In 2018, culture is being evaluated for its moral correctness more than for its quality.
The real-world and social-media combat we’ve been in for the past two years over what kind of country this is — who gets to live in it and bemoan (or endorse!) how it’s being run — have now shown up in our beefs over culture, not so much over the actual works themselves but over the laws governing that culture and the discussion around it, which artists can make what art, who can speak. We’re talking less about whether a work is good art but simply whether it’s good — good for us, good for the culture, good for the world.
Art can be reparatory — a means for the oppressed and ignored to speak, for the visible to be seen. The defining objective of the civil rights movement and the women’s movement and the gay rights movement was equality, sure, but also motion — forward, upward, outward. The country has never looked both more and less like what these movements aspired to achieve. All this toppling and canceling and shushing feels like a radically logical extension of equality. It was to put more nonwhite people and women and queer people alongside the straight white men who have kept them away from equal power, then lectured and legislated away the exclusions. A bonus aim is to rid us, by any means necessary, of everything deemed hateful or intolerant. Why should the truly equal have to put up with any of that?