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Opinion: If Dolly Parton can be cancelled, we're in serious trouble

Dolly Parton performs during an event celebrating the Kansas statewide expansion of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library on Aug. 14, 2023, in Overland Park, Kan. (Charlie Riedel/AP Photo) Dolly Parton performs during an event celebrating the Kansas statewide expansion of Dolly Parton's Imagination Library on Aug. 14, 2023, in Overland Park, Kan. (Charlie Riedel/AP Photo)
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Editor’s Note: Allison Hope’s writing has been featured in CNN, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate and elsewhere. The views expressed here are her own. 

The most uncancellable person in U.S. History — iconic American singer, songwriter and actress, Dolly Parton — has been caught in the crosshairs of cancel culture.

The country legend, also affectionately known as “The iron butterfly,” “The Smoky Mountain songbird” and “The backwoods Barbie,” among other priceless nicknames, has a blockbuster career that spans more than half a century and boasts more than 100 million records sold globally. Parton is, by all accounts, the top female country music singer of all time.

Parton has long been regaled for her happy-go-lucky personality. She has somehow managed to appeal to both ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal fans without keeping entirely quiet about the issues that matter to her and without alienating either extreme. She has long been the unscathed centrist hero of American entertainment. As the country has sharply split along primary red and blue lines with nearly every public figure choosing sides, Parton has long remained the last standing vibrant purple.

Dolly Parton is Switzerland.

Until now.

Conservative writer Ericka Andersen wrote earlier this month in the Federalist that Parton’s support of the LGBTQ2S+ community was “false gospel.” Andersen specifically said that Parton’s invoking her Christianity as the reason she is inclusive, is wrong (the writer refers to being LGBTQ2S+ as “immoral sexual behavior” and “unaligned with God’s vision for humanity”).

The post caused a windfall of right-wing vitriol aimed at Parton. Many people rallied behind the homophobic outcry while a huge contingent defended Parton. (“They came for Dolly. We ride at dawn,” one fan wrote.)

The mudslinging against Parton has been so fast and furious, in fact, that even the writer of the shameful article herself wound up apologizing, saying she regretted spewing epithets at Parton. “As I wrote in the piece, I love her and think she does some incredible things for the world. We all make poor choices in how to frame things sometimes. This was one of those moments for me! Dolly is one of the few people who is beloved by all and who loves all. The world is lucky to have her,” Andersen wrote.

Dolly Parton speaks onstage at the 53rd Anniversary Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala at Music City Center on Oct. 11 in Nashville. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

But has the cancel culture train left the station? Have the haters run afoul and gone and ruined Dolly Parton as the magical unifier that she has long been known for?

It’s not like Parton has avoided politics or weighing in on issues that matter to her. Her substantive philanthropic work through her foundation, Dollywood, includes causes like hospitals and health care (including $1 million toward Covid-19 vaccine research), animal rights, education and more.

Parton has long supported the LGBTQ2S+ community. She has not been afraid to stand on the stage at LGBTQ2S+ events and share that we ought to stop judging and love everyone. She has also risen above the catfighting that country music artists often spew in their lyrics and backstage and instead, shared something distinct — kindness. Her top hit, “Jolene,” is so kind in its portrayal of another woman, that academics have analyzed it as an encoded lesbian song.

There was something long untouchable about Parton. People picked on Taylor Swift and spread disinformation about how she is the Democratic bot trained to swing the election. Or about the unhinged Kanye West proclaiming extremist ring-wing conspiracy theories.

But Dolly Parton slid through over the past years, decades even, largely unscathed by the polarization and division.

Parton was all afternoon movie specials and theme parks, smiles and cleavage. She didn’t have a bad word to say about anybody, and you couldn’t peg her for anything but the country-belting, fun-loving, sweet little belle with a big voice and ‘do that she is. “If you see someone without a smile today, give ‘em yours,” she once posted on X, formerly Twitter. Her sweetness could cause root canals.

Left-wing, right-wing — everybody loves Dolly Parton. The California gays and the Alabama hillbillies alike planned getaways to Dollywood, Parton’s Pigeon Forge, Tennessee based theme park. Nowhere else in America would those two factions walk through a giant pink butterfly entrance together and stand in line, excited about the same attractions.

Parton has long been the great equalizer. Which also made her the last standing whispers of a centrist, united America I long joked — and worried — that Parton was the canary in the coal mine and when they came for her, all hope was officially lost. As long as Dolly Parton remained cheerful and unscathed, I surmised that America had a chance at overcoming its challenges and moving forward as a united nation. But now, with the arrows aimed at Parton, all I feel is existential dread (and I also hear the lyrics to “Jolene” playing on a loop in my weary head — why is it so dang catchy?!).

Indeed, the pitchforks coming for Dolly Parton serve as an apt reminder of America’s decline and sheer terror of the evitability of civil war. Nothing is sacred, not even your neighborly country singer.

There is, though, a shred of light gleaming through the broken shards that we can grasp onto. One need not look any farther than the words of the great Queen of Country herself, “A kaleidoscope of colours, you can toss her round and round. You can keep her in your vision, but you never keep her down.”

Perhaps America can dust itself off from this ugly skirmish that we’re in and start anew. That is, if we can heal from this episode and uncancel Dolly Parton.

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