Let us now reread the old texts, examining them with a cold eye to determine what they reveal about the #MeToo transgressions of the artistic past. Even the popular entertainments must be probed for common savagery. Molly Ringwald watched her film The Breakfast Club in the company of her young daughter and realized that one scene contains within it a suggestion of offscreen physical harassment. And just like that, the movie—the Citizen Kane of 1980s teen cinema—went whistling down the memory hole, a plaintive echo of its hit song fading to silence as it plummeted: “Don’t You (Forget About Me).”
Is nothing safe? Perhaps—and at Vegas odds—only Lolita can survive the new cultural revolution. No one will ever pick up that novel and issue a shocked report about its true contents; no feminist academic will make her reputation by revealing its oppressive nature. Its explicit subject is as abhorrent today as it was upon the book’s publication 60-plus years ago.
Bored on a quiet afternoon during my first year out of college, I looked through some books I kept in a milk crate and reached for one I’d never read: Lolita. I’d spent the previous summer in Italy, where every jukebox and car radio seemed to play either a dance track called “Vamos a la Playa,” or the mesmerizing hits from the Police album Zenyatta Mondatta, including “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” which informed me of the smoldering allure of “that book by Nabokov.” With that endorsement—hadn’t Jim Morrison directed us happily to William Blake?—and with nothing else to do, I opened the book, and the room quickly faded around me, and then I faded, too, leaving behind a girl-shaped vapor.