By C Icart, Peak Associate
It’s long past time we stop indulging right-wing pundits and problematic celebrities by pretending cancel culture is real. Reactionaries vehemently condemning cancel culture makes it sound like there is, in fact, an epidemic of liberal Gen Zs ending people’s careers over political correctness. There isn’t. The fact that we keep having to hear problematic influencers and right-wingers complain about being cancelled proves they still have a platform.
What is cancel culture? Do we need it? Does it work? Is it real? Politicians, commentators, influencers, and celebrities are some of the most outspoken critics of cancel culture. But the fact that we keep hearing their outbursts means that “cancellation” isn’t the calamitous event it’s made out to be.
The actual act of cancellation refers to the public shaming that happens after a person or company says or does something offensive. It can occur years after the events, often when someone’s old social media posts are uncovered. It can cost people their job or further career opportunities. Being cancelled is also associated with receiving large amounts of hate, mainly online.
The problem is that the term “cancelled” makes it sound like there is no recovery from it; it is the death of that person’s career or social status. But this is rarely the case when it comes to the rich, the privileged, and the powerful. They often find themselves to be even more popular afterwards, as in the case of Joe Rogan. It’s not uncommon for “problematic” celebrities to even claim they’ve been “cancelled” multiple times — which of course shouldn’t be possible if the cancellation had the permanent, long-term impact it’s often implied to have.
So, why are the rich and powerful critical of cancel culture? Because they don’t want their offensive actions being brought up. If you did something to harm someone, we can and should talk about it. Forgiveness and support should be secondary to addressing the hurt and comforting the victim. Receiving criticism and suffering the consequences for your actions is not a bad thing. We need to be able to identify when people are using the phrase “cancel culture” to delegitimize criticism. In part, because the people being silenced are often marginalized citizens trying to speak about oppression.
Censorship is a real issue. But if you’re dedicating a comedy special to joking about it, you’re not experiencing it. As of February 14, there were 177 anti-LGBTQIA2S+ bills proposed in the US. These bills propose, in part, bans on books and conversations about LGBTQIA2S+ issues. This should be at the center of discussions about free speech and cancel culture, not Mr. Potato Head.
Overemphasizing the need to condemn cancel culture or calling for an endless reservoir of compassion for people who are “learning” only feeds into the rhetoric that the left is too sensitive and this generation can’t take a joke. It also implies that the people negatively affected by offensive jokes or violent behaviour must prioritize the perpetrator’s feelings and well-being and contribute to their “rehabilitation.”
Sure, Dave Chappelle’s show was moved to another venue due to the “impact” of his performance. However, he still sold out a show and performed, which proves that being transphobic will not end your career. Indulging in cancel culture debates distracts us from whose free speech is really under attack. You can complain about “not being able to say anything these days” all you want. As long as hate is still being perpetrated, we will not shut up.