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Cancel culture

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Mike Brownfield speaking in 2021 with attendees at an event hosted by the Goldwater Institute titled "Color and Conformity in America's Cancel Culture"
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It's capitalism, which conservatives love until it backfires on them, and then they call it cancel culture.
—@opinion444 on Twitter[1]
Old, powerful people often seem to be more upset by online criticism than they are by injustice.
—Ernest Owens[2]
Let’s look down the path and say where does this cancel culture lead us? You see the final expression of cancel culture in Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda who basically go and behead those who they deem to be infidels or heretics in order to silence them, in order to protect others from being misled by those heretical ideas in the eyes of ISIS or Al Qaeda…
Tulsi Gabbard showing us...perhaps one of the more creative uses of the term.[3]
But they ARE allowed to have that opinion! No one is forcing you to not speak. That's what freedom of speech is about. We're saying - "please stop, cause we think you're wrong." - and then you can say to us - "No, you stop. I think you're wrong." - That's not a violation of free speech. It's literally free speech!
—Hank Green[4][5]

Cancel culture is a term whose definition varies widely depending on who you ask. Aside from involving antagonistic social interactions in some way or another, such interactions have almost nothing in common otherwise, especially regarding to the questions of 'who does it?', 'how it is done?', and 'Why is it done? / Is it justifiable?'. Generally speaking, there are two broad senses of 'cancel culture' that are in popular usage:

  • In one sense, 'cancel culture' may refer to public criticisms, protests, or boycotts. Specifically, it involves one group loudly expressing their disapproval of public figures or organizations. For example, when an influential or famous person gets criticized because of questionable actions or statements. However, actual consequences tend to be virtually short-lived and otherwise nonexistent. In this instance, 'cancel culture' is the logical conclusion of the wider callout culture.Wikipedia This type of 'cancel culture' is permitted under freedom of speech.
  • In another sense with virtually always negative connotations, 'cancel culture' may refer to the attempts of using (legal, political, economical, or social) power to silence voices of dissent. For example, when someone is at risk of being fired from their job, ostracized by their community or social/political group, or subjected to harassment campaigns for their opinions or actions. In extreme instances, this type of 'cancel culture' involve direct attacks on freedom of speech.

Please note the inconsistency of how this term is being used to refer to very different things. This makes it prime material for equivocation, which is exactly how the term 'cancel culture' is most most often used in modern discourse: as a buzzword that misrepresents 'instances of free speech' as 'attacks on free speech'. Case in point, according to many on the political center-right and far-right, 'cancel culture' is an increasingly more widespread phenomenon that poses a legitimate and dire threat to free speech. In reality, this sentiment (more often than not) originated from a straw man promoted by those who actually hate free speech when it's used to call them out for perpetuating bigotry and/or stirring up moral panics to retain loyalty.

Is it new?[edit]

A prominent attitude towards 'cancel culture' is that it's a very recent phenomenon. However, if you go through the history of celebrities and scandals, you'll soon realize that this basic concept is nothing new. There are two major reasons why it feels like 'cancel culture' is a new thing.

1. The existence of the internet. For better or worse, social media has facilitated the expression of ideas and the spread of information to such an extent that could've never been realized before. This has given more people the ability to 'cancel', which used to be a privilege that was held in the hands of fewer individuals. In other words, the power to 'cancel' has become more equally distributed. The operative word here is "more". The power to 'cancel', especially real-life consequences, is certainly not equally wielded by any stretch of the imagination.

2. The Overton window has shifted to the left. People are being 'cancelled' for racism and anti-LGBTQ bigotry more often today than they were the past. In contrast, people used to be 'cancelled' more often for civil rights activism, offending Christians,[6] or for being a suspected communist. That said, right-wing cancel culture definitely hasn't gone away. However, such examples are rarely called 'cancel culture', even by the left-wing opposition. This distorted perception is a clear indication that term is politically loaded. "It's only 'cancel culture' when the left does it."

Alt-right cancel culture[edit]

When the alt-right does the same, it never gets labeled as cancel culture. For example, no one calls Gamergate an example of cancel culture, but when anyone else slightly criticizes the right, it gets labeled as "cancel culture" and "harassment" or even a "mob" (even if it's only 2 people). But when you flip the sides, the labels suddenly change; for example, 4chan's brigading and harassment gets labeled "a joke", "humor", "just trolling", and sometimes "having an opinion", but it's never an "angry mob" when it should be. It only works one way because the term was made by the far-right.

If a harasser uses dogwhistling, then criticisms against the harasser always get labelled as "out of context"; when the alt-right label it that way, they always try to explain what their "real" context is by giving twisted definitions. That way, they can pretend like the left is wrong using the same strategies that they used during the anti-SJW era.

