You might think of Taylor Swift as a harmless pop star with a gift for tunes tweens love, but that’s no longer true. She’s now on the front lines of our relentless culture wars. The singersongwriter has released a new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” that jabs at her musical rivals and critics (see Gossip), and culture warriors have pounced on Swift for innumerable alleged transgressions. In the Huffington Post, she was accused of “appropriation” because in her song’s video she mimics Beyoncé strutting in front of a line of male backup dancers. Heidi Stevens in the Chicago Tribune complained that Swift’s choice of song title echoed “the language of domestic violence perpetrators.” And Amy Zimmerman in The Daily Beast argued that Swift should effectively be excluded from polite society until she announces “that she didn’t vote for Donald Trump.”
Swift joins a long list of people, movies, and TV shows that have been deemed verboten. Feminists have argued that HBO’s medieval fantasy Game of Thrones is irredeemably misogynistic—never mind that the actual medieval era was not an especially great time for women. And the decision to remake Ghostbusters with an all-female cast enraged some conservatives, who claimed the film was part of a liberal Hollywood plot to sideline men. It must be exhausting to have to constantly assess whether you can enjoy a piece of art or entertainment based not on its merits but on whether it and its creators echo your politics and values. If I followed those rules, I could never listen to another nocturne by Chopin (an anti-Semite), look at a painting by Gauguin (slept with underage Tahitian girls), or watch a movie by Hitchcock (harassed and abused his female leads). As for Swift, well, I played her new track to my 4-year-o ld daughter, who gleefully danced around our living room, waving her arms. She didn’t ask how the singer voted.