Cancel culture is a trendy new term being tossed around these days. At least, it’s new to me. After hearing it referenced (a lot) recently, I had to do a bit of research. For those of you not completely in the know, cancel culture refers to the boycotting, virtual attacking, and/or social media shaming of a person, body or symbol (in this latest wave) who has either done something unpopular, criminal, heinous, and/or antithetical or represents evil, hatred, embarrassment and/or immorality. Thus, the entity’s status is stripped and they are shunned (or cancelled) from society, their job, and/or social media. No one and nothing is safe from the cancel culture brigade. And neither side of whatever the issue seems to be can agree on its merits. When it comes to morality … I never expected there to be such a disparity. One thing is for sure, the #MeToo movement got the ball rolling, and she ain’t done yet.
During my research, I found a number of interesting pieces, including foxnews.com’s Cancel culture goes crazy, claiming classics, cartoons and the confederacy by Howard Kurtz; The Federalist’s Emily Jashinsky wrote How Corporations And Celebrities Can Kill Cancel Culture; and Cancel Cancel Culture by the Editors of National Review. Then there’s Vox.com’s piece Why we can’t stop fighting about cancel culture by All the articles are informative and well-written with Vox adding the subquestion: Is cancel culture a mob mentality, or a long overdue way of speaking truth to power?
There’s an obvious relationship to this piece and the other post I wrote regarding Hartley Sawyer, one of the latest victims of the cancel culture brigade. While walking my dog this morning, I decided to write something regarding the popularity of canceling out what we don’t like about our society. My mind raced from one facet to another. Until this morning, I had only read the Vox piece. Not wanting to rely on a single source, I decided More research! I don’t know why I was surprised to find the “top stories,” as spit out by the google search algorithm, were circulated mostly by conservative websites. Hm. I guess that makes sense because any action the liberals make, the conservatives want to cancel. And, to be fair, vice versa. Right now, the CC brigade is on overdrive, trying to make up for lost time. Some of it, I’m all for. Some of it, not so much. No matter the issue, we need to be very careful. Unfortunately, careful is not a word associated with cancel culture.
I’m not exactly sure where to begin. Paw Patrol? Nah. I don’t really care about that. Cops? Nah. I’m talking about the show, not the real ones. Elmer Fudd? Oy. Does replacing his shotgun with a scythe really make a difference? Because we can’t get rid of guns in the real world, cancelling cartoon firearms is the best we can do (for now, I guess).
Lady Antebellum decided to beat the rush and rename themselves Lady A. While I appreciate the sentiment and their throwing support behind the current #BlackLivesMatter movement, doesn’t the A stand for Antebellum? I had to ask myself, what’s wrong with the word antebellum. According to merriam-webster, it means existing before a war, especially before the American Civil War. Sounds benign enough, doesn’t it? But we know it means more than that.
Of all websites, Good Housekeeping chimed in with this piece: Here’s What ‘Antebellum’ Really Means and Why Lady Antebellum Changed Its Name by Lizz Schumer, who incidentally went from writing stories about how to adopt a dog, to recommending anti-racism books and criticizing the #AllLivesMatter slogan, then back to making her readers’ lives better with a selection of keto cookbooks, jumping onto the celebration of LGBTQ and black lives, before addressing cancel culture. Personally, I don’t know how culture writers are able to keep up with the chaos these days.
Let’s see, NASCAR stepped up and announced they no longer plan to display the flag of the losing side of the Civil War. I imagine the uproar over that decision will be much louder than Lady A changing its name. (Putting on the breaks) I have to insert here the ridiculousness of the argument that Lady A should not change its name because black people don’t listen to country-western music. Puleeze! I am no expert on the history of music (any genre), but even I know the origins of country music are laden with black culture. Check out some of these excellent articles: The Roots of Country Music by Chicago Tribune columnist Dahleen Glanton and Black Artists Continue To Be Excluded From Country Music, A Genre They Created by Jaelani Turner-Williams for online music magazine Vinyl Me, Please.
Back to NASCAR … The announcement by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing was perhaps the most shocking to me until the United States Armed Forces outdid everyone by announcing they will be removing all remnants of the confederate flag from their signage and insignias. What the confederate flag was doing on anything related to the US Armed Forces is beyond me, but what the heck do I know?
Despite what Vox says, cancel culture is not new — only the terminology. I’m sure the first neanderthal breakup went something like this.
Konk! You koncelled.
Heck. It goes back even farther than that when the Chicxulub asteroid cancelled out all the dinosaurs, though I’m sure it didn’t mean to … so, I guess that doesn’t really count.
The current vehicle to cancel someone out may start with a simple tweet: “Twitter, do your thing.” I understand the impulse to do the right thing; stand up for the underdog; or right a wrong, but I wince every time I see one of those tweets. It’s a provocative command to destroy someone’s life because they did something obnoxious and were dumb enough to do it in front of a cell phone camera. After the number of incidents resulting in job loss and humiliation, you would think people would be on their best behavior. Unfortunately, most (if not all) of those caught on camera don’t consider their behavior reprehensible.