"Cancelled" celebrities[edit]

Over the years, some celebrities and powerful people has been cancelled and their careers ruined by the evil liberals… or so they say. In fact, "cancel culture" usually does not affect their careers whatsoever.

Imagined or "real" infighting within the left[edit]

Mark Fisher[edit]

The late left-wing author Mark Fisher, aka "K-Punk", is often touted by anti-PC leftists as a martyr for the criticism of cancel culture. This is because Fisher was allegedly harassed by so-called "SJWs", not long before his suicide.[7]

Fisher is notable for having written the essay "Exiting The Vampire Castle", in which he chastised a large segment of the online left for its inability to peacefully disagree on certain issues. He argued that this segment of the left engaged in "excommunication" and harassment tactics over seemingly minor quibbles, blaming the phenomena (which, to be fair, was arguably more common at the time of his writing) on an alleged "bourgeois-liberal" undercurrent of pseudo-religious puritanism and "hipsterism" whose only need was to sustain only itself, and not the rest of the left — in other words, like a vampire:

The first configuration is what I came to call the Vampires’ Castle. The Vampires’ Castle specialises in propagating guilt. It is driven by a priest's desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd. The danger in attacking the Vampires’ Castle is that it can look as if – and it will do everything it can to reinforce this thought – that one is also attacking the struggles against racism, sexism, heterosexism. But, far from being the only legitimate expression of such struggles, the Vampires’ Castle is best understood as a bourgeois-liberal perversion and appropriation of the energy of these movements.[8]

Fredrik DeBoer[edit]

Another example of an anti-PC martyr is self-described "lefty" Politico writer Fredrik DeBoer, who claimed to have been a victim of harassment on social media around the time he was criticizing cancel culture the most, which had gotten so bad that he became depressed.[citation needed] But unlike Fisher, this depression did not lead to suicide:

So how can someone object to an endorsement of free speech and open debate without being opposed to those things in and of themselves? You can’t. And people are objecting to it because social justice politics are plainly opposed to free speech. That is the most obvious political fact imaginable today. Of course Yelling Woke Twitter hates free speech! Of course social justice liberals would prevent expression they disagree with if they could! How could any honest person observe out[sic] political discourse for any length of time and come to any other conclusion?

You want to argue that free speech is bad, fine. You want to adopt a dominance politics that (you imagine) will result in you being the censor, fine. But just do that. Own that. Can we stop with this charade? Can we stop pretending? Can we just proceed by acknowledging what literally everyone quietly knows, which is that the dominant majority of progressive people simply don’t believe in the value of free speech anymore? Please. Let’s grow up and speak plainly, please. Let’s just grow up.[9]

Among conservatives[edit]

Nowadays, cancel culture has essentially been co-opted by angry conservatives who realize that evangelical Christianity is moribund as a political force.[10] (Gotta get those angry social conservatives to the polls somehow!) An example of this is the Republican National Convention choosing to highlight cancel culture in 2020, to the surprise of some commentators.[11] Donald Trump himself often rants about cancel culture to rile up his base, but he frequently calls for people or companies to be canceled when they do something he doesn't like.[12]

Following Trump's lead, in 2021, the GOP embraced "cancel culture" as a full-on political strategy. This political strategy was not new: it merely was an extension of previous tactics where liberals defending marginalized groups would be attacked using caricatures or other straw man type arguments. In particular, the strategy is rather reminiscent of attacks on "political correctness" since the late 1980s.[13] The strategy, which gave outrage-oriented conservative networks like Fox News fresh new material to be angry about,[14] also simultaneously provided a distraction from the right-wing extremism found in then-recent events like the 2021 U.S. Capitol riot.[15][16]

The irony of the GOP political emphasis on "cancel culture" was demonstrated at the 2021 Conservative Political Action ConferenceWikipedia (CPAC) political conference (theme: "America Uncanceled"). During the conference, Donald Trump read the list of names of Republicans who supported his second impeachment, and called for them to be cancelled "ousted".[17] A right-wing social media commentator named "Young Pharaoh", who had previously been cancelled from YouTube for spreading anti-vaccination bullshit and other conspiracies,[18] was also (surprisingly) cancelled from the convention after he (unsurprisingly) made some rather distasteful anti-Semitic tweets.[19]

"Cancel culture" has become a weaponized term on the American political right, to the point where this term often is being used as a snarl world in nonsensical rants completely unrelated to the concept.[20] In reality, cancel culture cuts many ways.

"Cancel culture", business, and politics[edit]

You know you have problems when you grumble more about how the shoes' names are making your daughter any less of a person over pressing issues with your family.

