I’ve been thinking a lot about cancel culture recently and about the people who decry it.
I’m thinking about cancel culture and who actually gets cancelled. The example that comes to mind of a group truly cancelled is the Chicks (formerly D*xie Chicks) who, after speaking out against President Bush and the war, were pulled from radio stations and effectively blacklisted for over a decade. People are still mad at them. Yet, I don’t remember the same people lamenting cancel culture standing up for the Chicks 1st Amendment Rights back then.
And that’s not surprising. The goal posts move depending on who is doing the crime. A young white male teen caught smoking pot is a “boy with potential.” A young Black male teen caught smoking pot is “a dealer, a man who should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
Again, who has been effectively cancelled? Matt Lauer? Keven Spacey? Louis C.K.? Two of the three are not currently working, but they were held accountable well into established, lucrative careers. Decades of bad behavior – criminal behavior – and victims in their wake while they were rising to the top of their fields and making a ton of money. Besides Harvey Weinstein, who has been held accountable – by the law – for their actions? What have they learned besides, “Don’t get caught.” I’m sure they’re planning their comebacks – heck Louis C.K. has been trying out material in smaller venues for over a year now. How about Justin Timberlake who has been involved in not one, but two famous female singers being either blacklisted (Janet Jackson) or the target of scorn/slut-shaming/etc. (Britney Spears) and yet he’s come out unscathed. How does that work? (Rhetorical question: It’s the patriarchy).
It seems that the lament of “cancel culture is ruining everything” is a false flag. A way to avoid discussing the actual events that led to the “cancelling.” If we focus on the idea of cancel culture over the behavior we are now deciding as a society is not only unacceptable, but that it should come with consequences, we might actually start holding people accountable. We might start to change – heal – our society. Make it a place that is safer for marginalized folx. I think for some people/businesses the idea of being “cancelled” is actually a signal to others like them – a rallying cry – to defend their right to their bad behavior. They don’t see it as bad publicity. Shelley Luther (the hairstylist who went to jail for opening her salon in Dallas during a Covid-19 lockdown) is one example of someone who used “cancel culture” to make money and launch a (thankfully failed) political campaign. It’s like a weird status symbol.
It baffles me a little bit. It seems so intuitive. When a child does something wrong, hurts others, don’t parents deliver punishments – consequences – for that display of bad behavior? Why do we continually expect more from children than other adults? If a kid calls another kid “r*tard*d” we take away a toy or an iPad and explain why that word is unacceptable and hurtful to use as an insult, or said at all. Explain its origins. Educate while providing a consequence so the child doesn’t do it again. Or at least I hope we do. Maybe not enough of us do. Maybe that’s part of the problem.
I’m not sure we should engage with people that go down the “cancel culture is ruining our society” rabbit-hole. I don’t think it’s proven to be true and it’s a way to derail the discussion. Maybe we just focus on exhibiting the right kind of behavior, calling out bad behavior, and relaying the consequences for continuing the problematic behavior.
Maybe we start truly holding people accountable.
I don’t know. I don’t have the answers, but I am tired. So tired of the least oppressed among us decrying their oppression. I’m tired of the weaponization of “cancel culture.” It’s become another blanket-term of the right, akin to Communism, Antifa, Soros, etc. It would almost be comical if so many people didn’t vehemently believe it.