never conformed – who often are, in fact, cited as being controversial or as ones who went against the grain in their time.
The examples are many: John Lennon, whose comments saw religious groups burning The Beatles records in protest; Elvis Presley, who launched to dizzy heights of fame yet was also heavily criticised by conservative audiences at the time for being too sexual; The Sex Pistols, whose members in the 70s caused a furore and moral panic with their anti-establishment stance yet now remain cult punk favourites of the era; Neil Young, whose stand against corporations taking over the art of the music world in the 80s saw him being sued by record labels; Prince who, in the mid-90s, waged a very public war with his record label to gain ownership of his master recordings, paying a heavy price from the industry and media detractors alike; Jim Morrison of The Doors, who was considered by many to be lewd and a bad influence on his fan base at the time he rose to fame, and even David Bowie, before he was sanctified by death, was criticised for his open drug use and some of his comments on UK politics.
It takes no great deal of research to realise figures like these are nowhere to be found in today's newer generation of artists. The outspoken figures, the bold, unique voices, the ones who change history by being unafraid of challenging the status quo – they are completely and utterly absent. Instead we are left with a body of entertainers who, frightened by the mere idea of social-media backlash, fall into boring, dull, irrelevant cliches – with forgettable art, forgettable faces, forgettable everything.
Cancel culture and woke mob have begun to create an environment inhospitable to individual thought and expression: the very idea that these people see themselves as the new generation of liberals is nothing short of laughable, considering there is nothing liberal about wanting to silence or ban those you do not agree with.
It is in this era, in times such as these, when we watch artists being continually moulded into expressionless clones of each other – each parroting the other's opinion lest they be accused of thinking differently – that fans clamour and cling to one of the last greats of the music world. Morrissey, whose music easily puts him up there amongst the legends of the industry, has become the icon he is not only because of the brilliance of his musical output, but because his fans celebrate that he is one of the last few free thinkers in the public eye.
Few take the time to imagine what the cost has been to Morrissey – as an individual and an artist – in this current climate. To actually be somebody unafraid to poke holes in the world's flimsy narrative, to make a stand against animal cruelty and police brutality, to point out the ugliness and hypocrisy in the world of politics, to talk openly and frankly about real issues, even at the cost of apparently offending some – these things do not come free, in 2021. They have never come at more of a cost. Indeed, Morrissey has found himself slandered and targeted by mainstream publications who viscously criticise his words without even examining why he said them. He has proven himself as someone unwilling to blend in; he's put his face in the centre of the world's dart board - yet his ardent fans admire him all the more for it.
It is only the artists who challenge and break the mould who truly change history, isn't it? They are the only voices who ever say something that is worth saying – the ones who get you thinking, and who are remembered and loved all the more for it. There are few of them left. Morrissey has stood his ground, knowing that even though the cost of sticking to his principles is high, the expense of selling-out to placate the press would cost him far, far more. Yet not every public figure owns that confidence: is the current climate closing the door on tomorrow's potential great thinkers?
While we see public figures targeted, ridiculed, and even censored for saying or thinking something different (or even controversial) in a world full of clones, we should celebrate them. Even if our thoughts and opinions do not align with theirs, there is something to be said for the ones standing up and standing out.
If the mainstream press and the internet trolls had their time many years ago, would Bowie have been cancelled? Would Presley have been banned from performing on TV? If we would not have wanted that then, we cannot afford to make that same mistake now.
We may say we want a more diverse, liberal world – but if this is true, it is time to prove it. Society needs to set aside preconceived boundaries and carefully examine what it is we want in the future, because if the current trajectory continues, our society will become more intolerant than ever.