Claims of "cancel culture" often come from boycotts, firings, and other actions stemming from controversial events that connect a corporate brand or a celebrity figure to political issues. Calls for boycotts from these type of events are nothing new. The initial impetus for a boycott comes from all ends of the political spectrum. It is hypocrisy to say otherwise.

In America, for instance, some conservatives are quick to cry out "cancel culture" at boycotts and firings aligned with the politics of the American left. Examples here include Goya FoodsWikipedia (boycotted by some Latinos when CEO Robert UnanueWikipedia praised Donald Trump),[21] Gina CaranoWikipedia (who was fired from her role in The MandalorianWikipedia for comparing being a Republican to being Jewish during the Holocaust),[22] and MyPillow (who was dropped by many retail outlets not wanting to prop up CEO Mike Lindell's delusionary support of Trump's bullshit electoral fraud claims).[23] Some conservatives, however, have been also happy to demand "cancellation" when companies do something that goes against the politics of the American right. Examples include Major League Baseball,Wikipedia Coca-Cola,Wikipedia and Delta AirlinesWikipedia (when all three corporations criticized GOP efforts to restrict voting, particularly in Georgia, where Coca-Cola and Delta were headquartered),[24][25] GilletteWikipedia (who created an advertisement that had the audacity to say that sexual harassment and bullying are not okay),[26] Target CorporationWikipedia (who created a trans-inclusive restroom policy)[27] and KeurigWikipedia (who cancelled their advertisements for Sean Hannity over supporting alleged pedophile Roy Moore, prompting calls for a boycott among conservatives, along with a social media "Keurig Smash Challenge" where people posted videos where they destroyed their rather expensive coffee makers).[28]

Nike, Inc.Wikipedia is a good example of a company where American conservatives repeatedly have called for "cancellation". In 2016, NFLWikipedia quarterback Colin KaepernickWikipedia generated a large amount of controversy when, protesting police brutality against African Americans and other minorities, he refused to stand for the national anthem that was played at all NFL pre-game ceremonies.[29] [note 1] In 2018, Nike created an advertisement using Kaepernick as part of their "Just Do It" campaign. This triggered calls for boycotts from some of those who were outraged by Kaepernick's protest, with a few people actually posting videos online of them destroying Nike products they owned.[32] In July 2019, additional conservatives threatened to cancel Nike for cancelling (partially in response to advice from Kaepernick) a shoe design with the Betsy Ross flagWikipedia on it — a symbol that, while not universally recognized as hateful, has unfortunately been co-opted by some white supremacists.[33][34][35]

Despite the repeated cancellation calls, Nike's business has not been hurt… in fact, the moves were widely seen as positive for the company.[36] While on occasion CEOs have accidentally walked into controversy, sometimes the controversial stance is deliberate. Businesses have brand identities and public images. If the controversial political issue reflects the values and the goals of the business, a CEO may choose to make a political stance, as saying nothing may actually do the brand harm.[37] As long as the alignment is seen as sincere and not as bandwagon jumping, businesses may see a "cancellation" backlash as an acceptable risk in order to convey a political point that enhances the brand's identity (and might, subsequently, enhance sales).[38]

This brand tactic also applies in the opposite political direction. In 2012, Chick-fil-A president Dan CathyWikipedia denounced same-sex marriage and maintained policies of contributing donations to anti-gay "pro-family" charity groups. This triggered calls for boycotts (that would probably be called "cancel culture" if it happened today) from progressives, to the point where a few mayors of major cities denounced the restaurant chain with toothless "ban" threats.[39] However, this also triggered a call from Mike Huckabee for a "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" to "affirm appreciation for a company run by Christian principles".[40][41] As Cathy's evangelical Christianity (which has long been associated with anti-gay politics)[42] is a part of Chick-fil-A's brand identity,[43] it is not surprising that Huckabee's request, when realized, led to "record-setting" sales that day.[44] Conversely, Chick-fil-A also shows how tying a company closely to any political mob can produce unexpected negative social media attention if actions are taken that accidentally insult the mob paradigm. In November 2019, Chick-fil-A attempted to simplify their corporate philanthropy, which meant that in the process, some of the controversial "pro-family" charities that triggered the original uproar were removed from their donation list. This triggered conservatives into social media outrage, prompting an emergency call from Franklin Graham to Cathy to confirm that the chain remained "committed to Christian values".[45][46]

As with Nike, British shoemaker C. & J. ClarkWikipedia also fell victim to cancel culture in 2017 when moonbat parents complained about perceived sexism and gender stereotyping in their children's shoes, most notably the "Dolly Babe" Mary JaneWikipedia school shoes being compared unfavourably to the "Leader" shoes for boys. Clarks has since made a statement pledging to make their products "gender neutral" following customer feedback,[47] but not without similarly vile reactionary right-wing tabloids going nutty over what were otherwise innocuous pieces of children's footwear.[48][49]

