It's a joke
September 23, 2019 7:01 AM   Subscribe

If we find ourselves moving dizzily from outrage to outrage from week to week, we should consider that being outrageous has never cost so little or earned professional contrarians and provocateurs so much. When they’re not weeping into plates of hors d’oeuvres about Twitter, they may well be writing for the Times or The Atlantic, finishing up a forthcoming best-seller, or taking up a standing invitation to join Bill Maher on national television. Such is life under cancel culture. It is mostly good.
--Osita Nwanevu: The “Cancel Culture” Con [cw: descriptions of jokes about sexual assault, bigoted speech and violence against marginalized people]
posted by zombieflanders (88 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
What always strikes me about the anti-callout people is, what they want is the mantle of being controversial and boundary pushing without actually dealing with any, y'know, controversy. They want to be lauded for speaking "hard truths" but don't actually want to have to deal with any negative reactions to it. Well: you kinda can't have it both ways. You can't build a career on controversy and then whine that there's a controversy.

Which is not to say all of this shit is even remotely boundary pushing -- much of it is just racism and misogyny that's so old it makes knock knock jokes look downright novel. You'll note, though, that even in those cases, the safe space that shitty comedians want to retreat to is that cozy position in which they can claim anything they say is OK because they're "pushing boundaries", but also you're not supposed to react to them having pushed boundaries.
posted by tocts at 7:25 AM on September 23 [91 favorites]


The irony being that so many of these comedians use and criticize that phrase "safe space", when they themselves are the ones that feel most threatened because someone called them out on their fucking hate and toxicity. They're the most sensitive to this kind of pushback. It's so very telling.
posted by Fizz at 7:32 AM on September 23 [28 favorites]


Something key to this was absolutely nailed by David Roth on the Deadcast last week, possibly quoting someone else - why have we allowed "pushing boundaries" to become synonymous with "'I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you'" but with racism"?

Making these hack jokes is not really pushing boundaries! It's extremely far from any real boundaries! It's old and shitty!
posted by ominous_paws at 7:35 AM on September 23 [26 favorites]


Why is it so outrageous to want people to not treat people like shit? When people complain about the Shane Gillis's of the world it's not because we don't like edgy comedy. He wasn't even making comedy. It's the reason he gets kicked off SNL while IASIP is still on the air and Sarah Silverman got to be a Disney princess.

Why is it so outrageous for us to demand that the people given the gift of leading cultural institutions are decent human beings?
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:37 AM on September 23 [12 favorites]


Dave Chappelle's bit about call-out culture was particularly disheartening. According to him, anybody can bring up anything you said from forever ago and use that to "cancel" you, and then your career is over. Like Kevin Hart!

Because people brought up his old homophobic tweets, and Hart issued a shitty non-apology that satisfied no one, and then he chose not to host the Oscars. Damn you, call-out culture!

Or you have James Gunn, who apologized for his old shit, disavowed it, and is now directing Suicide Squad AND Guardians 3. Hmmm.
posted by skullhead at 7:39 AM on September 23 [18 favorites]


Ugh this precise issue led to an enormous fight with my partner earlier this week. I just kept trying to get across that I don't care whether anyone else is mad at Chappelle for taking shots at transgender people. Everyone or no one could be mad at him, it makes no difference -- I don't want to fucking hear it. And I'm not mandated by law to pay money to see a stand up comic when I don't want to hear their shit.

Why is it fine, I kept asking, for me to refuse to go see Russian Circles but not to refuse to see Dave Chappelle? I just do not care for the product either one is putting into the world, and that should be my right. But for some reason the former makes me "not a metal fan" and the latter makes me "a humorless feminist banshee" or a "faux-woke idiot". Why is it fine for me to give the Ken Burns Country Music documentary a pass but if I say I'm taking a break from stand up, until the industry collectively figures its shit out, this is unacceptable?

These people don't act like they're entitled to expression (which they are). They feel entitled to a captive audience that adores them, and they can kiss. my. goddamn. ass.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:44 AM on September 23 [135 favorites]


Or you have James Gunn, who apologized for his old shit, disavowed it, and is now directing Suicide Squad AND Guardians 3. Hmmm.

Also, James Gunn disavowed his old shit repeatedly well before the Disney kerfluffle. Even so, his response to the Disney firing should be in a text book to show how a decent human being should handle the situation.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 7:45 AM on September 23 [15 favorites]


Dave Chappelle's bit about call-out culture was particularly disheartening.

