Artists get cancelled with a swiftness. Some have the ability to (kind of) bounce back; remember, mere weeks after Kanye infamously stated, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years? That sounds like a choice,” he released an album that debuted at the top of the Billboard 200. Some don’t have that ability; consider Ameer Vann’s fall from grace. An artist’s actions determine whether the Twittersphere deems him or her cancelled, and the merits of those verdicts are another discussion entirely. What is not often discussed are the earthly limitations of cancellation.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018, Pitchfork broke the story of XXXTentacion’s confession to domestic abuse and other violent crimes via secretly recorded audio. Furthermore, the confession came roughly 4 months after he was murdered. With the discovery and publication of the artist’s confessions, some fans who once supported X have now condemned him, and past detractors have called for a posthumous cancellation of XXXTentacion. The candid account of his actions and thoughts on them have become public knowledge, unclouding an integral aspect of his career; normally, there would be grounds for X’s cancellation. But can the dead get cancelled?
To be clear, this isn’t a question regarding shoulds, it’s an inference about feasibility. It is commonplace for entertainers to become immortalized after their passing, with their best qualities and contributions to their field becoming highlighted. There’s also the popular notion to not speak ill of the dead, a belief that has recently brought Vic Mensa under fire. What’s more is the pain associated with death; regardless of what the individual has done, he or she may have loved ones along with friends or fans who are grieving their loss. That pain can last for a long time and simultaneously affect one’s perception of the deceased. Each aspect combines to create a force that doesn’t allow for the tainting of memories after a person passes away.
While XXXTentacion is today’s subject of debate, many others before him with scandalous pasts have gone on to not only be immortalized but memorialized. Both convicted for having a history of sexual misconduct, Chuck Berry is remembered as a Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer, and Tupac is remembered as arguably the greatest rapper of all time. There is arguably no evidence, regardless of how damning, that could indefinitely tarnish their reputations. Imagine any artist that was lost this year and imagine if these controversial recordings featured them instead of X. Regardless of who you contextualized, their legacy would most likely remain, and that blemish would seldom be mentioned.
The way that people are remembered is directly tied to society’s ability or inability to process death and cope with it. To be able to see a person for all their wrongs and rights can be difficult, and it becomes increasingly so after their death. Especially when dealing with artists, even the controversial and problematic ones, who have brought some form of light to this world, people remember what they want to remember, and, like an album, they usually just remember the best parts. Legacies are untouchable because of memory biases.
When the people learn unforgiveable things about artists, celebrities, and public figures, you can practically smell the cancellation coming, but when it comes down to those who have passed, immortalization, respect, and pain cloud a person’s legacy. As a result, the living are unable to truly cancel someone in their grave. Is it problematic? As fuck, but unless there’s Twitter in the afterlife, you are wasting your time.