In 2021, the skateboard equipment firm Independent Truck CompanyWikipedia was forced to change their logo from the Cross pattéeWikipedia variation derived from Pope John Paul II's vestments as seen on a Time Magazine cover to a different design without the cross in question, due to pressure from some groups who apparently saw the logo as having "Nazi" connotations. This was likely due to the stigma from its use by biker gangs and white supremacist groups,[50][51] never mind the fact that the Iron Cross has never been banned in Germany unlike the swastika and other iconography created and/or appropriated by the Nazi Party, and is still used by the Bundeswehr to this day.

In 2023, homophobes and racists frequently mounted attention-seeking boycott campaigns against any company or product that showed even small token amounts of tolerance and acceptance of diversity, especially if this inclusiveness included transgender endorsements. These campaigns were mounted even if the company or product was generally perceived as a culturally conservative company overall. Frequently, campaigners described the company or product in question using the all-purpose snarl word of "woke". Targeted companies and products included Bud Light,Wikipedia[52] Miller Lite,Wikipedia[53] Jack Daniel's,Wikipedia[54] Frosted Flakes,Wikipedia[55] Hershey's,Wikipedia [56] Fox News,[57] Chick-fil-A,[58] Cracker Barrel,Wikipedia[59] Kohl's,Wikipedia[60] and Target.Wikipedia[61]

As even the smallest token inclusive gesture would trigger the homophobes and racists, the list of potential companies that this group could get offended at was very large. Therefore, reportedly in April 2023, a conservative non-profit called Consumers’ Research created an actual "woke alert" texting system to notify what "woke" corporate brand or product one should be outraged about (and boycott) at the moment. Alerts were sent for products that were purportedly "woke" even when the offending issue was unrelated to social justice. (For instance, AppleWikipedia was targeted as "woke" for adding an optional feature designed to reduce a user's carbon footprint when recharging their iPhone.)[62]

"Cancel culture" and social media mobs[edit]

There is nothing new with mobs pressuring media outlets to "cancel" various media they find offensive. What is notably different in the modern era is how social media allows mobs to easier weaponize opinion with much faster velocity. Social media also provides a permanence to past online conversations, and allows them to be easily searched.[63] This has raised concerns among some entertainers and media authors that social media outrage may stifle expression and the freedom of ideas.

JK Rowling perhaps provides one of the more notable examples of the mob in action. In mid-December 2019, Rowling tweeted support from Maya Forstater, whose contract for a British think tank was chosen to not be renewed after she made several transphobic statements on Twitter.[64] Rowling doubled down on her transphobic statements in 2020, despite facing considerable criticism.[65] This unsavory opinion triggered a predictably unsavory response on social media: her stance subjected Rowling to death and rape threats,[66] a TikTok trend where Harry Potter books were burned,[67] and general abusive messages online.[68]

Rowling was one of several signatories (which also included pundits like David Frum and sincere free-speech absolutists like Noam Chomsky and Margaret Atwood)Wikipedia on a letter published in Harpers magazine on July 7, 2020, expressing concern that "cancel culture" (in particular, the "swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought") was creating "greater risk aversion" and a "stifling atmosphere" for media.[69] This letter regarding open debate itself stimulated open debate, with some regarding the signatories as hypocritical elites, some seeing the letter as a sinister attempt to push back against social justice[note 2] and some others agreeing that the illiberal tendencies of social media cancel culture mobs were counter-productive.[71][72]

The ephemeral and combative tit-for-tat, tribal nature of social media cancel culture mobs was neatly illustrated in 2018. Roseanne BarrWikipedia had just started working on a 2018 reboot of her late 1980s comedy show Roseanne.Wikipedia The show was cancelled in late May 2018 after Barr, known for her bizarre conspiracy oriented tweets,[73] made a racist tweet about Barack Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett,Wikipedia bizarrely comparing her to if the "muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby".[74] Director James Gunn,Wikipedia then working on the Disney film Guardians of the Galaxy 3,Wikipedia tweeted support for the firing, stating that "Roseanne is allowed to say whatever she wants. It doesn’t mean @ABCNetwork needs to continue funding her TV show if her words are considered abhorrent."[75] Meanwhile, alt-right troll Mike Cernovich was running campaigns targeting Donald Trump opponents by searching for old offensive tweets and publicizing them. Cernovich searched Gunn's old tweets and discovered some tasteless jokes regarding rape and paedophilia, as well as transphobic language, made when Gunn was working for the notoriously sophomoric horror film company Troma Entertainment.Wikipedia The tweets were enough to get Gunn temporarily fired from Disney in late July 2018.[76][77][78][79][note 3] Naturally, many people still expressed support for Gunn in spite of the old tweets; Barr, of course, expressed disgust at the people supporting Gunn.[80]

