Britain is in the throes of a Cultural Revolution. Statues are being tumbled, past art erased, people cancelled. Wide-eyed Woke Guards, heirs to Maoist-style intolerance, are compiling lists of monuments to target and individuals to humiliate. They are remorseless. Nothing old that runs counter to their newthink can be tolerated. Tear it all down.
The speed with which protests over the murder of George Floyd morphed into a war on the past has been staggering. The mob’s toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was the noisiest, most visible victory so far for the new Cultural Revolution. They’ve moved on swiftly. The appetite for erasure seems insatiable.
Last night, a crowd in Oxford demanded the destruction of the likeness of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College. In an effort to keep the woke wolf from the door, the Museum of London Docklands took down a statue of slave trader Robert Milligan yesterday. The Woke Guards are circulating a list of the next evil bronze and stone entities that must be swept aside. It includes statues of globally significant historical figures. Sir Francis Drake, Christopher Columbus. Purge them, erase them. Britain’s neo-Maoist cousins in the US have already made short shrift of Columbus: yesterday in Richmond, Virginia a mob tore down his statue, set it on fire, and threw it in a lake. Their fervour and madness are easily a match for the most committed Red Guards who swept China for ‘unacceptable’ artifacts in the late 1960s.
When a statue can’t be toppled, it is abused. Churchill’s monument in Westminster was spray-painted with the word ‘racist’. Even Abraham Lincoln, who fought a war to end slavery, did not escape the mob’s grafitti. Well, he’s a white man, thus evil. In Leeds, the statue of Queen Victoria was defaced, including with the spraying of pink paint on her breasts and crotch, bringing to mind the extra element of sexual humiliation – hair-cutting, the confiscation of clothes – that China’s Red Guards would visit upon women who dared to possess incorrect thoughts.
The fervour for erasure is not limited to statues. Incorrect art and entertainment is expunged, too. Yesterday the BBC and Netflix cast into the memory hole old episodes of Little Britain because they feature white actors occasionally dressing up as black people. Leigh Francis (aka Keith Lemon) tried to placate the Woke Guards by issuing an emotional apology for his past mimicking of famous black people. Aussie comic Chris Lilley, who has also played non-white characters, will be next. His ‘massively outdated comedies’ must be razed too, says one compliant cheerleader of the new Cultural Revolution. They won’t stop there. History is full of film, literature and entertainment with questionable depictions. Light the matches. Indeed, Gone with the Wind has already been taken down by HBO Max because of its depiction of black people. What will be next?
Of course, it is never only artifacts and art. Cultural Revolutions are fundamentally crusades against living people and their foul, incorrect thoughts. It is hard to keep up with the list (black list) of people cancelled by the Woke Guards over the past week’s orgy of moralism masquerading as anti-racism. In the UK, a radio presenter was suspended for daring to question the orthodoxy of ‘white privilege’. A Welsh journalist was dumped as a judge from a literary competition for criticising Black Lives Matter.
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The similarities with the Cultural Revolution are striking. In that feverish war on the past, statues were torn down and cast on to fires, as happened in Virginia yesterday. Buddhist statues were a favourite target because they embodied the ‘old customs’ the Red Guards longed to erase. It was a ‘frenzy of smashing’, as one account puts it. Any statue that depicted ‘political swindlers’ was torn down. The Red Guards were as offended by monuments to Confucianism as the Woke Guards are by monuments to long-dead slave traders. Like today’s giddy statue-smashers, they, too, thought they were being progressive by sweeping aside memorials to oppressive ideas or people.
Wrong ideas were the main target in the first Cultural Revolution. Books were burned, overly ‘Westernised’ teachers were humiliated, mass re-education took place. It was a frenzied war against the ‘Four Olds’ – old ideas, old culture, old customs and old habits. Today’s intolerant crusade pursues the same quarry. Although it also rages against the Not-So-Old – even TV shows from a few years ago can be erased by the new moral cleansers of public life.