I think Dave Chappelle in particular has leaned in more to this kind of behaviour because he just resents the fact that someone has told him certain subjects are off limits and that he got called out on his shit. I think so much of it comes down to "How dare you tell me I can't say a certain thing?" They resent this because their entire livelihood depends on saying shit and having their name be in the news/media. It's fear, fear that they're irrelevant and that their financial livelihood is at risk.
posted by Fizz at 7:46 AM on September 23 [4 favorites]


While we're at it, this article argues that the kind of social pressure cum excommunication involved in cancel culture is really just familiar social boundary maintenance, and if there's a reason why it's controversial, it's when it's used in conjunction with less widely recognized boundaries, in which situation it naturally becomes fractious.
posted by wildblueyonder at 7:47 AM on September 23 [11 favorites]


It's fear, fear that they're irrelevant and that their financial livelihood is at risk.

To paraphrase an old standup bit, yeah there's a support group for that. It's called EVERYONE.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:48 AM on September 23 [18 favorites]


I would argue that Chappelle is just one high profile case of a generalized problem in comedy circles. There are a lot of comedians who have been given plaudits for being edgy and boundary pushing in the "right" ways (e.g. being an asshole for a good cause) who it turns out are more enamored with the "being an asshole" part than "for a good cause".

For whatever good he did earlier in his career, I think Chappelle at present is making a pretty solid case that he's been in it more for sticking it to people and doing whatever he was told not to than actually giving a shit about things he might have accidentally made a good point about along the way.
posted by tocts at 7:50 AM on September 23 [14 favorites]


This is a great post, thank you for making it. I also really loved Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's essay on the same topic, focused on the Shane Gillis situation: Racism isn't an artistic risk.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 7:50 AM on September 23 [41 favorites]


Sara Silverman and Dave Chappelle have been lecturing us all about how dumb and clueless we are for years. But turn it around and ask comedians to do better, and they have this reaction? Ironic.
posted by pilot pirx at 7:51 AM on September 23 [3 favorites]


It flew under the radar, but last week a member of the US Cabinet cribbed from Dave Chappelle's act to justify stripping trans folks of their rights on Fox News' White Power Hour.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:52 AM on September 23 [16 favorites]


I think there is a real criticism to be made about cancel/callout culture, but this article is not it. The concern I have isn't people with a history of being shitty being called out and cancelled. Those people deserve it, and it's often long overdue.

It's people who make a dumb mistake, but don't have a history of being terrible, being called out and cancelled that I am concerned about. Eventually, we're all going to stick our foot in our mouth, one way or another, and it's very hard to extricate it while being yelled at for having done so—even when that criticism is valid. (And it usually is!) Social media often doesn't give people to time and space to back away and think about their mistake. It's a natural human reaction to bunker down and double down on one's mistake in situations like these. Giving people who made a dumb mistake a chance to acknowledge it, learn from it, and make good is important... it's the people who've had multiple chances to do this and refused who need to be cancelled.
posted by SansPoint at 7:54 AM on September 23 [25 favorites]


Let's at least be honest: Shane Gillis lost the SNL job. I am NOT making any statement about whether it was right or wrong, but to say no one who was 'cancelled' actually has their professional lives disrupted or diminished isn't true.
posted by PhineasGage at 8:03 AM on September 23 [8 favorites]


I remember reading Kliph Nesteroff's book "The Comedians," which is basically a history of 20th century American comedy, and there's a point he makes early on that even the most groundbreaking and most hilarious comedy eventually just stops being funny to new audiences.

He doesn't, if I remember, say exactly when this happens--is it a gradual process, or does it come in fits and starts? But I'd argue it's often the latter, and a lot of what we're seeing now is that the shock comedy of the past few decades just isn't funny any more because society has moved on.

A huge bit of maybe 1980s-2000s US culture was ultimately extremely pessimistic and based on the premise that there are insurmountable barriers to understanding and positive interaction between Your Group and the Other Groups, and that the best you can do is look to the Other Groups for comedic or at least entertainment value. It brought us Jerry Springer and Judge Judy and Kids/Gummo and the pathetic adults in Adam Sandler movies and cyberpunk and Natural Born Killers and "I listen to everything except county and rap" and the fascinations with incorrigible serial killers and "inner city" gangsters, and Gunn's pedophile jokes, and Bill Hicks' line about being asked "Whatchu reading for" and ironic racism and They Live and Marilyn Manson singing to shock incurably square suburban moms and the once ubiquitous implicit idea that we'd never really make any more progress desegregating our metro areas because people like to be with their own kind.

Thankfully we're now making progress and we're shocked and embarrassed by a lot of the last wave of pop culture. But I think a difference between now and other comedic transitions is that the Internet is giving a bigger voice to the obsolete comedians, who otherwise would almost by definition be fading from public view, and to their fans. And, of course, they can tie into a larger current of reactionary politics.
posted by smelendez at 8:09 AM on September 23 [31 favorites]


Giving people who made a dumb mistake a chance to acknowledge it, learn from it, and make good is important...