Granted, there are exceptional cases where the person-about-to-be-cancelled does something with the intention of causing harm to another as in the case of Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper. I don’t honestly know if anyone is on Amy’s side and don’t care to research the aftermath. I’m going to use the word victim because that’s what she became, a victim of her own racism. A target of the cancel culture mob. Thank goodness no harm came to Christian Cooper, the near-victim of her malicious 911 phone call. I pray he’s received no negative after-effects of the encounter, other than (possibly) unwanted notoriety.
Let’s take a moment to think about the danger of these do-your-thing tweets. A few weeks ago, a cyclist was caught unjustly ripping the flyers out of the hands of teenagers who were posting them along a bike trail near Washington, D.C. This unknown cyclist did not agree with their stance to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement or the homage paid to George Floyd. Essentially, he attempted to cancel their message with both physical and verbal abuse.
The video taken by one of the teenagers went viral rather quickly. It shot up a gear when Maryland-National Capital Park Police asked for the public’s help in identifying the suspect. This is where things got dangerous because at least two men were misidentified as the cyclist before the actual culprit turned himself into the police. In that time, the two men were harassed and threatened by the public. One man was doxed when his home address was posted online. The woman who did it never received the same treatment as Amy Cooper, but her actions echoed a similar malicious intent by sharing his private information with the entire world. The average person cannot be relied upon to research before they react to headlines or tweets racing across their screens to the peril of the unfortunates.
When it comes to public shaming, I’m very uncomfortable because it can shift to rabidity with a side of glee. I take no pleasure in a person’s humiliation, as much as I may disapprove of whatever they did to bring on the CC brigade. I wish I knew of a better method to teach them a lesson or, more importantly, how to uproot their prejudice because I suspect the public shaming doesn’t necessarily change their stance. I think losing their job, perhaps a few friends, might even drive them toward bitterness and wallowing in their own victimhood.
What’s the difference between cancelling a celebrity versus a private individual? A celebrity has a fanbase, most of whom will stick by their side (depending on how egregious the cancel-crime) and forgive them over time. Of course, the celebrity might lose their fanbase if they can’t get another job. It’s up to the studios to decide how long to wait until they can be associated with the ousted celebrity again. It might be said that a celebrity has more to lose than a private citizen, but I don’t know if that’s a true statement. We all value our reputations. We spend our entire lives working on and building our character. Having it smashed to pieces in a matter of hours over one incident must be devastating. One might argument their downfall is not based on a one-time incident. It’s simply the first or only time they were caught on camera. Don’t misunderstand and accuse me of siding with the racists. I do not. There are not good people on both sides of these encounters, but they are all people with feelings. I have empathy and sympathy for the person or persons being accosted in a park or a convenience store, but I also have a sense of pity for the bigot who sics the cancel culture onto themselves.
No less or more horrendous is the virtual attack of a public official simply trying to do their job. Every president throughout the history of the United States has had to suffer vitriol, some more than others. Ohio Department of Health director, Dr. Amy Acton, was subjected to public demonstrations at her home and House Republicans trying to impede her authority at the office. As Ohio began the transition to open up, Dr. Acton resigned as director but stayed on as Governor Mike DeWine’s senior health advisor. During the height of the pandemic, she seemed to focus on the overwhelming task at hand and put the state’s well-being over her own mental health.
The biggest target of cancel culture, second only to racism, is militarized police forces. In one of my favorite movies from 2008, Hot Fuzz (starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), Sgt. Nicholas Angel (Pegg) corrects his partner Danny Butterman (Frost) when Danny refers to the police as the force. “We’re actually supposed to refer to it as ‘the service’ now,” Angel says. “Official vocab guidelines state that ‘force’ sounds too aggressive.” Bingo.
The most prominent cancel culture term, as it applies to this example, is ‘defund the police.’ Unfortunately, it’s being used as a scare tactic to keep middle America and suburban housewives terrified. I prefer the term ‘demilitarize’ or ‘reallocate.’ I’ve seen several more accurate and descriptive options on the internet, all involving the reallocation of responsibilities and funding to services better trained to handle social matters. It’s such a complicated issue, I’ll end this discussion here.
There are so many other cancel culture examples, I can’t possibly mention them all. Statues of the Confederacy and Christopher Columbus have been toppled or dumped into the river. Karens are being outed on practically a daily basis. CEOs and editors are stepping down in an effort to spare themselves being cancelled. Universities, the music industry, the movie industry, and the publishing industry are having morality crises over their treatment of black colleagues, artists and authors. Our own government should be on that list, but at least half of it thinks everything is hunky-dory. Nothing to fix. Just move along, you fascists.
