High life

The joy of being cancelled

20 November 2021

9:00 AM

20 November 2021

9:00 AM

New York

I’ve never met anyone called Othello, certainly not in Venice nor in Cyprus, but perhaps there are men by that name in Africa. Someone who was referred to as Othello, but always behind his back, was the greatest of all Russians, Alexander Pushkin: a ‘raging Othello’ was how les mauvaises langues in court described the great poet. Pushkin’s great-grandfather, General A.P. Gannibal, was Ethiopian.

I’ll get back to Othello in a jiffy, but first a few words about marital jealousy and Pushkin. The poet got a bee in his bonnet soon after marrying the beautiful but coquettish Natalia because she flirted, harmlessly but nevertheless disastrously. Innocent flirtation might be fun in the English shires where men are more interested in killing birds and chasing foxes, but not where hot-blooded Russians are concerned. That’s where the Dutch minister in St Petersburg’s adopted son Georges D’Anthès (who swung both ways) comes into the story. The palace buzzed with gossip as D’Anthès danced non-stop with Natalia and flirted with her outrageously. Pushkin immediately challenged him to a duel, but the minister tried to cool his son — with whom he was said to be having a homosexual affair — down and had him ask Ekaterina, Natalia’s sister, to become his wife. In no time Georgie Porgie was Pushkin’s brother-in-law. The Tsar declared the case closed. The poet, however, did not fall for it — and rightly so. He challenged again and presented himself ready to fight without a second. D’Anthès the coward — he was an officer and familiar with weapons — shot first, mortally wounding Alexander the great. Like most cowards, D’Anthès lived to a ripe old age.

So far so bad, as far as sexual jealousy is concerned. It certainly did for Pushkin, who should have known all about Othello and that psychopathic swine Iago, who at least got his comeuppance. Now Othello is back in the news. Not because American students have suddenly discovered Shakespeare; on the contrary, they think the Bard should not be taught because he’s all the things that they hate and I like. But we know all that already. No, the reason Othello is back in the news is that at the University of Michigan a professor showed the sensitive ones a film of Othello starring Laurence Olivier. Larry appeared as the melancholy Moor in blackface, students were offended and all hell broke loose. The irony was that Bright Sheng, the professor who showed the clips, was himself a survivor of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and his family had been roughed up by the Red Guards.

Not that such things matter where today’s little darlings are concerned. They were so angry they forgot to munch on triple-sized hamburgers with lots of ketchup and gulp down supersized Cokes. Professor Sheng is 65 and Chinese-born, but his grovelling and contrition provoked fresh outrage. His apology was called ‘inflammatory’ and it was suggested that an unspecified ‘pattern of harmful behaviour in the classroom’ had left students feeling ‘unsafe and uncomfortable’. A senior by the name of Sammy Sussman posted accusations against the professor online and you can guess the rest.

This kind of absurd situation is also happening in Britain, and I’m sure there have been worse instances of ridiculous demands by spoilt students. But here in America it reflects more of a class struggle than it does overseas. It has nothing to do with moral rights, and everything to do with the new elite vs those Middle Americans who were the nucleus of the American republic once upon a time. Now it’s the unholy alliance of the media, the Academy, Wall Street and Silicon Valley that holds all the cards. This hostile ruling class is new but determined to wipe out that middle that voted for Reagan, Obama and Trump, among others. The new woke orthodoxy is the method as well as the weapon that has replaced the Stalinist midnight knock. With this orthodoxy as the attacking cavalry, mass immigration, institutionalised anti-white animus, and tech censorship serve as the occupying army.

A pretty bleak assessment, I admit, but most people are keeping their heads down in order to avoid being cancelled and this is killing intellectual inquiry. As it happens, I was among the very first to be cancelled about 15 or so years ago when, during an Oxford Union debate, I told an obese American student who was complaining that she almost starved to death during Katrina that she could do with going on a bit of a diet. I was booed and insulted by long-haired bearded types, especially when, following the debate, I referred to them as NOCDs.(Not our class, dear.) I was treated as a pariah by everyone involved, which came in rather handy. I had debated four times at the Union and won three times, but, more importantly, on two different occasions I’d met two lovely girls whom I subsequently took out to dinner and clubbing in London. I was already getting on in years back then, and chasing female students was becoming ridiculous. In fact, my cancellation was manna from heaven: the cheap plonk offered by the union — along with the inedible dinner and the arrogance of males who have never been out in the world but think they know a lot — made being cancelled a happy occasion. So, cancelled of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but the company of ghastly bores with bad breath and worse ideas. Yippee!

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