One issue with stories on "cancel culture" and social media mob opinion is that the headlines tend to be about major celebrities that get caught in the mob. Social media mobs may be vicious, but the damage they do to major celebrities typically is small. A paradox of cancel culture is that typically, one only ever hears about it from those unlikely to be harmed for it. Indeed, the loudest voices speaking up against cancel culture tend to be contrarians and trolls who actually profit from outrage.[81] Social media mobs tend to have a far heavier impact on a person's life for ordinary people that find themselves in a viral video which generates mob-driven outrage.[82] Merely having a troll post a picture of you on Twitter flashing the "okay" hand gesture (a symbol that 4Chan has weaponized as a deliberately ambiguous dogwhistle) might get you fired from your job.[83]

Some people believe that it is less "cancel culture" that is a problem, but social media itself, implying that the only thing that the cancel culture debate proved is that "the time has come to cancel" the worst mob mentality offenders like Twitter.[84]

"Canceled" children's media[edit]

As much as Prince Florian wanted to give Snow White a good-bye kiss, the Twitter mob told him not to do so, so he pulled out a keyboard and pressed F instead.

Historically, media that has been marketed to children has been subject to greater scrutiny over removing outdated racial stereotypes, sometimes to the point of "cancellation", in part because many feel that children are less able to contextualize the stereotypes and recognize them as a historical artifact.[85] Films like Disney's 1946 movie Song of the South,Wikipedia which were protested by the NAACP as whitewashing the pre-civil war South from the beginning, haven't seen a general re-release since 1986, and have never been released on home video.[86] Cartoons created for adult audiences between 1941 and 1960, such as the Looney TunesWikipedia cartoon series by Warner Brothers,Wikipedia started to be marketed as children's programming in the 1970s. Even then, the shorts were edited for content (often haphazardly, without consultation of the cartoon directors), removing violent scenes, scenes of characters smoking, and racially offensive stereotypes. In some cases, certain cartoons were taken entirely out of circulation altogether.[87] The fact that the media was marketed for children was a huge factor regarding the alterations and cancellations.[87] In media marketed for adults, such as DVD collections of the cartoons, many of the "cancelled" and altered cartoons were included, intact, with a disclaimer noting that the cartoon contained outdated racial stereotypes.[88]

In 2021, this evaluation of outdated stereotypes in older media marketed to children was often labeled "cancel culture". A prominent example of this came when the estate of Dr. SeussWikipedia decided to stop publishing six obscure books due to racist imagery. Not understanding that the books in question were obscure, reactionary networks like Fox News howled in outrage, who were in desperate need of fresh content with Donald Trump out of office.[89][90] Other outrages in early 2021 included outrage over Mr. Potato HeadWikipedia rebranding,[note 4] outrage over Disney+Wikipedia putting disclaimers before certain Muppet ShowWikipedia episodes, and outrage that Pepe Le PewWikipedia wasn't included in the Space Jam 2Wikipedia movie.[93][94][note 5] Inspired by the Dr. Seuss outrage, a Pennsylvania Republican state legislator even introduced a bill called the "GRINCH Act", which would forbid state and local government agencies from receiving funding if they ban books.[96]

Ironically, typically in the past, book bans and challenges historically have come from moral concerns, frequently driven by topics offensive to evangelicals. In 2019, according to the American Library Association'sWikipedia (ALA) list of most frequently banned and challenged books, 8 of the top 10 books that people attempted to "cancel" that year addressed transgender and LGBTQ issues.[97][98] Before JK Rowling faced a backlash for her transphobic tweets, Rowling's Harry Potter series was more noted for multiple "cancellation" attempts from religious groups over concerns of the series being a gateway to witchcraft and the occult.[99] According to the ALA, the Harry Potter series was the most challenged book from 2000 to 2005.[100] One church pastor in New Mexico (who admitted that he had never read any of the Harry Potter novels) even organized a book burning in 2002 where Harry Potter was the focal point.[101] Additionally, a lot of recent book bans are due to the right-wing hysteria regarding LGBTQ people and "critical race theory".[102]

"Cancel culture" and comedy[edit]

Comedy in particular has been subject to many musings on the role "cancel culture" might be playing in it. Comedy is a complex social phenomenon, and can range from "humor" that is all about mocking the weak and exerting superiority (including humor that promotes nasty stereotypes), to humor that is a form of psychological coping that attempts to process painful situations (which is why "gallows humor" can arise from dark or tragic events), to humor (particularly satire) that is designed to break social taboos or hold those in power to account. Many comedians, from George Carlin to Jon Stewart, inserted heavy amounts of politics and/or social commentary into their stand-up routines or programs.[103]

