Irvine Welsh is no stranger to a bit of controversy. The Scottish author has a long reputation for causing literary offence: his cult 1993 novel Trainspotting, which tells the story of a group of working class heroin addicts from Edinburgh, was pulled from the Booker Prize shortlist after two of the judges threatened to resign over it, while posters promoting the release of 1998’s Filth, which revolves around a racist and mysoginistic copper protagonist, were subsequently seized from an independent bookshop by the police.
Despite the divisive nature of Welsh’s work, he’s also achieved huge success. Trainspotting has sold more than one million copies in the UK alone, and is said to be the most shoplifted novel in British publishing history, while Danny Boyle’s film adpation of the book topped a 2012 poll of the best British films of the past 60 years.
Fast forward to 2020, however, and the cultural and political landscape is markedly different from the one in which Welsh first curated his thought-provoking brand of controversy. Building on the age-old practice of public shaming, the act of ostracising – or cancelling – public figures and companies after they have done or said something deemed to be offensive has become increasingly commonplace in recent years, growing hand in hand with sociopolitical movements such as #MeToo.