This week actor Clint Eastwood and British rockers The Rolling Stones were each in the spotlight across social media – but not really for anything they did recently. It wasn’t Eastwood’s recently released film Cry Macho that had the 91-year-old actor being the subject of discussion on Twitter, but rather comments he made nearly five decades ago.
Likewise, it wasn’t the death of drummer Charlie Watts that had The Stones trending, it was for a song they’ve played for years – and the news that they will stop playing it for the U.S. tour – that was suddenly news.
Eastwood’s Past Comments
It is true that Clint Eastwood has never really tried to conceal his conservative-leaning views, but on Sunday political activist Rafeal Shimunov (@rafealshimunov) twitted a video from 1973’s Academy Award ceremony.
“1973: Native American actor Sacheen Littlefeather boo’d (and cheered) by Hollywood at the Oscars before being mocked by Clint Eastwood and almost physically assaulted by John Wayne simply for asking that Indigenous people not to be dehumanized in film,” wrote Shimunov.
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The tweet was liked some 37,000 times and retweeted almost 10,000 times, while Shimunov then followed up by suggesting that Eastwood has remained unchanged, and shared a story from earlier this year that accused the actor of “mainstreaming Anti-Asian racism.”
This stirred up the usual debate or “cancel culture” and whether past comments are even necessary to be brought up years later, especially as seen in the video from the decades old Oscars, Eastwood didn’t exactly disparage Littlefeather.
“It was pretty far from Eastwood declaring for team cowboy,” said Dr. Aram Sinnreich, professor in the school of communication at the American University. “The question to bring up is how thoroughly are we going to police the cultural archive around civil rights and cultural sensitivities. It isn’t really ‘cancel culture,’ but something that we should have at a national level conversation about what is permissible to say.”
Both extremes of ignoring it or completely erasing someone is what is unacceptable said Sinnreich.
“You can’t give everyone a free pass for everything they may have done, but you can’t hold everyone accountable for everything they did as well,” he added. “What we need to determine is where we draw the line. The problem is that there is no independent or third party that exists outside of society that can provide a reasonable order that we can all agree with.”
Misinformation And Disinformation From Eastwood
It wasn’t just the old comments that suddenly had the actor/director in the spotlight on social media this week. Another tweet also made the rounds, in which it essentially misattributed a quote to Eastwood about the state of the country and even took aim at President Joe Biden.
Whether it was meant as a parody isn’t entirely clear.
However, some users on Twitter did immediately see that it wasn’t real, yet many others showed both support and contempt for Eastwood from a faux letter, which further highlights how “misinformation” and “disinformation” can almost be weaponized to great extent. Eastwood may be controversial, but social media has shown the ability to take ones views and amplify it.
“That is 100 percent true,” said Sinnreich. “This is exacerbating the divides in our country.”
In this case it likely wasn’t a foreign actor, but Sinnreich warned that this is the sort of misinformation/disinformation that can be weaponized and worsen our divide.
“We know for a fact that there are Russian and Chinese government initiatives to spread disinformation in our social feeds. We don’t know the agenda, but it is a pretty good guess that it is to sow civic discord that diminishes our power on the world stage,” said Sinnreich.
On a smaller level, such misinformation could still impact careers and livelihoods if people believe it were to be true.
“That is certainly a risk,” warned Sinnreich.
Like A Rolling Stone
As the aging British rockers are now touring the United States, one familiar song for their repertoire won’t be heard. The Rolling Stones announced that they have “retired” the classic “Brown Sugar,” which appeared on their 1971 album Sticky Fingers. The song, which was a number one hit in both the United States and Canada, has also been ranked as the number 18 song for 1971 by Billboard magazine, while Rolling Stone magazine ranked it number 495 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and a number five on their list of 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.
The song, written two years before its release, has been a part of The Stone’s live shows and has been played at least 1,136 times.
“We’ve played ‘Brown Sugar’ every night since 1970, so sometimes you think, ‘We’ll take that one out for now and see how it goes,'” singer Mick Jagger told The Los Angeles Times. “We might put it back in.”
At issue are the lyrics, which describe an African American slave being sexualized and likely raped. Others have seen the song also being about drugs.
“I’m trying to figure out with the sisters quite where the beef is. Didn’t they understand this was a song about the horrors of slavery? But they’re trying to bury it. At the moment I don’t want to get into conflicts with all of this sh**,” added Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards. “But I’m hoping that we’ll be able to resurrect the babe in her glory somewhere along the track.”
The news that the song would be retired from the current set list for the aptly named “No Filter Tour,” also took social media by storm.
UK journalist Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) was among those on social media who felt it was the wrong choice to make, sharing a link to his coverage and tweeting, “I’m getting no satisfaction from seeing the Rolling Stones surrender to the woke brigade – when the charts are full of rappers glorifying violent sex, misogyny and guns why is Brown Sugar the song that’s deemed offensive?”
YouTube host Paul Joseph Watson (@PrisonPlanet) also expressed outrage, “The Rolling Stones are to stop playing Brown Sugar because some bed wetting idiots got offended. Another example of how pandering to an extremist minority destroys art & makes the world duller. Stop caving to these pedantic t**ts.”
Mark Groubert (@Lordbuckly) of LA Weekly took a similar stance, “Rolling Stones retire Brown Sugar ‘for now’ after unease about slavery Oh for the love of god. Is anything sacred. How bout those nasty rap lyrics? Untouchable.”
The more mainstream newspaper The Telegraph (@Telegraph) was as direct, “The real surprise may be that Brown Sugar lasted as long as it did.”
Given the lyrics, perhaps the Fleet Street paper is correct that it is a surprise the song lasted as long as it did, and the question could be asked whether it was really ever appropriate.
“It depends on who you ask,” said Sinnreich. “I’m married to a black woman who loves the Rolling Stones and she does have a problem with the song. However, the Stones were clever as you could read it ironically of power and pain. That is a far cry from a racist screed. It’s a complex issue.”
As a media professor and civically engaged American Sinnreich said the net gain in this “public reckoning” could outweigh the downside.
“I don’t think the language of ‘cancel’ is accurate,” he added. “These songs, like the works of Bill Cosby, are still in the public archives for those who want to hear or see them.”
As far as the outrage, Sinnreich noted, “there is a class of pundit who are perpetually outraged. This is ‘rage milking,’ which is almost crucial to social media platforms, which make their money by turning responses into ad revenue. This has turned into a cottage industry to get people angry. What has happened as well is that the responses are often in black and white instead of grey where there is no middle ground.”