Local view: Banned books from 1922 reveal a century of cancel culture – Duluth News Tribune



Many iconic celebrities died in 2021, including Cicely Tyson, John Madden, Anne Rice, Michael K. Williams, Cloris Leachman, Ed Asner, Samuel E. Wright, Jessica Walter, Prince Philip, Hank Aaron, Stephen Sondheim and Betty White . The oldest of these famous people was Betty White, who was just 17 days shy of her 100th birthday when she died on December 31. It is amazing to reflect on such a long and storied life and to contemplate the world she was born into compared to today.

What was it like when Betty White was born in 1922? To get a sense of the spirit of that era, I reviewed the most popular literature of that year and found that literary modernism was the dominant form of writing.

Literary Modernism was heavily influenced by industrialization and the Great War (now known as World War I). Most writers consciously broke away from traditional writing and tried to reflect new ways of thinking in the world using non-linear narratives and character monologues that focused more on the fluid everyday experiences and emotions of life. ‘individual. It was an attempt to understand the massive and disturbing technological and social changes of the early 20th century.

In particular, 1922 saw stellar modernist literature, including Willa Cather’s “One of Ours” (which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923), James Joyce’s “Ulysses”, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Beautiful and the Damned” , “Babbitt” by Sinclair Lewis, “Jacob’s Room” by Virginia Woolf, “The Wasteland” by TS Eliot, “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams, “England My England” by DH Lawrence, “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse, ” The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle” by Hugh Lofting, “The Secret Adversary” by Agatha Christie and the play “Baal” by Bertolt Brecht.

While 1922 was definitely a year of glory for literature, it was also a year of literary controversy, with most of the books listed above being banned at one time or another by school districts; local, state or national governments; religious groups; and individual libraries. We think of cancel culture as something more modern, but it was, in fact, very prevalent in Betty White’s birth year.

Take James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” for example. First published in book form on Groundhog Day in 1922 (the author’s 40th birthday), it features an ordinary day in the life of Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly and Stephen Dedalus, who all lived in Dublin, Ireland. Due to sexual fantasy scenes, “Ulysses” was labeled obscene and banned by the US government and UK government for more than 10 years. These two governments actually confiscated and burned 1,000 copies of the book.

Minnesotans are well represented on the list of 1922 literature that fell victim to cancel culture. F. Scott Fitzgerald, born in St. Paul in 1896, had his book “Beautiful and the Damned” banned by a number of entities because they found the lifestyle of its main character, Anthony Patch, unacceptable in due to immoral drinking and nightlife. Conversely, Sinclair Lewis, born in Sauk Centre, in 1885, had his book ‘Babbitt’ banned because it mocked ‘good solid middle-class values’ and was ‘pro-Communist’, say conservative groups .

Calls for the banning or review of books, films, television shows and art exhibits, because some members of the public object to certain elements or the distribution, are examples of cancel culture.

Betty White herself was no stranger to the pressures of cancel culture. During her television debut in 1954, as the host and producer of her own variety show, she introduced Arthur Duncan, a very talented black dancer and tap-dancing singer. In 2018, in a PBS documentary, Duncan said, “I thank Betty White for really getting me into show business, into television.” After Duncan’s first appearance on “The Betty White Show”, there were threats that southern television stations would no longer air the show if it continued to feature a black person. In response to this racist pressure to kick Duncan off his show, White replied, “I’m sorry, but he’s staying. … To live with!”

While Betty White is admired and loved for her talent, personality and longevity, her refusal to accept an immoral request from cancel culture makes her a very brave person whom we should all emulate and remember.

Dave Berger of Plymouth, Minnesota, is a retired sociology professor who taught for 37 years. He is also a freelance writer and a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.

David Berger

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