Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cartoonist Robert Crumb's festival cancellation and the effect of art on behaviour

Cartoonist Robert Crumb, who was the subject of this fascinating documentary back in the nineties, has decided to pull out of a scheduled appearance at an upcoming Sydney arts festival. It seems he was rather upset by just one newspaper article about him:

"It was strong stuff and it made me look very, very bad," Crumb said. "All it takes is a few people who overreact to something like that to show up and cause unpleasantness. I have a lot of anxiety about having to confront some angry sexual assault crisis group."

It's odd that he would react so sensitively. He's been controversial for decades and you'd think that he would have developed a thicker hide by now. Or maybe age has made him more sensitive than he was before? Who knows ...

In any case the cancellation will be the cause of much, er, lefteous indignation in Artsville. Numerous Newtown earring tuggers would no doubt have cursed into their lattes upon hearing the news. There'll be much outraged chatter about the censorious forces of prudish conservatism, and the absurd desire to demonize cartoons -- cartoons! -- of all things.

But as so often happens in Artsville, the outrage is very selective. Because you can also be sure that many of those arcing up about the intimidation of Robert Crumb will have been on the side of the censors when it came to the Mohammed cartoons.

You can also be sure that a lot of these same haughty hepcats would have been crowing with glee to discover that conservatives such as John Howard, Keith Windschuttle and George Pell were cited as influences in the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik's manifesto.

Of course some may weasel out of that little contradiction by saying that these are political and religious figures as opposed to artists. 

But aren't emotions ultimately what make people commit murder? And aren't emotions what art is all (or mainly) about?

If that's the case and you believe that those a murderer cites as influences must also share responsibility for his acts then it's actually an artist who's more to blame for the Norway massacre than anyone. That artist is the British musician Clint Mansell.

He composed the score for the movie Requiem for a Dream, which Breivik thought was very inspiring and "invokes a type of passionate rage in you". It seems he listened to it repeatedly while committing the atrocity to keep him fired up. Now, if that doesn't qualify as a direct causal link I just don't know what does.

So, for all those goateed, grumpy little lefties out there the course is very clear. If they're going to argue for the censorship of columnists they detest then they'll also have to argue for the silencing (and even imprisonment!) of musos they adore.

As usual, they just haven't thought things through. The meatheads.

UPDATE: I wrote all of the above without even bothering to look for examples of outrage. That's because I've endured years of bolshie bleating from these often bong-fogged numpties and I know exactly what to expect. They are nothing if not predictable.

Still, I did a quick search a couple of minutes ago and turned up evidence of just the kind of crankiness I mentioned. Not surprisingly the piece implied that the eeevil News Ltd was mostly to blame for Crumb's cancellation:

Crumb might be overreacting but mature Australians lose out once again to a vocal, philistine minority and puritanical, puerile journalism.

They just love that word "philistine" don't they?


  1. I saw that doco too, Matt, and Crumb really doesn't have a (middle) leg to stand on when he complains about that article. Anyone who thinks he's been slimed should google "Robert Crumb Joe Blow" - and that's only for starters.
    Maybe he just couldn't be stuffed getting on a plane.

  2. True. I think he had decided not to come out here for other reasons and was just happy to have an excuse.

    There's no doubt the guy is talented. But he doesn't strike me as being particularly principled or honest.