Cultural battles that ruled 2017

Mr Trump (photo 1)
Mr Trump (photo 1)PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, KATHY GRIFFIN
The Women's March (photo 2)
The Women's March (photo 2)PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, KATHY GRIFFIN
Bigelow (photo 3)
Bigelow (photo 3)PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, KATHY GRIFFIN
Kathy Griffin (photo 4)
Kathy Griffin (photo 4)PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, KATHY GRIFFIN
Last year's #StarringJohnCho campaign had cast the Korean-American actor (photo 5)
Last year's #StarringJohnCho campaign had cast the Korean-American actor (photo 5)PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, KATHY GRIFFIN
Taylor Swift (photo 6)
Taylor Swift (photo 6)PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, KATHY GRIFFIN
Weinstein Effect (a reference to disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, photo 7)
Weinstein Effect (a reference to disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, photo 7)PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, KATHY GRIFFIN

NEW YORK • Of all of the sequels and franchise extensions last year, none was as ambitious as the reboot of the culture wars starring United States President Donald Trump. He swept into office with the swagger of a one-man Justice League, bent on vanquishing the liberal-leaning entertainment industrial complex and its coastal elite base - one tweet at a time.

The phrase "culture war" crashed into the American national discourse in the late 1980s, as a catch-all term for battles over values, ideals and national identity.

Today's culture wars, like war itself, have moved beyond the old, clearly defined fields of contention and are just as likely to rage among old allies as traditional right-left antagonists.

Here is a look back at some of the fiercest fights from the year.

TRUMP VERSUS HOLLYWOOD

If there was any lingering hope that Mr Trump (photo 1) was going to cede the stage to a more restrained character, it was laid to rest at the Golden Globes on Jan 8.

Erstwhile Trump hair-tousler Jimmy Fallon was the host, but it was actress Meryl Streep who unleashed a fiery speech that called out Mr Trump's mocking imitation of a disabled reporter during the campaign - a performance that "sank its hooks into my heart" - and extolled the open borders of culture.

"Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners," she declared. "If we kick them out, you'll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts."

The room and the Internet erupted in cheers. Conservative pundits accused her of elitist grandstanding, while on Twitter, Trump called her "one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood" and "a Hillary flunky who lost big".

WHOSE FEMINISM IS THIS?

The Women's March (photo 2) spurred millions of protesters in pink "pussy hats" to take to the streets across the country the day after Mr Trump's inauguration.

But there was the awkward fact that 53 per cent of white women had voted for Mr Trump. The pink hat itself was denounced as racist and transphobic.

WHO GETS TO TELL THE STORY?

Jordan Peele scored a No. 1 movie in February with Get Out, a satire of the ways white liberal racism loves black bodies to death, while accusations of more direct cultural body snatching dogged white artists throughout the year.

When Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit, set during the riots of 1967, was accused of appropriating black stories and black pain, she defended herself by agreeing with the charge - sort of.

"Am I the perfect person to tell this story? No," Bigelow (photo 3) told Variety. "However, I am able to tell this story and it's been 50 years since it was told."

SATIRE AND ITS DISCONTENTS

When comedian Kathy Griffin (photo 4) tweeted a photograph of herself holding the bloody, severed head of Mr Trump, she found few defenders and was promptly fired from her gig co-hosting CNN's New Year's Eve special.

But the conversation became a pitched partisan battle a week later, when a bootleg video from the Shakespeare In The Park production of Julius Caesar was posted online showing the very bloody assassination of a very Trump-like Caesar.

THE END OF WHITEWASHING?

Since the debate over whitewashing broke out, those looking for more representation of Asian-Americans in movies have had to settle for justice via meme.

Last year's #StarringJohnCho campaign had cast the Korean-American actor (photo 5) - via Photoshop - in just about everything, with no measurable effect on his real-life credits.

This year, an online outcry prompted a white actor to back out of a role in the reboot of Hellboy.

Ed Skrein made his decision less than a week after the announcement that he would play a character who is half-Japanese in the original comic book series.

TROLLING TAYLOR SWIFT

First they came for Pepe the Frog, New Balance shoes and Jane Austen.

But when the alt-right came for Taylor Swift (photo 6), things (as all things Taylor tend to do) got complicated.

The white nationalists' appropriation of the singer first drew headlines in 2016, when the editor of The Daily Stormer called her "a pure Aryan goddess".

It came crawling out of the grave again in August, when Breitbart News mysteriously spent a day tweeting lyrics from her single, Look What You Made Me Do.

Then, in November, after the album Reputation was released, a blogger for the obscure site, Pop Front, called for Swift to explicitly repudiate white nationalism and suggested that her music might be a gateway drug for Nazi-curious young fans.

Swift's lawyers sent a letter to the blogger demanding a retraction, only to get a rebuke from the American Civil Liberties Union of California, criticising what it called an effort to suppress constitutionally protected free speech.

A few weeks later, The Guardian ran an editorial suggesting that Swift, with her feud-prone ways (and social media army of rabid fan enforcers), was "an envoy for Trump's values", if not necessarily a Trump supporter.

That editorial drew baffled reactions, but the question remains, when it comes to politics, how long can Swift refuse to come to the phone?

#METOO VERSUS HOLLYWOOD

As the list of the men felled by allegations of sexual harassment and assault grew longer, the Weinstein Effect (a reference to disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, photo 7) was shadowed by what might be called the Louis C.K. Conundrum. The offending men were gone (for now, at least), but was it still okay to like - or even look at - their work?

While fans debated the politics of erasure, corporations made some of the decisions for them, as books, television shows, movies and other projects were cancelled or altered.

Facing the social media calls for a boycott of the upcoming movie, All The Money In The World, Sony spent about US$10 million (S$13.3 million) to reshoot 22 scenes with Christopher Plummer replacing Kevin Spacey (who was accused of multiple incidents of sexual misconduct).

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2018, with the headline 'Cultural battles that ruled 2017'. Print Edition | Subscribe