Cancel Culture of H.P. Lovecraft

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A nebulous part of cancel culture, or the attempt to remove “problematic” figures from society, is the canceling of great artists (writers, musicians, actors, filmmakers, comedians) for something they did or said in their personal lives. Even if they did something truly despicable, that’s no excuse to dismiss their entire body of work.

For instance, H.P. Lovecraft held some repugnant ideas as far as racism during his lifetime, however that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy his fiction where those views don’t appear. Even in stories where his racism may surface, you can still appreciate the story without condoning or excusing those opinions.

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I can love one book by Lovecraft, but that doesn’t mean I love all his books. It certainly doesn’t mean I love or like or agree with any and all nonfiction he wrote. And it absolutely doesn’t mean I condone anything he may have said in his personal life, in private letters, or even thought to himself. The same applies to all authors and artists in history and the present—even beyond art, to science and philosophers. One dumb or offensive thing written by Nietzsche doesn’t discount the brilliant things he wrote. And if Newton turned out to be a bigot, that doesn’t make his theory of gravity any less robust.

It’s a slippery slope to attach all the thoughts and opinions of an artist to their art and judge it accordingly. Whatever problematic thing an artist says or does needs to stand on its own aside from the art. The same applies for the rest of the world and people in general. Someone should not be “cancelled” permanently for one mistake they made in the past. Especially, as in the case of Lovecraft, if it was over 100 years ago. You cannot apply today's standards, which are ever evolving to be more and more progressive by the day, retroactively to people in the past.

Culture needs to adopt the idea of “the death of the author.” Once a work of art is created, the artist (their intent, opinions, explanations) no longer matters. The work of art belongs to the audience. It doesn't matter what Lovecraft said or did outside of the text of “The Call of Cthulhu.” If it’s a great story, it’s a great story, and it stands on its own. It doesn't matter if the rest of the stories he wrote were terrible—they weren’t—but if they were, it wouldn’t detract from the brilliance of his one great story. Likewise, you can’t judge “The Call of Cthulhu” by the nonfiction Lovecraft wrote, even if it was directly related to Cthulhu, including his personal interpretation of the story. The work stands on its own once completed and is open to interpretation to the audience.

What an artist says about their art doesn’t matter, nor does anything else they say, including social commentary, be it racist or bigoted opinions. Those ideas (and the artist as a person) are worthy of criticism in themselves, but the art itself should always stand on its own and be able to be enjoyed regardless of who the artist was and what they did or said.

If you personally don't want to support an artist because of something abhorrent they did in their personal life, that’s fine—that's your choice—but do not judge others who continue to consume that artist’s work. If someone likes the work of an artist with problematic issues, that does not mean that the consumer of their art supports those problematic issues. By all means, cancel the bad ideas of a great artist, but never cancel their art.

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