I don't think I agree with you, SansPoint, and for that matter I'm not happy with how easily James Gunn was let off the hook. If I were to start forgiving people for the mistakes they made when they were younger and less informed, that would be a slippery slope towards expecting people to forgive me for the mistakes I made when I was younger and less informed, and I don't think it's right to expect that.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:10 AM on September 23 [4 favorites]


What always strikes me about the anti-callout people is, what they want is the mantle of being controversial and boundary pushing without actually dealing with any, y'know, controversy.

Yes, and the corollary to that always seems to be: comedy speaks truth to power, so it's important and noble so if you criticize it, you're keeping me from sticking it to the Man! But also: Hey, what's wrong -- it's just a joke! Why do you get hysterical about a joke? Lighten up, crybaby!
posted by holborne at 8:13 AM on September 23 [7 favorites]


Faint of Butt: One shouldn't expect to be forgiven, but one should always be willing to accept forgiveness and strive to do better in the future.
posted by SansPoint at 8:18 AM on September 23 [13 favorites]


"It flew under the radar, but last week a member of the US Cabinet cribbed from Dave Chappelle's act ..."

"Thinking I'm Chinese doesn't make me Chinese" doesn't have to be cribbed from Dave Chappelle, that is almost "attack helicopter" level of ubiquitous. He could have cribbed it from a Facebook meme. If Chappelle has used that in an act it sounds a little hacky.
posted by RobotHero at 8:23 AM on September 23 [4 favorites]


How has nobody linked this yet btw
posted by ominous_paws at 8:26 AM on September 23 [7 favorites]


It's people who make a dumb mistake, but don't have a history of being terrible, being called out and cancelled that I am concerned about.

I'd imagine you're talking about people like Justine Sacco, who ruined her career in PR with a single monumentally stupid tweet. Like.... I guess that's a concern?

But there's still this idea that being 'cancelled' is some kind of formal, universal, omnipotent process against which there can be no appeal. It's just not that thing.

It feels the same as people railing against 'Political Correctness.' That this is a thing that mostly exists in the minds of people who oppose it.
posted by skullhead at 8:26 AM on September 23 [18 favorites]


If cancel culture was real then why are all these guys who sexually assaulted people for years still multi-millionaires? If cancel Culture is real then why is Sean spicer on dancing with the stars?

Or, to paraphrase twitter, if Cancel Culture was real then why do I have to hear about pew dew pie every 6 months
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 AM on September 23 [79 favorites]


Let's at least be honest: Shane Gillis lost the SNL job. I am NOT making any statement about whether it was right or wrong, but to say no one who was 'cancelled' actually has their professional lives disrupted or diminished isn't true.

I don't think anyone is arguing that literally nothing happened to the guys who've been cancelled, but what's going to happen to Gillis is the same thing that happened to Aziz Ansari and Louis CK (and Mark Halperin, if you prefer an example that's not a comedian). They, too, lost jobs and had to lie low for a year or two, but never stopped making a living in show business and now are making comebacks that will put them back on TV and back to being approximately as famous as they ever were and presumably making a similar amount of money at it.

Has there been anyone in the 21st century who's been cancelled and just went away? It feels like I still have to hear about all of these guys coming back, usually in increasingly bitter forms to whine about how unfair it is that they're 95% as wealthy and famous as they would have been if only people on the Internet had just sucked it up and silently allowed them to be awful.
posted by Copronymus at 8:35 AM on September 23 [35 favorites]


skullhead: I'm thinking more in this case about the recent issue with Natalie Wynn/Contrapoints and her comments about pronouns and nonbinary people. As a nonbinary person, I was bothered by her statements, but I also could take them in context of how for her, when being the only visibly queer person in a group, it can be difficult to have to give her pronouns, knowing that it wouldn't be asked if she were cis.

In her videos about gender, she's made a number of statements that are supportive of nonbinary people and their gender identities. I think in her attempt to explain herself, and her feelings, she put her foot in her mouth, and in doing so hurt nonbinary people. I don't think that was intent, and to my knowledge, she doesn't have a history of being shitty to nonbinary and gender non-conforming people. (If I am wrong about this, please let me know.) I don't think a mistake like that should be the end of her career, let alone justify stuff that has happened since, including doxxing her address.

As a public figure, she's going to get way more scrutiny of her actions and words than a Justine Sacco, but she's still just as likely as anyone to say something dumb. I don't think it's right to assume malice from people without a history of it.
posted by SansPoint at 8:37 AM on September 23 [23 favorites]


If cancel culture was real then why are all these guys who sexually assaulted people for years still multi-millionaires? If cancel Culture is real then why is Sean spicer on dancing with the stars?

