Friday, March 25, 2022
Over on Prawfsblawg, Paul Horwitz (right) has a long and insightful rumination on some more contractual fall-out from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a topic we have already touched on here and here. His post was inspired by the decision of the Vancouver Recital Society (VRS) to cancel a concert by Russian pianist Alexander Malofeev (below left). VRS pursued Mr. Malofeev for six years, but then said that it could not support Russian artists unless they denounced the war.
Perhaps in response, or sua sponte, Mr. Malofeev wrote on Facebook,
The truth is that every Russian will feel guilty for decades because of the terrible and bloody decision that none of us could influence and predict.
Not good enough. In a response that it described as "complex and nuanced," VRS explained why it was nonetheless cancelling Mr. Malofeev's performance.
Professor Horwitz makes great points about how decisions like VRS's are exceptional. In most situations, we swallow our moral scruples in order to get on with life. It is obviously silly to demand that Mr. Malofeev denounce the war and then cancel the concert anyway. It is obviously hypocritical to pretend that nobody knew that Putin was a war-mongering tyrant before February 2022. But for our purposes, his most interesting point is that decisions like VRS's are business decisions, and institutions caught in the battles over "cancel culture" make such decisions all the time. First Amendment principles might come into play, but how one wields the rhetorical force of constitutional rights might be overdetermined by basic math: will our bottom line look better or worse if we go forward with this event?
And so it has ever been. The world is tainted. Unless, as Professor Horwitz put it, you are a saint or a recluse, we all weigh plusses and minuses and make compromises or simply choose not to inform ourselves of the full impact of our interactions with international markets. While "cancel culture" makes surface waves, we swim in a sea of compromise culture. Most of us have to work somewhere; we have to buy our goods somewhere, and everything is ultimately inter-connected.
Okay, so Professor Horwitz covered the hard stuff, the deep stuff. I want to know the surface stuff: Did VRS have a contractual right to cancel Mr. Malofeev's performance unilaterally. If not, wouldn't VRS have to pay Mr. Malofeev his fee, and doesn't that figure into the economic calculations relevant to the decision to cancel the concert? Could there not also be downstream consequences beyond the decision to cancel this one concert? After all, Russia has produced a great many talented musicians. So has China. So has Israel. The list goes on. No state is free from moral taint. Must every artist now pin a Tweet or a post on Facebook denouncing their home state's latest atrocities? If doing so might be deemed inadequate by the concernt promoter, aren't artists in high demand like Mr. Malofeev going to demand assurances of payment in case of cancellation by the concert promoter?