Novelist Lionel Shriver Decries ‘Cultural Erasure’ of Past Work by Hollywood Offenders

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In an essay for Harper’s Magazine, novelist Lionel Shriver is condemning the act of erasing the artistic work of those who have been shunned from Hollywood for past misdeeds.

Shriver, who is the author of “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” which was adapted into a film starring Tilda Swinton, argues that in the cases of people like Roseanne Barr and Louis C.K., the entire body of their work and TV shows should not also be shelved and that the art itself should not be “tainted by association.”

“The contemporary impulse to rebuke disgraced creators by vanishing their work from the cultural marketplace exhibits a mean-spiritedness, a vengefulness even, as well as an illogic. Why, if you catch someone doing something bad, would you necessarily rub out what they’ve done that’s good,” Shriver writes. “Eliminating whole series from streaming platforms, withdrawing novels from bookstores, and canceling major gallery retrospectives constitute, for those in the creative professions, cruel and unusual punishment.”

Barr was fired from the reboot of her ABC show last May after she tweeted racist comments about former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett. And C.K. lost his show, “Louie,” on FX after he was accused of sexual misconduct. Shriver, however, says that if reruns of these shows are to disappear, it should be because it was demonstrated that “Roseanne” was proven to be racist or that “Louie” is “abusive of women.” ABC’s “Roseanne” reboot lives on without Barr as “The Conners.”

Shriver further argues that the work of the many other authors and artists on these shows should not suffer “cultural erasure” on account of their primary creators’ actions.

“Most art involves multiple creators, many of whom may be blameless,” she said. “Even books require a host of ancillary staff to publish. Shelving TV shows and films penalizes all the other actors, the director, writers, crew, and cameramen. Their work is also erased.”

Shriver makes the comparison that shows and films like “Roots,” “The Naked Gun” or “The Towering Inferno” have not been removed from the airwaves despite O.J. Simpson’s imprisonment.

And what she says is different now in the #MeToo era is not simply that these shows are taken off the air, but that brands and distributors are making the choices to do so, not the viewers, further hoping to rewrite the history of these artists.

“Erasure is also a form of rewriting history–a popular impulse of late. In this touched-up version of events, we were never taken in by these disgusting specimens. In the historical re-write, there was always something fishy about Bill Cosby; he was never America’s dad,” Shriver writes. “In the instances we’re examining here, the distributor makes that decision for us. As if we need to be protected. (Or the distributor needs to protect itself–from association with sin. Clearly the real motivation here is to appear immaculate.) In truth, we’re being punished too, along with the alleged perpetrators.”

Read Shriver’s full essay here.

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