The Anatomy Of A Cancel
Yesterday, I woke up to be informed by Twitter that I must cancel my Disney Plus subscription. Considering I had been spending the past week using Disney Plus to watch The Simpsons, this was bad news for me. So, I figured I’d check into why this is, because maybe it could be rather important.
The reason is simple, LucasFilms fired Gina Carano, an actress for The Mandalorian. For those curious, here’s what she said in a TikTok post that caused her firing:
Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors…even by children. Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views.
This, naturally, bothered some people. Now, it shouldn’t need to be said that this statement is utter nonsense. “Hating someone for their political views” is not the same as even most forms of antisemitism you’d find in the United States today, and even then most forms of antisemitism are not the same as beating Jews in the streets — that’s a special kind of evil that very few things can be compared to.
However, what’s also worth noting is that she had been in controversy before for views related to masks and election fraud. Left-wing fans of The Mandalorian had been calling for her firing for months, as was documented by the website The Insider in November 2020:
The hashtag “#FireGinaCarano” has been trending with fans writing that “this is not about one’s skills about acting. This is not because of ‘different political views.’ This is about this person being downright against human rights.”
Basically, it was not just that she made a Holocaust comparison, it was that she appeared to be doing that to dodge already existing criticism. She was basically saying that the campaign to get her fired was the exact same as beating Jews in the street. This was not even a normal Holocaust comparison, this was comparing her possibly not being able to act in a show because she agrees with one of the two major political parties in the United States to getting beaten in the street.
But still, how dare Disney fire this person over political speech, we have to fight against cancel culture by canceling our Disney Plus subscription. Yes, canceling something is now how you’re supposed to do fight cancel culture — don’t think about it and then it will make sense. Just as, in order to stop an organized mob, we all have to, at the same time, take part in one action because we’re mad at a company. Now let’s fight hashtag activists on Twitter by tweeting #CancelDisneyPlus.
Now, in the past, I’ve been critical of the mainstream narrative regarding “cancel culture.” However, I think it’s wrong to paint it off as a work of fiction when in truth it’s nothing more than an age-old story of people reacting to stimuli. In truth, humans have engaged in behavior similar to this for decades on end, one thinks of everything from the blacklists of Hollywood during the days of the Hayes Code to the fact that you still, to this day, cannot join an intelligence agency in the United States if you’ve ever been a communist. In fact, when immigrants come to the United States they are forced to swear that they have never been members of communist or fascist parties.
It’s actually funny that the example given is part of the Star Wars franchise when Star Wars has been “canceled” by the right many times since the sequel trilogy started. Back when The Force Awakens came out, many people in more niche right-wing communities went after for giving in to the “feminist agenda” because it had a female main character or something. The website Return Of Kings, a now-defunct blog previously ran by then-pickup artist RooshV, actually bragged that their “reporting” had cost Disney $4.2 million. When The Last Jedi came out, it was equally blasted by conservatives due to claims that it had “gone political” and other such nonsense. (For the record, I never saw Last Jedi so I have no idea if it’s a good film, but Star Wars was already basically just a campfire retelling of World War Two in space, so I find the claims that the movies have “gone political” to be more than a little nonsense.)
Now some might say that nobody is going after the aforementioned restrictions or examples, as Michael Knowles put it in a recent Daily Wire article:
The slogan “cancel culture,” much like the slogan “pro-life,” refers to a specific phenomenon. “Cancel culture” describes the present inclination to censor and ostracize people who contradict leftist orthodoxy. “Cancel culture” does not refer to the general belief that people ought never to incur consequences for the things they say or write, nor does it suggest that society ought to have no standards whatsoever. No one believes that an employee who shows up do work in a brown shirt and yells, “Seig Heil!” from the water cooler has some sacred right to keep his job. Defenders of “cancel culture” evade the issue by straw-manning their opponents’ views.
Actually, some people are arguing for that. Chad Felix Greene, a writer for The Federalist, tweeted out the following on 1/19/2021:
Political Affiliation must be a federally recognized and protected class.
Greene said a similar thing on 1/8/2021:
The *only* thing that will be effective is adding Political Affiliation as a protected class under discrimination law and hate crime law. This must be done if we have any hope of our voice being heard in politics again.