Finally, I can’t not mention the most famous, ruthless and evil cancel-culturist of all time. Adolph Hitler attempted to cancel out the entire Jewish population, along with
Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, blacks, the physically and mentally disabled, political opponents of the Nazis, including Communists and Social Democrats, dissenting clergy, resistance fighters, prisoners of war, Slavic peoples, and many individuals from the artistic communities whose opinions and works Hitler condemned.*
Hitler might very well be the first one caught on camera, proudly spewing his hateful rhetoric. Were it not for the world-wide antifascist movement, he would have succeeded.
It may seem like I’m on the conservative side when it comes to the cancel culture phenomena. The difference is, they only want to stop the cancelling of symbols and things they like. Let’s take a look at some of the things they don’t like and want to see cancelled:
- social services
- brown immigrants
- fair voting
- environmental protection acts
- wolf pups and bear cubs
- peaceful protests
- anti-lynching legislation
- systemic racism concept
I could go on, but you get the point.
The editors of National Review (known as the the bible of American conservatism) end their piece with this heart-warming sentiment:
“We would prefer that people be treated with grace rather than opportunistic cruelty and with charity rather than pettiness.”
I could not agree more, and I’m sure if I dig a little deeper into their archives, I’ll find an article expressing their outrage over how the immigrants caged in Texas are being treated with “opportunist cruelty.” But upon a single search entry for immigrants on their website, I found these related headlines:
Now Is Not the Time to Increase Immigrant Labor
What Happened to Dealing with Illegal Immigration?
Joe Biden and Illegal Immigration
I’m not an advocate for open borders, but I do expect those crossing into the United States, whether legally or illegally, to be treated with dignity. Furthermore, those obeying all the immigration rules and crossing the border in search of sanctuary should be treated with compassion. That’s not to say the ones crossing the border illegally deserve inhumane treatment, but there seems to be no difference between them at all right now. Call me a soft-hearted liberal if you like. I’d rather be called that than be guilty of referring to my fellow human beings as animals.
#BlackLivesMatter has been around a long time, but not enough people were listening. Not enough people cared. Something important and long overdue is finally happening in this country and across the globe. While I don’t care for the current cancel culture trend, I do want our society, institutions and people’s attitudes to change in more areas than one. We should never forget where we came from; how we used to be; how much we’ve improved; or how far we’ve come. I’m happy to see some changes happening in real time, but everything can’t be fixed overnight. As we advance into the future, I hope to witness and take part in the progression away from:
- political hypocrisy
- political nepotism
- police brutality
- social inequality
- public shaming
- white supremacy
I list white supremacy and racism as two different items because I think of white supremacy as a system of oppression and exploitation while racism is a denigrating behavior (aggressive or not, conscious or not) toward a person of another race. Racism is inherent at various levels. Today, we are seeing strides at the top-most, awakened levels. Those at the lowest levels are so hardened by their belief, they will never change. Do I need to say ‘in my opinion?’
Racism is systemic. Racism is taught. Racism is learned.
White supremacy is instituted. White supremacy is enforced. White supremacy is legislated.
That is how I view and interpret those terms. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m still learning. The following links are some additional resources I highly recommend listening to and/or reading.
- *Ina R. Friedman‘s The Other Victims of the Nazis, published by the National Council for the Social Studies, a non-profit organization which advocates education and inspiration to perform civic action, leadership, and services.
- Brookings Cafeteria Podcast: On racism and white supremacy with Andre M. Perry (Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, scholar-in-residence at American University, and columnist for the Hechinger Report), Vanessa Williamson (Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings and Senior Fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center), and Fred Dews (managing editor of podcasts & digital projects at the Brookings Institution and host of the Brookings Cafeteria podcast).
- The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends is a publication from the Quaker Community. Elizabeth Martínez‘s article What is white supremacy? discusses the history of racism and white supremacy during the formation and development of the United States of America.
Vox asked: Is cancel culture a mob mentality, or a long overdue way of speaking truth to power? They left the question open for discussion. Speaking truth to power is a non-violent form of political opposition against governmental oppression. Mob mentality is a confluence of behavior based on the emotional impact of those in a group rather than an individual’s own rational thoughts.
When I first started this post, I thought of the cancel culture brigade as the latest mob squad. There is a certain hyena-like feeling to the attacks on social media. How much can be attributed to anonymity versus emotional sway, I can’t answer. I want to believe most people jump onboard because they feel strongly one way or the other before they hit that enter button. In any case, cancel culture has turned into something far-reaching as it’s used against individuals and long-standing symbols of racism. It’s become a tool to speak a truth in a not-so-polite flock of tweeters.
I hope this post provides educational and insightful information. I’m glad to have read all the articles for my research but now feel the need to do searches on puppies and kittens and Tom Hiddleston. Stat!