Because cancel culture is much more likely to 'work' (in the sense of having long-term consequences) when a) it comes from your own side and b) matches or outweighs your level of privilege.

Pewdiepie is a pretty well-off white guy and has a huge fanbase. Most of the criticism he gets comes from people who aren't in his fanbase and who his fanbase either don't give a shit about or actively enjoy baiting. He's not going to get cancelled unless he pulls a Milo and starts advocating pederasty.
posted by inire at 8:43 AM on September 23 [7 favorites]


Or, as I feel like it gets more relevant every day, Cancel Culture As used by the right wing is a neurotic projection of their own knowledge of their bad actions and anxiety that they might have to face consequences for them in the future while simultaneously emboldening them to continue bad actions that our culture rewards. This conflict between what society SAYS is bad bad and what soceity actually PUNISHES creates this neurosis. They get this feedback every time they see Brett Kavanaugh on TV. They are doing exactly what our culture tells them to do implicitly while condemning it explicitly.

Cancel Culture as used by the left or more liberal ends of the spectrum is more born from a feeling of helplessness and lack of control or agency. If nothing I do matters and I can’t change the world in any material way and everything is just going to steamroll over me then goddamnit I’m gonna wreck this bathroom cause then at least I did something.
posted by The Whelk at 8:47 AM on September 23 [29 favorites]


He's not going to get cancelled unless he pulls a Milo and starts advocating pederasty.

Even that wasn’t “pedrasty is bad” isn’t that “this is bad for our brand and puts off people we want to bring into the political project.” Trust me if they thought for a second they could get away with it they would. Look at what they’ve already tried to mainstream.
posted by The Whelk at 8:49 AM on September 23 [7 favorites]


Because cancel culture is much more likely to 'work' (in the sense of having long-term consequences) when a) it comes from your own side and b) matches or outweighs your level of privilege.

As the article points out, right-wing movements from those in power to silence leftist anti-authoritarianism from marginalized groups, often with plenty of assistance from centrists and liberals, are actually wildly successful.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:49 AM on September 23 [10 favorites]


People are so easily offended these days. That's why I only ever make jokes at the expense of white men, whose thick skins and calmly rational attitudes make them impossible to upset.
posted by jeather at 8:50 AM on September 23 [68 favorites]


As the article points out, right-wing movements from those in power to silence leftist anti-authoritarianism from marginalized groups, often with plenty of assistance from centrists and liberals, are actually wildly successful.

My emphasis. The success is due to the enormous power imbalance (point b of my previous comment). Criticism from your own side (and I am not counting centrists and liberals as leftist in the proper sense) is not necessary or sufficient for success, but is a force multiplier.
posted by inire at 8:58 AM on September 23 [3 favorites]


If I were to start forgiving people for the mistakes they made when they were younger and less informed, that would be a slippery slope towards expecting people to forgive me for the mistakes I made when I was younger and less informed, and I don't think it's right to expect that.

I am asking in all sincerity - why not? Do you honestly feel like the growth you have gone through as a person should not be taken into account when considering your suitability for things in the present day?

Mind you, I'm not saying that "if they say they're sorry it makes it all okay". Instead, I'm saying that there's got to be some kind of a sliding scale between "absolve them of everything" and "tear people down and salt the earth", especially if we're talking "they said something nasty when they were young and dumb but now they're older and have publicly said that they were stupid back in the day and they're sorry". It just sounds like you personally think that you shouldn't be forgiven for some dumb mistakes you made, and I'm sincerely surprised by that position.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:06 AM on September 23 [21 favorites]


(Just in case, for the record - Dave Chappelle and Bill Maher and other "I'm saying mean stuff and if you complain y'all just triggered" people are people I would place on the "salt the earth" end of that sliding scale.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:09 AM on September 23 [4 favorites]


I think Faint of Butt was making a joke, Empress.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:10 AM on September 23 [4 favorites]


One person is quoted in the original article as saying that cancel culture opposes the spirit of debate in democracy. No. Protestation in opposition to perceived harm, especially harm caused by those with more power against those with less, is the core of democracy. Raising one's voice, whether against another's or not, is the key to a healthy democracy. Stating displeasure at another's opinion is just as fair or equally entitled as the person who made the initial statement. If we are silenced from expressing our dislike then democracy has failed. Per the"spirit of democratic debate" cited in the article, debate has the goal of one side triumphing over another through whatever rational, persuasive tactics to further greater justice and equity. In other words, debates can entitle any voice and opinion, but ultimately have the goal of bringing allies over to one side v. the other. Sure, they are free to say that Michael Jackson wasn't a pedophile, but I am also free to call them assholes. Those who are canceled are on the historical losing side, regardless of their continued or prior stance as financial winners and cultural powerhouses. I'm reminded of Condoleeza Rice saying once that invading Iraq would put Bush on the right side of history. It takes a tremendous amount of arrogance to opine about the winners of the future, and those who have controlled the past - folks who have benefitted in major ways from whatever their opinions or craft are- want to continue to write themselves into the future in spite of waning relevance. Who's on the right side of history now?

