There are some people who claim that cancel culture does not exist and that people do not suffer from being canceled, but if there is one person who can make a claim to be a canceled artist, Ryan Adams is certainly an obvious case. Admittedly, I did not know he had been cancelled in the first place until he tried to become uncancelled by making a blanket apology to those whom he had hurt, a non-apology apology that acknowledged wrongs and stated a desire to move forward but not to dig too deeply and too personally into what was done . It is pretty clear, in retrospect, how it was that Adams was canceled in the first place: he apparently mistreated vulnerable women by giving them friendship and seeking intimate relationships with them and promising them some sort of success alongside sexual advances only to turn around and behave in a manipulative and abusive fashion. At least a couple of his victims, Mandy Moore and Phoebe Bridgers, happen to be noted singer-songwriters of their own and in Mandy Moore’s case, she performed backup vocal works on one his albums (Ashes & Fire) and clearly did her part to help his career out, even if the response was not mutual.
Nor is it surprising what the fallout of the canceling of Ryan Adams has been. Since early 2019 Adams has faced the cancellation of several albums, as Ryan Adams had scheduled three albums for release that year and refunds had to be made for the pre-orders that had been made for Big Colors , and his planned 2019 tour of the UK and Ireland was canceled as well after allegations of his patterns of abuse became well-known . None of these has, to my knowledge, been rescheduled and 2020 has not exactly proven to be the sort of year where it is easy to reestablish oneself as a touring and recording presence given the Coronavirus and its effect on the music industry as well as other entertainment fields. Suffice it to say that as far as Ryan Adams’ career is concerned, the twin blows of #MeToo and Covid-19 have made it impossible for him to record and release the dozens of songs he has already recorded or that he has written and has likely taken away a fair amount of the potential audience for such material as well.
As someone who is at least somewhat familiar with Adams’ music and career since his days in Whiskytown, I am somewhat surprised it took this long for him to find trouble. Throughout his entire career, Adams has struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and been very honest about his dysfunctional relationships and his abusive and manipulative attitude about relationships. In one of his songs from the early 2000’s, Ryan Adams openly bragged about his abusive tendency, saying that he was going to teach a targeted woman how to shake and that he would come to her like a little girl (whatever that means) and that the sweet amphetamines and bottles and cans are only going to make her love him more. Adams’ attempts to blame his abusive behavior on his lack of sobriety strikes me at least as being fundamentally dishonest, because it appears that drinking, while a major aspect of his life from who knows when, was also used to strategic purpose in order to ensnare vulnerable women in co-dependent relationships as well as provide a convenient excuse for his unreliability or cheating or other abusive behaviors. Ryan Adams’ own music makes him out to be a predatory sort of person, and it’s hard to feel particularly sympathetic to him.
What would it take for Ryan Adams to be uncanceled? It is hard to imagine how this will happen unless the #MeToo movement is deeply discredited, not necessarily with the activists who push it inconsistently but to the businesses involved in the entertainment infrastructure that are necessary for someone to make a career. The vulnerability of entertainment figures to canceling comes from the fact that to make a living in the entertainment business it is necessary for one to have a relationship with companies who are willing to be associated with someone. Companies are publicity shy when it comes to negative publicity and are fairly vulnerable to targeted character assassinations that make it toxic for them to be associated with certain people, and when an artist is not necessarily all that profitable to begin with (as is the case with a middle-aged Adams), it is not worth the cost to maintain a relationship with someone who is not all that profitable a relationship to begin with.
Perhaps most importantly, it is unclear how exactly someone like Ryan Adams could clear his name. The fact that the has a clear motive to want to be forgiven and to be reconciled to his label and potential corporate backers and avenues for his music to be played for his own personal profit and the fact that he has such a long history of abusive and manipulative behavior going back more than twenty years makes it all the more likely that any attempts on his part to claim that he has grown older and wiser and searched himself and examined himself and learned lessons from the experience will be viewed as self-serving efforts to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. As someone who is at best ambivalent if not hostile to cancel culture as a whole, there nonetheless is a rough justice to the process. Cancelling is a contemporary equivalent of tarring and feathering and embargoes and other informal processes by which mobs of politically activist people have sought to influence people through public pressure and while such moods inevitably bring with them a deep degree of trouble upon the innocent, they also express a legitimate desire for justice and a frustration with the slowness of the execution of judgement upon the wicked. It is to be lamented that our desire for justice can so easily be manipulated by the wicked for corrupt political ends, even if it occasionally finds an apt target.
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