Historically, older comedy circles (such as the vaudevilleWikipedia tradition), while more open to women, Jews, blacks, and other marginalized groups than many other professions, was also far more littered with broad ethnic stereotypes than the present. As time has progressed, these ethnic stereotypes have become less acceptable in society.[104] Because (as demonstrated above) societal values can change over time, this can lead to situations where perfectly acceptable humor in the past can become unacceptable to modern audiences. A prominent example of this phenomenon occurred in the animated television sitcom The Simpsons, due to the longevity of the show (the show premiered on December 17, 1989 and is still running as of 2022). In the mid to late 2010s, one character, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon,Wikipedia was criticized for being an offensive negative Indian-American stereotype, with the stereotypical accent of the character (voiced by Caucasian voice actor (Hank Azaria)Wikipedia in particular being noted as offensive. These criticisms were not present during the beginning of the show's run, but appeared later due to changing cultural sensibilities.[105][106]

In addition, there is a long tradition of comedy designed in part to be offensive. This type of comedy ranges from the critically acclaimed[107] lowbrow social commentary (with fart jokes) in a film like Mel Brooks'Wikipedia Blazing Saddles, to the not-so-critically acclaimed[108] lowbrow, kinda sexist Brooklyn-Italian stereotype Andrew Dice ClayWikipedia used in his comedy routines in the 1990s. An entire genre called insult comedyWikipedia exists that entirely revolves around the comedian heckling other people, or even the audience in an often offensive manner.

With theoretically no room for error due to social media mobs, some comedians believe that "cancel culture" will kill comedy, due to audiences being overly sensitive to "edgy" jokes. The theory is that this will result in public shaming, or comedians self-censoring in fear of public shame.[109] This was the viewpoint of comedians such as John Cleese,Wikipedia[110] Jason Manford,Wikipedia[111] and Dawn French.Wikipedia[112] Other comedians, such as Chris RockWikipedia and Jerry Seinfeld,Wikipedia said that they avoid college gigs due to students being "so PC".[113] A few comedians complained that previous material they worked on would never have been made today due to cancel culture (such as Ricky Gervais,Wikipedia who suggested this was the case for The Office).Wikipedia[114] Of course, a few comedians, such as Bill Maher, used "cancel culture" as an excuse[115] to continue their descent into becoming that classic Simpsons caricature of an old man yelling at clouds.[116]

Some comedians indeed have suffered employment consequences due to previous jokes that got dug up and criticized for being racist or otherwise being overly offensive. Shane GillisWikipedia was fired from Saturday Night LiveWikipedia over previous slurs deemed offensive to Asians and the LGBTQ community.[117] Graham Linehan was cancelled from Twitter for transphobic remarks.[118] According to Sarah Silverman,Wikipedia she was once fired from a film after producers unearthed a still of her in 2007 wearing blackface (a sketch she, at present, regrets.)[119] Kevin HartWikipedia was fired from a job hosting the 91st Academy AwardsWikipedia due to some homophobic tweets discovered following the Oscars announcement.[120]

In some cases, of course, comedians get "cancelled" not due to offensive remarks, but due to offensive behaviors. A primary example of a comedian cancelled for bad behavior is Louis C.K.,Wikipedia who was canceled widely both on social media and real life in 2017 for being accused by seven women of sexual misconduct.[121][122] It honestly is hard to see how the lack of a "cancel culture" would stop a comedian from suffering a severe career pushback if he or she decided to engage in an inappropriate masturbation act, as Louis C.K. allegedly did. (Just ask Pee Wee Herman.)Wikipedia[123]

At any rate, being "cancelled" has not harmed any comedian's career in the long run. Louis C.K. returned to comedy in 2019 for a surprise performance at Skankfest, and received a standing ovation.[124] In 2020, Louis C.K. was back to selling out theaters.[125]

Not everyone agrees with the sentiment that a "cancel culture" is ruining comedy. Rowan AtkinsonWikipedia preferred to blame social media platforms themselves instead of woke college kids, saying that the algorithms they used pushed "a simplistic, binary view of society" that created the "digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn".[126] Australian comic Adam HillsWikipedia scoffed at the notion of "cancel culture", saying "it's not necessarily (the audience's) fault" if they are offended by a comic's material, urging comedians to "act like grown ups" and "be more responsible".[127] Comedy writer Mike SchurWikipedia went further and complained that comedians whining about cancel culture were "lazy" and "just want(ed) to keep using the N-word or whatever in your act", telling them to "quit and get a job at a grocery store or something".[128] Cancel culture certainly hasn't stopped films like Borat 2Wikipedia by comedian/prankster Sacha Baron Cohen,Wikipedia which utilized stereotypes in the humor, but critically focused on "punching up" instead of "down" (eg, focusing the most vicious satire on those who wield power).[129]