Also, if you can't be "funny" without building major segments of your oeuvre around being an asshole, you're just bad at your craft and imaginatively lazy. I have made an entire private comedic career out of fart sounds and odd squeaks and beeps during pregnant pauses, among other silly things I've done to make those close to me find me funny. No assholery necessary.
posted by erattacorrige at 9:15 AM on September 23 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure that Faint of Butt was joking - I think their point was that expecting forgiveness for one's own transgressions is not OK, because it implies that you are entitled to forgiveness and anyone who chooses not to forgive you is wrong. Although I don't agree that forgiving others puts you on a slippery slope to that outcome.
posted by inire at 9:18 AM on September 23 [7 favorites]


Cancel Culture as used by the left or more liberal ends of the spectrum is more born from a feeling of helplessness and lack of control or agency. If nothing I do matters and I can’t change the world in any material way and everything is just going to steamroll over me then goddamnit I’m gonna wreck this bathroom cause then at least I did something.

Yep (well, it's more than that, including, as someone brilliantly pointed out recently, the younger 20-somethings' sense that censorship is an adult activity and their eagerness to establish their adulthood by joining in, but this is the most generous interpretation). This is why, while I hate what purity culture and the like is doing to certain corners of my Internet experience, I keep that critique as internal as possible. We're talking about two different phenomena.
posted by praemunire at 9:19 AM on September 23 [11 favorites]


I think their point was that expecting forgiveness for one's own transgressions is not OK, because it implies that you are entitled to forgiveness and anyone who chooses not to forgive you is wrong.

i.e. the pressure that assaulted young women face to forgive their assailants in religious communities.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:22 AM on September 23 [10 favorites]


there's this code, where they say "pushing boundaries" but they actually mean using cruel words to reinforce social hierarchy

I would hardly notice, except I'm a fan of old school performance art, punk, industrial culture, dada, queer culture, you know, things that actually pushed boundaries
posted by idiopath at 9:24 AM on September 23 [41 favorites]


there's this code, where they say "pushing boundaries" but they actually mean using cruel words to reinforce social hierarchy

Yes, thank you. The idea that a literal angry old white man yelling about "BACK IN MY DAY [cruel violent things about gender] WAS HOW IT WORKED" is in any way "pushing a boundary" and not "literally what everyone has said forever, the oldest hackiest shit in the world" makes me want to vomit up my coffee.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:27 AM on September 23 [29 favorites]


it's also interesting to see that jesse singal and katie herzog, both of whom have made their "beat" poking at trans people and doubling down on their own strange opinions about the same, quoted as part of the bold truth-teller squad - some people were wondering whether those journalists were trying to pivot their doubling down into being professional contrarians

i don't enjoy professional contrarians
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 9:28 AM on September 23 [8 favorites]


I think their point was that expecting forgiveness for one's own transgressions is not OK, because it implies that you are entitled to forgiveness and anyone who chooses not to forgive you is wrong. Although I don't agree that forgiving others puts you on a slippery slope to that outcome.

Oh, that makes sense.

I'll grant that I"m coming at this from the I-was-raised-Catholic perspective, so there's a bit of "but...confession and forgiveness!" going on. :-) But you're right that assuming that "all I have to do is say 'sorry' and it'll make it all okay" is not okay.

Yet it's also how a lot of people process this kind of thing as well. My Irish friend joked once that this was one of the "perks" of being Catholic. And yet the actual legit RCC dogma states that confession and absolution only counts if you genuinely and sincerely are going to try your damnedest not to repeat your mistake. It's not "oh, I fucked up, I just have to say 'sorry' and that'll fix it"; it's "oh wow, I fucked up, but now I understand how I fucked up and I want to go on record that I get it now and that I'm going to really try to do better."

