There’s much discussion going on about Russian musicians being cancelled unless they agree to denounce Putin publicly.
This reminds me of a crude but, to me, funny joke I once heard in America: A woman is buying a chicken. She picks up the bird, smells under the wings and between the legs, and says: “This chicken stinks.” “Madam,” replies the butcher, “are you sure you could pass the same test?”
I wonder if those who refuse to book Russian musicians have heard that joke. Even if they haven’t, I’m sure they must know the biblical injunction about the mote and the beam, which makes the same point more elegantly and, if you will, devotionally.
First, I’m in favour of isolating Putin’s Russia totally. If that means banning all Russian musicians, then so be it. Not many of them are worth hearing anyway, and those few who are haven’t lived in Russia for years.
The ballet of both the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky theatres, on the other hand, is definitely worth seeing. But I can only pray that missing it would be the greatest sacrifice we’ll have to make courtesy of Putin’s fascism.
The whole brouhaha came about so quickly and comprehensibly because the public has been paper-trained to accept cancel culture, with people’s careers ruined for uttering a single word contradicting woke virtues. If cancelling people for bad reasons is par for the course, then doing so for good reasons feels like a hole in one.
However, we aren’t banning Russian musicians unconditionally. They can still come if they mouth any version of the slogan currently popular in both the Ukraine and Russia: Putin is a dickhead (polite translation of the Russian Путин хуйло). That way they could save their Western careers at the cost of losing their domestic ones.
This strikes me as hypocritical. If denouncing Putin publicly is a pre-condition for appearing on concert platforms in the West, why single out just Russian musicians? Why not demand a similar declaration from Western ones too? And why, for that matter, are Chinese musicians not required to repudiate Xi on pain of losing their Western engagements? Actually, banning them all would represent even a smaller loss to music.
Generally speaking, if we cancelled every writer and musician with whose politics we disagree, we (well, I) wouldn’t even be allowed to read War and Peace (soon to be retitled Special Operation and Peace, one hears).
Yet speaking not generally but specifically, boycotting all Russian musicians – and not just Putin’s propagandists like Gergiev and Netrebko – only makes sense if we admit that the West is de facto at war with Russia, even in the absence of such casuistic formalities as an official declaration.
If we stop cowering behind such casuistry to pretend the West isn’t at war with Putin, even though he is manifestly at war with the West, then yes, Russian musicians become enemy aliens who can’t be allowed in.
Even in that case, however, cancelling performances of Tchaikovsky’s, Scriabin’s or Prokofiev’s works will continue to be an exercise in monumental and hysterical cretinism. Whatever next? A pyre of Tolstoy’s, Dostoyevsky’s and Gogol’s books?
Now, this is where that woman with her chicken comes in, or, if you’d rather, the story of the mote and the beam.
If we are de facto at war with Russia, how is it that Western media continue to be open to pro-Putin pieces? Surely they must be treated as enemy propaganda, whose disseminators should be put into internment camps at least for the duration of the war? (Messrs Hitchens, Liddle, Buchanan and Carlson spring to mind.)
We do have freedom of speech, but it’s never absolute even in peacetime, never mind during a war. If you disagree, try to publish in any mainstream newspaper an article about homosexuality being a deadly sin, or different races having different median IQs, and see how far you’ll get.
If Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail wasn’t allowed to publish during the war the same pro-Nazi articles it had published before the war, then how come the same paper is allowed to publish Hitchens’s thinly veiled pro-Putin propaganda now?
And if we see nothing wrong with that, then why punish Russian musicians simply because they refuse to act as dummies to our self-righteous ventriloquists? That strikes me as illogical and therefore hypocritical.
I don’t think an apolitical pianist who’d rather not kill his Russian career by taking an anti-Putin cue would do us much harm. Certainly nothing even remotely comparable to that done by the musings of a Putin fan writing deranged nonsense, along the lines of Moscow streets and churches being so lovely that we should stop arming the Ukrainians.
“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” And, if I may add my own comment, if thou won’t, the best thing thou can do is shut up.