It’s Time to Cancel Out “Cancel Culture.”
It’s time to cancel out “Cancel Culture.”
Cancel culture, a.k.a. “call-out culture,” is an absolutist form of ostracism in which the so-called “offender” is thrust out of all social or professional circles. This can be online, or on social media, or in person. Those who are victims of this form of ostracism are said to have been “canceled.”
The term “cancel culture” has negative connotations among many disparate political and social groups and is commonly used in debates about free speech and censorship. Many conservatives attack cancel culture, but it’s become a wickedly divisive issue within liberal circles, as well.
Sarah Silverman, the often hysterically funny and sometimes shocking comedian is the latest target of cancel culture to speak out strongly against the dangers of this trend with no end in sight. She expressed her personal and professional frustrations on a recent podcast.
“It’s so fucking elitist. You know, for something called ‘progressive,’ it allows for zero progress. It’s all or nothing,” she said referring to the draconian mass reactions to people who either simply make mistakes or were victims of earlier more permissive times when audiences weren’t as easily offended by edgy commentary and ridicule.
I’m a huge fan of Silverman, whose comedy is hit and miss, but always pushes comfort zones. She takes risks. She’s brave. I like that. We desperately need more Silvermans in our society, those who aren’t afraid to be canceled out, just as the 18th Century needed Jonathan Swift, the 19th Century needed Mark Twain, and the 20th Century needed Mel Brooks. For some, being “offensive” can be the highest form of flattery. I would go so far as to say backward societies, often shackled by religion, could use a lot more Swifts, Twains, Brooks’s, and Silvermans.
The trouble is, everyone has now become subject to the ax of mass hysteria. And plenty of people are now being decapitated as the blade swings and slashes all in its perilous path. Offenders and offenses are graded with no sense of proportion whatsoever. Does anyone think Al Franken being forced out of the U.S. Senate was a just outcome while the former president engaged in decades of acts that were far more egregious, and perhaps even criminal?
It’s mass madness.
The bitter irony here is that conservatives have seized this issue and made it their own, undoubtedly winning over some hearts and minds (though also fed a steady diet of lies and exaggerations). I say “bitter irony,” because conservatism has always been based on “cancel culture.”
For centuries, and even in recent times, conservatives have attempted to cancel out everything people do — including any form of freedom or personal expression — from advances in science, to great works of literature, to art, to movies, to sexual activities, to sexual orientation, to gender identity, to social gatherings, to drinking, to gambling, to drug use, to anything that offends. Conservative ideology IS the very manifestation of cancel culture, and always has been. So, it’s a stunning reversal of roles that so many on the political right now conveniently play the “cancel culture” card to win over converts.
As for progressives, we need to pick our battles much more wisely. Removing Confederate statues is an issue that’s both morally correct and historically righteous. Stick with the things that matter. Boycotting comedians is stupid. Firing people for things they did many years earlier in high school or tweeting out mean comments is destined to backfire. That’s because most people have done dumb things in their past and a dragnet of cancel culture could dredge up lots of victims who don’t deserve punishment. We need to draw some lines and stick to them. Stop moving the goddamned goalposts.
The real victims of cancel culture aren’t just those offenders of the past and present who are subject to targeting and ostracizing. It’s everyone. Under the guidelines of what we’re seeing now, we’re all victims of impossibly high bars of expectation.
Among us, I know of no saints. We’re all sinners.