And that's not even getting into how the person doing the forgiving has the right to say "no, fuck you" as well. And how forgiveness isn't always a gesture of "oh, everything's okay now", and can sometimes be a gesture of "look, I agree that what you did sucked, but I'm not going to dwell on it any more and I'm just gonna move on".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:28 AM on September 23 [10 favorites]


ideopath: I would hardly notice, except I'm a fan of old school performance art, punk, industrial culture, dada, queer culture, you know, things that actually pushed boundaries

Even in those spaces, there were things that pushed boundaries because they had something to say about those boundaries, and things that pushed boundaries because they just wanted a reaction. When you're an artist who wants to get noticed, doing something shocking is an easy way to get a reaction, especially if you don't give a hoot about what that reaction is. There's a difference between the Fascist Satire of, say, Laibach, and the "Hey! I'm wearing swastikas!" schtick of Boyd Rice, and I think the former has aged far better than the latter.

The other, more insidious aspect of shock culture that doesn't actually say anything about what's shocking is that it provides cover for those who believe in the surface message. Real neo-Nazis can hide behind the shitty satire of artists who use Nazism as a shock tactic but fail to actually say anything meaningful about Nazism.
posted by SansPoint at 9:32 AM on September 23 [13 favorites]


If cancel culture was really so powerful, why wasn’t the abomination we call Donald Trump cancelled before he became President?
posted by jonp72 at 9:49 AM on September 23 [6 favorites]


The Hippies weren't laughing at Bob Hope's routines in 1970 when I was born. But at least Bob Hope didn't whine and complain about it the way Jerry Seinfeld does today. I can't even look at Seinfeld's billionaire/victim face anymore.

Our culture is stuck in an endless feedback loop of meta. The internet has divided us into a thousand little outpost camps. Too much comedy today is made up of meta-takes on group acceptance and dismissals, and vying to take the Anointed Mantle of being seen as The REAL Victim. You win by being the most "victimized" or something, at least according to the camp you are juggling in front of. It's tiresome, it's been rubbed into the dirt, and it annoys the crap out of me. So I tune most of it out. Which is easy for me in my privileged position.

All I know is the culture will keep changing. There will be some new aspects of culture we will hold as great and some we will despise. And there'll be a bunch of people complaining that they aren't a Big Deal anymore.

Change the channel.
posted by SoberHighland at 9:56 AM on September 23 [8 favorites]


If cancel culture was really so powerful, why wasn’t the abomination we call Donald Trump cancelled before he became President?

Because for many groups that identify with him, Don came to be perceived as The REAL Victim. He still holds popularity because he is seen by his supporters as The REAL Victim every day. Don gets this and reinforces it every day through social media. He's actually smart in some ways. We ignore that at our own peril.

Our group needs to move past playing that same game internally. But I don't hold much hope that we will do so this time around.
posted by SoberHighland at 10:01 AM on September 23 [6 favorites]


It's worth skipping to the end of this article, because I think the author contributes two problems in how we should assess cancel culture: cancel culture is impotent in areas and situations where lives are literally at stake versus the manufactured dramas of well-off society; and second, the real oppressors are hidden and cancel culture cannot even touch those who hold the reins of ideological control.

That's all from the last 3 paras of the article. I wouldn't know how to address these complexities, but it is worth pointing out that in the ongoing disputes about CC, these two potential gaps are not acknowledged and scrutinized with much emphasis. I do think that a progressive social movement has an ethical obligation for self understanding of such questions that arise that can be asked legitimately.

I would add that the third question about cancel culture is, is it, can it, or should it become accountable? If c.c. is accused by the right and center of zealotry, then clear accountability of c.c. would shut down that point. It's also curious that the article doesn't consider this issue.
posted by polymodus at 10:03 AM on September 23 [12 favorites]


I guess I also don't get how Cancel Culture is different from how mainstream media has been avoiding controversial acts since basically forever, except that people are tweeting instead of calling the NBC switchboard and writing letters to the New Republic and National Review? The more I think about it, the more this just feels like a new iteration of the "culture wars" of the early 1990s. Remember Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, and all that?

Shane Gillis is basically where Andrew Dice Clay was in the early '90s. Popular in some circles, reviled in others, too controversial for mainstream media. I just searched for ADC on newspapers.com (sorry, paywalled). The first hit from 1990-1993 was an ambivalent columnist saying friends told her she shouldn't write about him because "I was going to get mean letters from fundamental Christians and radical feminists who would tell me I should be dead and how dare I use this space to promote such filth as Andrew Dice Clay..." That could be part of an op-ed about Gillis or CK today.

Incidentally, the next hit on ADC was a movie critic reviewing his movie "Ford Fairlane" and lambasting him for what we'd now call ironic bigotry: "Clay tries to exonerate himself from his reputation by letting other characters onscreen continuously tell him what a jerk (they use another word) he is... but his disclaimers are unconvincing."
posted by smelendez at 10:05 AM on September 23 [8 favorites]


If cancel culture was really so powerful, why wasn’t the abomination we call Donald Trump cancelled before he became President?