Some comedians have apologized for older material that may not have seemed offensive at the time, but seem offensive by today's standards. In March 25, 2021, Jay LenoWikipedia apologized for previous jokes he made on The Tonight ShowWikipedia that could be considered anti-Asian by today's standards.[130] After initially brushing the criticisms off with a lackluster defence,[131] in January 2020, Azaria agreed to no longer voice the character of Apu on The Simpsons.[132] In April 2021, Azaria apologized to the Indian-American community for his depiction.[133]

And of course, there are parallels to the past. In Britain, prior to the early 1980s, racist and sexist humor was a staple of "working class" British comedians such as Bernard ManningWikipedia and Jim Davidson.Wikipedia This humor was challenged in the 1980s by the "alternative comedy"Wikipedia scene, which (influenced by previous surrealist outsider comedy like Monty Python, and in symbiosis with the punk rock movement at the time) created a more anarchic and subversive forms of humor, with much less reliance on racist, sexist, and homophobic gags.[134][135][136] Comedians from this new school of comedy were much more successful internationally, with Absolutely FabulousWikipedia in particular becoming one of the top global draws of the BBC.[137] While not quite the same, it has been noted by some authors that many of the comedians who complain about "cancel culture" tend to be older comedians, and some of the complaining may be merely comedians that cling to stale routines, instead of developing fresh and funny material more aligned with current society.[138] Just because younger people may be more sensitive to certain stereotype oriented jokes and have access to social media doesn't necessarily mean that comedy is dead. It just might mean that comedy might change a little, and as the alternative British comics showed, not necessarily for the worse.[136]

Historical "cancelled" artists[edit]

Interestingly enough, historically in the United States, evil liberals and politically correct speech were not the primary driving force behind many major artist boycotts and blacklists. In the past, the majority of "cancellations" concerned morality or political issues. Notable artists who were historically "cancelled" include:

  • Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.Wikipedia Falsely accused of rape and murder then acquitted when tried (due to the case against him being ten pounds of bullshit in a five-pound bag), Arbuckle nonetheless was subject to a famous smear campaign in 1921 from William Randolph Hearst'sWikipedia tabloids, whose lurid tales about the event (created to exploit growing concerns about immorality in Hollywood) permanently damaged Arbuckle's reputation. Despite the acquittal, Will Hays,Wikipedia whom the motion picture industry hired to help improve Hollywood's moral image, refused to allow Arbuckle to work for the industry again.[139][140]
  • The Beatles. In March 1966, John Lennon made an offhand remark concerning the decline of Christianity in Britain to the London Evening Standard.Wikipedia (In Britain, Lennon's native country, the rate of secularization in the 1960s was higher than all the preceding four centuries put together.)[141] This offhand remark included the statement "we're more popular than Jesus now". This relatively unimportant quote lay dormant for months until, republished in America, it attracted the attention of Tommy Charles, a proto-shock DJ in Birmingham, who aired the quote. Reprinted by the UPI, fundamentalist Christians in the Deep South were outraged. Several stations banned the Beatles' music; many Beatles records were smashed by outraged Americans. The Ku Klux Klan even got involved, nailing several Beatles albums to a cross and setting it aflame. Protests (including violent threats from the Ku Klux Klan and others) followed their US tour that year. The tour disheartened the Beatles enough to never tour again, and the anger that the quote generated contributed to the assassination of Lennon in 1980 by a born-again Christian, Mark David Chapman.Wikipedia[142]
  • Sinead O'Connor.Wikipedia In 1990, O'Connor had a massive hit in the United States with the song "Nothing Compares 2 U".Wikipedia Two years later in 1992, O'Connor stunned the world by ripping up a picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live,Wikipedia shouting "fight the real enemy".[143] This led to reactions ranging from confusion regarding the purpose[144] to anger, hostility, and calls for a ban.[145] The incident effectively ended her career in America. Even at a Bob DylanWikipedia concert (where people should have known better) shortly after the incident, O'Connor was booed off the stage and had to be consoled by Kris KristoffersonWikipedia backstage.[146][147] Missed by the American public at the time, O'Connor was protesting the child sexual abuse rampant in the Catholic church, a topic not widely known to the American public at the time, but something O'Connor had personal experience with in her youth.[146]
  • The ChicksWikipedia (formerly the Dixie Chicks). Popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s — in 2003, they were the top selling female group of all time. During a promotional show in Europe in 2003, singer Natalie MainesWikipedia took a minute to address the crowd. Sympathetic with anti-war protesters regarding the invasion of Iraq that year, Maines remarked that they were "ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas." American country music fans, used to groups that toed the Republican party political line, responded to this quote by boycotting the Chicks' shows, bulldozing their CDs, banning their songs from country radio, and even threatening the Chicks with violence.[148] Effectively blacklisted from the Nashville scene, the Chicks made one defiant rebuttal album in 2006 before disappearing from the pop music industry for 14 years.[149]