I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t find the brown shirt exception Knowles was talking about.
But second off, yeah that’s my point. Nobody is going after these “restrictions” or “canceling” because one side understands that standards have to exist in a society and the others either do not know these rules exist or are engaging in double standards. Knowles even lists restrictions that he feels were justified in this very same article:
The American legal system has prohibited large swaths of speech from our nation’s earliest days, including fraud, sedition, threats, and obscenity, among other categories. Laws such as the Smith Act have empowered the government — rightly, in the opinion of this author — to prosecute communists and other subversives who sought to overthrow the government by force of violence in the middle of the twentieth century.
Now, I won’t get into the argument of if the Smith Act was justified, although I will note that if Knowles wants to go after market fundamentalism on the right, making the loudest critics of the market illegal is a near-certain way for such a thing to boomerang. I will say that I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather lose my job or get yelled at on Twitter before becoming a living martyr than be locked in a cage for expressing my political views.
However, the actual issue at hand is not that you want to enforce standards of your own, the issue is that critics of cancel culture often mislead about what their political values are. Knowles even admits this in his article defending the very same people:
Such debates begin when someone makes a comment that offends leftist sensibilities. The offender may be a public figure or a private citizen; he may be a rock-ribbed conservative or a heterodox liberal. Whatever the circumstances of the offender, leftist activists mobilize to attack his reputation and destroy his career. Conservatives then decry “cancel culture,” attack leftist “censorship,” and extol the virtues of “free speech,” at which point the leftist censors observe that the First Amendment does not prevent “private companies” from censoring whomever they please.
The cancelers next observe that the American free speech tradition does not protect citizens from any and all consequences that might result from their speech. Finally, they point to the many examples throughout American history of conservatives’ suppressing radical speech, from the Alien and Sedition Acts all the way up through McCarthyism and beyond, and they accuse the Right of hypocrisy.
Knowles calls these arguments “bad faith,” (which is the same as saying “an argument I don’t like”) but it’s quite literally just responding to what your opponent is telling you your political values are. If you tell me you value freedom of speech before preaching the wisdom of John Adams and Joseph McCarthy — I’m going to think something is up.
Okay, but what is canceling? Well canceling is best described as a more extreme version of previous fears about “political correctness.” Political correctness as a concept first came into existence as a self-deprecating joke among leftists in the 1970s and 1980s. The joke was in reference to leftists who were too focused on political orthodoxy, even being willing to fight other leftists if they stepped out of line.
The term was later co-opted by right-wing commentators who used it as a buzzword to describe things that made leftists mad. After the rise of right-wing shock jocks, your Rush Limbaugh’s and Bill O’Reilly’s, combined with other more regular comedians speaking out against what they thought was an upcoming mob of “snowflakes” here to ban fun, being “politically incorrect” even became a badge of honor. It meant you were telling harsh truths that the leftists didn’t want the population to hear — regardless of how true those “harsh truths” actually were.
Political correctness as a concept was one of those things that got more blasted the more well known it was, with almost nobody standing up to defend it. In 1994, the movie PCU (literally standing for “Politically Correct Universe”) was released, and it showed the evil politically correct activists (backed by staff) as the bad guys and the good trouble-causing kids as the good guys. Of course, none of the bad guys ever declare themselves “politically correct” because, to put it simply, nobody considered themselves “politically correct.” Nobody wakes up and says “I’m going to be politically correct today,” it’s something critics of yours use as an attack and not something you call yourself. While that can be applied to any insult, it’s odd that if “PC culture” was so big not a single person was willing to stand up and argue for it.
Between 2004 until 2018, the right-wing publishing house Regnery even published thirty-two books in a series called The Politically Incorrect Guide To. This started with The Politically Incorrect Guide To American History by Tom Woods with the most recent book being The Politically Incorrect Guide To Immigration by John Zmirak. Other books in this series are written by people like Robert Spencer, Robert Murphy, Harold William Crocker, Larry Schweikart. and Paul Kengor. While not all of these books are bad, some can provide interesting perspectives that are ignored by the mainstream, many of these books are awful and much more accurately called “Reality Incorrect Guides” as oppose to “Politically Incorrect Guides.” (I’m not the first one to use that joke, it’s basically required for anyone who reviews these books.)