It's obvious. The entire reason we have the cancel culture and Me Too etc. is BECAUSE of Trump's election. It's because he's such predatory sleaze that these issues have come to the front. We can't seem to nail him for his crimes so we've started going after all the others who do similar things and we take it out on them ( I'm not saying many don't deserve it ).
It's silver lining in a way. If Hillary had been elected we wouldn't be talking about it like this.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:09 AM on September 23 [9 favorites]


Elizabeth Bruenig made a good point recently on Left, Right, and Center: "cancel culture" means so many different things that it's impossible to get a handle on what any one person means when they decry "cancel culture". Is it just getting yelled at on Twitter? Is it someone trying to get you fired from your job? Is it someone threatening physical violence against you? All these things get lumped together as "cancel culture", despite being very different things. Indeed, Osita Nwanevu has a good riff on this in the TNR article:

Being cancelled on Twitter, then, is an event that belongs to an alarming lineage of severe intolerance, cruel persecution, official condemnation, and vindictive upheavals. The list of weighty precedents is endless. Nelson Mandela was cancelled. Martin Luther King Jr. was cancelled. The Beatles were cancelled. Lenny Bruce, of course, was cancelled. Vladimir Nabokov, D.H. Lawrence, and James Joyce were all cancelled. Alfred Dreyfus was cancelled and, famously, uncancelled. Robespierre, like fellow canceller par excellence Joseph McCarthy, eventually got himself cancelled. Twenty unlucky Puritans were cancelled at Salem. Galileo was cancelled. Martin Luther was cancelled. Joan of Arc was cancelled. At least half a dozen popes have been cancelled. Jesus was cancelled. Socrates was cancelled. The pharaoh Akhenaten, reviled and stricken from official records for introducing monotheism to Egypt, was cancelled quite thoroughly in the fourteenth century BC. In the twenty-fourth, Lugalzagesi, uniter of Sumer, was cancelled by Sargon of Akkad and a cheering public as he was marched in a neck stock through the city of his coronation and executed. Et cetera.

Part of the problem, as Nwanevu suggests, is a lack of historical perspective, combined with the internet messing up our ideas of what constitutes legitimate dialogue as opposed to censorship and repression. A lot of people (e.g., Bret Stephens) have been truly rattled by the fact of people making fun of them online, and have reacted in rather ludicrous fashion. At the same time, because many of those same people control the commanding heights of media, they are often blind to the ways in which censorship really is exercised today (e.g., efforts to quash the BDS movement).
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:10 AM on September 23 [5 favorites]


And now Andrew Dice Clay recently played the father (!!!) of the character played by an ultra-woke female actor/musician in a recent Hollywood blockbuster.

I can hardly handle the Meta. These people are jugglers, clowns and buskers with big paychecks. And they are our contemporary Demigods. And here we are leaving offerings and burning incense at their altars.
posted by SoberHighland at 10:13 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


It's silver lining in a way. If Hillary had been elected we wouldn't be talking about it like this.

Well, Hillary's husband would still be William Jefferson Clinton.
posted by MrJM at 10:15 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


I'm of two minds on this. One the one hand, I think this whining about cancel culture by famous people is really silly. They claim that they're being singled out for persecution, but it's clear that what they really want is special rules to apply to them because they're famous. Like, people will say "what, should Louis C.K. never be allowed to work again?" But nobody would expect, say, a McDonalds employee who jerked off in front of a bunch of his coworkers to keep working at McDonalds.

On the other hand, I do sometimes think that what gets called cancel culture is really bad for the cancellERS. I don't think it's healthy for people to be working themselves into a froth so often about people who aren't actually in their lives. Something I'm trying (with limited success) is to stop wasting time and energy on having mental arguments with people who aren't actually in front of me, and a lot of this stuff seems like those arguments writ large.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:18 AM on September 23 [20 favorites]


And that's not even getting into how the person doing the forgiving has the right to say "no, fuck you" as well.

...or as the song goes, "God may forgive you, but I won't." God can wash away your sins because God can see in your heart and know if you're truly sorry. Other people you hurt, who don't have that insight, can therefore take the option of saying, "Nope."

Back closer to the topic, how fucking hard is it to not be an asshole? I mean, we all mis-speak, or unintentionally say shitty things from time to time, but when a decent person is called out on it, they listen and try to understand how they messed up, even if imperfectly.
posted by notsnot at 10:19 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's healthy for people to be working themselves into a froth so often about people who aren't actually in their lives.