"Cancelled" by the US government[edit]

Arguably, the worst "cancel" culture in United States history happened during the era of the Red Scare. The "cancellations" began in 1947 when a government committee called the House Un-American Activities CommitteeWikipedia held nine days of hearings into alleged communist propaganda in the movie industry. Ten individuals known as the "Hollywood Ten"Wikipedia refused to answer questions about their alleged involvement with the Communist party. All ten were immediately blacklisted.[150] Most were never again employed in Hollywood. The Hollywood blacklist, as it became known, eventually included more than 300 artists, writers, and technicians. Even merely working with the artist before they were blacklisted was enough to diminish a chance of finding employment.[151] Many others exiled from the industry were forced to move to Europe, and continued either working for European studios or secretly writing scripts under pseudonyms.[152]

The blacklist impacted several major artists. Probably the most notable artist blacklisted was Charlie Chaplin,Wikipedia whose "Tramp" films were extremely popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Concerns grew in the 1940s over his supposed communist sympathies (Chaplin denied being a communist, but protested against censorship efforts like the HUAC). A British citizen, Chaplin's re-entry permit to the US was revoked in 1952 while he was on an overseas trip; his 1952 film LimelightWikipedia was subject to boycotts in the United States, and TV stations cancelled programming containing Chaplin shorts. Chaplin never returned to the United States, other than in 1972 to accept a special Lifetime Oscar.[153][154][155] Other notable artists affected by the blacklist included screenwriter Dalton Trumbo,Wikipedia screenwriter Dorothy Parker,Wikipedia and singer and actress Lena Horne.Wikipedia

The blacklist didn't just limit itself to the movie industry; folk singers, who were often affiliated with the political left, were also a major target. The Weavers,Wikipedia whose members did have some sympathies with the Communist Party, were forced to disband in 1952, unable to deal with increasing protests and hate mail that accompanied their concerts in the anti-communist 1950s.[156][157] In 1957, Weavers musician Pete SeegerWikipedia refused to answer questions at a HUAC session, leading to a contempt of court conviction. His left-wing views blacklisted him from appearing on television, beginning in the 1950s, all the way up to his famous controversial appearances in 1967 on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.Wikipedia[158][159]

See also[edit]

  • No platform
  • SJW — A similar concept, which alternates between being right-wing snarl word or a legitimate problem depending on the context.

Want to read this in another language?[edit]

Se você procura pelo artigo em Português, ver Cancelamento.

Notes[edit]

  1. Fueled by Donald Trump jingoism,[30] this event triggered not only calls for a boycott from people who were angry that a football player was "disrespecting the flag", but also triggered calls for a boycott from the other side of the political fence, due to some believing that the NFL treated Kaepernick poorly.[31]
  2. Never mind that the head authors were inspired examples like NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who was fired for kneeling while being black kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games. Of course, the authors of the letter were also inspired by examples like David Shor, who merely posted a statistical analysis online that found nonviolent demonstrations were more effective than riots at changing public opinion. Somehow, this offended the social media mob to the point where he got fired from his job.[70]
  3. DC seized the opportunity to pick up Gunn to direct The Suicide Squad,Wikipedia and since he was ultimately rehired for Guardians 3, you could say that his "cancelling" ironically led to him getting twice the amount of jobs.
  4. Hasbro re-branded "Mr. Potato Head" as "Potato Head" in late February 2021. The rebranding was meant to emphasize a new "Potato Head Family" product that included a new baby potato head alongside the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head products then currently available. However, Hasbro confusingly over-emphasized the "gender neutral" aspect of the brand at first, causing howls of outrage among right-wing trolls.[91][92]
  5. Note that Pepe Le Pew was originally a caricature; he was based on the title character from the 1930s film Pépé le Moko,Wikipedia whose seduction methods (like many movie characters of this era) were somewhere between sexual harassment and outright sexual assault. According to animation legend Chuck Jones,Wikipedia he was also a parody of a colleague at Looney Tunes named Tedd Pierce,Wikipedia who "could not really believe that any woman could honestly refuse his honestly stated need for her."[95] The humor came from Penelope Pussycat (and anyone else) finding the smelly French rapist repulsive.

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