Jezebel decided to look back at the last year in cancel culture with an almost wistful recounting of their favourite cancellings. The notoriously woke outlet points to the Wikipedia entry for “cancel culture” as evidence that “there are far more writers sweatily pounding their keyboards over the threat of millennials’ vast and nefarious social media reach than there are examples of effectively cancelled people.” The progressive left actively wants cancel culture to not be real, while they continue to perpetuate it, creating lists, calling people out, and eschewing due process in favour of baseless accusations and shifting terminology.
For starters, let’s define terms. Cancel culture is the phenomenon of an individual being ostracized from their professional and personal community for having either expressed a view that the group can not tolerate or behaving or being accused of behaving, in a way the group does not condone. The individual in question can find themselves out of a job, alienated from colleagues and friends, and with a career in shambles.
We have seen cancellings due to #MeToo, with non-criminal behaviour by men who were basically accused of being shitty boyfriends, while women have been cancelled for expressing their belief in the immutable nature biological sex. Over recent years this has happened in the knitting community, literature, poetry, theatre, gaming, tech, science, journalism, and in politics. People either speak out for their own beliefs, or their actions are revealed, and the proverbial axe falls on their career and relationships. For those who haven’t experienced this first hand, it may be hard to fathom just how tortuous and difficult this is. It can feel life-ending.
Yet countless think pieces have been written this year about how cancel culture simply doesn’t exist. Journalists really don’t want it to be real, so they keep telling readers it isn’t. Evidence to the contrary abounds, not the least of which is the continued proliferation of these pieces about how it doesn’t.
In November, John McDermott wrote in The New York Times that the people who were cancelled are all hanging out together. His article diminished the impact of “depriving people of their platform,” saying that it’s really not that bad to be ejected from one community because there’s this other community out there waiting for you. Seattle-based journalist Katie Herzog was quoted as saying she “hope[s] everyone is cancelled,” because it changes a person’s perspective and makes them more aware of their capability to be wrong.
Barack Obama weighed in on the perils of cancel culture and was roundly denounced for it. He said that cancel culture is “accelerated by social media,” and while it may make people feel like they are doing something positive by calling-out their peer online, “That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change.”
Teens use cancelling as a form of outright bullying, to punish peers for behaviour or views that they don’t approve of. And they do it with self-righteous zeal. The only difference between a kid being cancelled from a peer group and being bullied out of it is that in the case of cancelling, kids feel like they are the ones at fault. That’s not an improvement.
The New Republic made light of cancel culture, noting that “The critics of cancel culture are plainly threatened not by a new and uniquely powerful kind of public criticism but by a new set of critics: young progressives, including many minorities and women who, largely through social media, have obtained a seat at the table where matters of justice and etiquette are debated and are banging it loudly to make up for lost time.” Basically, being opposed to cancel culture, according to The New Republic, is a little bit racist.
Why do so many writers want cancel culture not to exist? Vox claims that even if it does exist, it doesn’t work, stating that “many of the most prominent examples of cancellation have arrived in the MeToo era, most of the men who have faced accusations have also dodged long-term consequences.” As though being publicly shamed is nothing, and being able to start over after being decimated by media is no big deal.
The same people who were cancelled, accused across news sites, insulted and threatened on social media, humiliated in front of friends, family, and colleagues, were able to pick themselves up and reinvent themselves because they were already people who had the wherewithal to do that. This does not negate the toll of the cancelling.
As for Jezebel’s claim that “there are far more writers … than there are examples of effectively cancelled people,” well, no shit. That’s exactly how mobs work. It’s no surprise that Jezebel, a website that was once the crown jewel of cancel culture and social justice mobs, is lobbying for the madness to continue.
As we trudge through the cultural sludge of 2019, perhaps we can take solace in the fact that sites like Gawker and Jezebel are steadily declining in readership and cultural relevance. 2020 is upon us. The decade of cancellings, mobbings, and call-outs, should be behind us if we’re wise enough to learn from our recent past. There’s notoriety to be gained from shouting people down, and from being shouted down, but neither will help you grow, be a better person, or further ideas. Here’s to a decade of uncancellings and conversations.