One wonders if we’ll get a “Cancelable Guide To” book series because this is really just the same old song and dance. Just as it was once cool to be “politically incorrect,” or to “trigger” this or that group of people in need of a “safe space”, it’s currently cool to be “canceled.” Ironically, some people have even made entire careers out of being “canceled.” One cancel culture victim, Nick Sandmann who got famous after getting yelled at during a March for Life rally, has made millions suing different media companies that went after him back in the day and built up a cult of personality in the process.
Now, just because some people have become very successful as a result of cancelation doesn’t mean that “canceling” still can’t have negative effects. However, it’s important to realize just who we’re defending when it comes to “fighting against cancel culture.” One recent victim of cancel culture, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, literally wrote the best-selling book in modern history. She’s a billionaire who lives in luxury — I think she can tolerate getting yelled at on Twitter for being transphobic.
Some have called “cancel culture” a tool “the powerful use to escape consequences.” In fact, that’s basically what Jessica Valenti wrote in an August 2020 article that I cannot quote for you because it’s behind a paywall. However, I do not think that such a framing is entirely accurate, if only because there are likely much smaller examples out there that don’t get the same mainstream attention.
The most obvious example of this harming someone small is Justine Sacco, who tweeted out the following on 12/20/2013 just before an eight-hour flight:
Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!
Justine was not a powerful person and it’s likely those who went after her have not thought about her in years. However, she did lose her job and was harassed as a result of her joke, one she made out of ignorance and not racism, might I add.
However, cases like Justine are such a small exception that it’s impossible to blame someone for not noticing them. When you think of big examples of “cancel culture” you think of people who have made careers out of being silenced. Ann Coulter once joked that she had made a career out of ending her career — and while I do hate Ann Coulter, make no mistake, this is one of the few things she’s right on. Every couple of months, it seems like, Coulter says something that’s the “final straw” “now she’s crossed the line” we’re told, and yet a few months later we hear the exact same story, back at square one. Same thing with every other right-wing shock jock in all of existence, Bill O’Reilly was caught lying about being in a war zone and Fox News still kept him on for another couple of years. Sean Hannity has defrauded a veterans charity and yet he’s still allowed to have a major show on Fox News. Powerful people will never be “canceled” and yet, those are the stories we hear about the most often.
I remember during the height of #MeToo, one of the biggest concerns was that the life of an innocent man would be ruined through a false rape accusation. So, how do you think these people would react if a man was shot in the back seven times after being accused of rape? Because that’s exactly what happened to Jacob Blake, so was that an example of “cancel culture gone mad”?
Speaking of the whole “a mere accusation” thing, it’s impossible to notice that this hyper-skepticism of criminal claims is also rather selective. How many of these people listened and believed the accusations against Michael Jackson, rather it be in his two trials or in the film Leaving Neverland, despite all the claims having been debunked several times including in a court of law? How many people listened and believed the claims that O.J. Simpson was a murderer even after the court declared him not guilty? Of course, both these men had a large amount of power so this might not fit in perfectly with my point, but the overall argument still stands.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: What is my point, it seems like I’ve been rambling for roughly two thousand words. Well, my point is that it seems like “cancel culture” is a vaguely defined narrative no different than other vaguely defined narratives that have been brought up before this. The mainstream narrative that “canceling” is a new thing brought forth by radical leftists falls apart upon basic examination, and it’s common for its loudest critics to have many of the same issues they rail against.
It’s commonly said that the most dangerous person is the person who thinks they’re doing good, well, what happens when two people who both think they’re doing good fight each other? What happens when the do-gooder is fighting a basic aspect of humanity, that of cognitive bias, but is under the assumption that they are fighting a new threat? Basically, what happens when a person thinks a minor splinter is a new kind of illness that requires a rare flower to cure?
Those who label themselves as “against cancel culture” are like those who complain about “chemicals in their food.” Tell me, what do they want to happen to the people who started and engaged in cancel culture in the first place? Do they want them to just be let back out into the wild, free to continue where they left off? Or do they want them to be punished for their actions, many even have their works boycotted in hopes of getting them removed from having massive influence in popular culture?
Basically, and this goes back to what I told Michael Knowles earlier in the article, don’t act like you have principles you don’t abide by.