March 24, 2020

ROGER KIMBALL: Cancel culture comstockery.

Fast forward to early March 2020. The Hachette Book Group suddenly announced that its Grand Central Publishing imprint would be bringing out Apropos of Nothing, a memoir by Allen, in early April. In an interview, Michael Pietsch, Hachette’s ceo, noted the controversy surrounding Allen but said that “Grand Central Publishing believes strongly that there’s a large audience that wants to hear the story of Woody Allen’s life as told by Woody Allen himself. That’s what they’ve chosen to publish.”

A few days later, a group of Hachette employees staged a walkout to protest the book’s publication. The next day, Hachette announced that it was hopping onto the cancel culture bandwagon and dropping the book.

“The decision to cancel Mr. Allen’s book was a difficult one,” said a spokesman for the publisher (so difficult it took twenty-four hours to achieve). “At hbg we take our relationships with authors very seriously, and do not cancel books lightly. We have published and will continue to publish many challenging books.”

Translation: Hachette, as Oscar Wilde said in another context, can resist anything except temptation. Just so long as a book does not attract the ire of the politically correct establishment, the firm is all for publishing “challenging” books. (Item: Commandant of Auschwitz, a memoir by Rudolf Hoess, is published by Hachette.) But trespass on that PC orthodoxy and watch the capitulation, leavened by moralistic hand-wringing, begin. As Groucho Marx is supposed to have said, “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”

Our interest in Woody Allen is minimal. Yes, his early movies and writings are funny. Then he discovered Ingmar Bergman. The quantum of pretension and narcissistic self-seriousness proceeded to swamp the comedy. For us, the prospect of wading through “a comprehensive account of [Woody Allen’s] life, both personal and professional” (as Hachette put it when the publishing skies were sunny) is queasy-making.

But Hachette had determined that many readers would be interested in Allen’s life story. They simply forgot to check with the feminist commissars to see if Woody Allen passes muster in the age of #MeToo. He doesn’t.

These weren’t even commissars, but Red Guards in the form of their own 20-something editorial staff, who should have been told that there are lots of people who would like to work in publishing, and that some of those people would be taking over their jobs shortly.

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