This assumes a lot about how easy it is to not let famous and influential people be "in your life". Being able to just not pay attention to the fact that a famous comedian with millions of viewers is more or less questioning your right to exist as a human is, to put it mildly, seriously fucking privileged.
posted by tocts at 10:20 AM on September 23 [23 favorites]


Well, Hillary's husband would still be William Jefferson Clinton.

Yeah I guess. What's your point there?
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:20 AM on September 23 [3 favorites]


One of the big claims is that "one screw up can derail your career." But that's patently false. It's "one screw up," plus "one refusal to apologize," plus "one entrenchment and doubling down."

Apologies, genuine apologies, they work:

People love Terry Crews. People were put off when he implied that he opposed same-sex parenting because he believed that kids need influences of both* genders. He didn't understand exactly why people were upset, but he made it clear he wanted to learn. He sat down with his coworker Stephanie Beatriz and was willing to listen. He then made an educated, genuine apology. And now? People still love Terry Crews.

*Also gender isn't binary, but shedding that in this context is well past the awareness level of mainstream America right now.
posted by explosion at 10:34 AM on September 23 [44 favorites]


This assumes a lot about how easy it is to not let famous and influential people be "in your life". Being able to just not pay attention to the fact that a famous comedian with millions of viewers is more or less questioning your right to exist as a human is, to put it mildly, seriously fucking privileged.

Fair! I apologize if that came off glibly. I was trying to draw a distinction between people who you have direct access to, who you can talk to and (potentially) be heard by, and people who you do not. Not because the effects of famous people questioning your right to exist aren't real or important - they absolutely are. But if all you can do in response is to (understandably) shout into the void, it seems easy to shout yourself hoarse. I know I have.

BUT, if it sounded like I was saying "this stuff doesn't matter and people are getting worked up over nothing" that was my poor communication, and I'm sorry.
posted by Ragged Richard at 10:42 AM on September 23 [3 favorites]


To be clear, I 100% agree that there's value to limiting social media engagement with people who are for sure part of the problem but also not uniquely in a position of power or influence and are entirely outside my life; I could find endless twitter eggs to argue with on any social justice cause of note, but that truly would be screaming into the void in a way that's probably unhealthy and unproductive.

I think it's very different when it comes to celebrities, though. I may not be able to personally reach someone like Dave Chappelle, but I think that being part of a the crowd of voices saying to a celebrity: "what you're saying is unacceptable", is in fact something that can be productive. I think that the proliferation of these boo hoo articles about how mean people are to celebrities is fair proof of that.
posted by tocts at 10:53 AM on September 23 [8 favorites]


The part that pisses me off so much about Chappelle is that he realized back when his show was on that sometimes satire gets used for the wrong reasons. One of the reasons he took time off was because he said he realized that white people were laughing a little too hard at the wrong things.

So here's a man who can see that maybe, joking about racism in a certain way actually empowers the people who are already empowered by hate rather than empowering those that don't have the power. But yet, when someone says, "When you say shit like that, it hurts me." all he can hear is you can say things you thought were funny?

It's shit and it's lazy and I expected better.
posted by teleri025 at 11:00 AM on September 23 [45 favorites]


Let's at least be honest: Shane Gillis lost the SNL job. I am NOT making any statement about whether it was right or wrong, but to say no one who was 'cancelled' actually has their professional lives disrupted or diminished isn't true.

Gillis is today doing standup -- exactly where he was two weeks ago before getting the call from SNL. What's disrupted? He just failed to get a promotion that he didn't deserve and back to doing what he was always doing.
posted by JackFlash at 11:19 AM on September 23 [11 favorites]


plus now he has a gofundme and a diehard racist fanbase willing to die for him.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:24 AM on September 23 [26 favorites]


If anyone else was hired and then quickly fired from a high profile, next-step-up media job, we'd say their career had been disrupted, regardless of the cause of it and what they were doing for work the week after.
posted by PhineasGage at 11:25 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


Am I missing where anyone has said Gillis' career wasn't disrupted? It was, and that's a good thing, as far as I'm concerned.

If we're talking about saying there is no risk in calling people what Gillis did - I feel you can say there's no creative risk, no pushing the envelope, without saying there's no career risk. Is that what's at stake here, or what?
posted by ominous_paws at 11:36 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


Let's start at the top shall we?

There's a process we've been constructed up into called markedness. In the system of markedness there is the unmarked and the marked. Markedness forms the root of all marginalization and oppression. It's the function of othering. It's a social construct. It can be challenged and changed.

Everyone carries marks, a few of us get to be unmarked. Think of being in an unmarked position as being one of "the defaults" in a system. There are a few unmarked positions that are obvious:

Being Cis
Being a Man
Being White
Being Able-bodied
Having the "right dialect"

There are a lot more ways people are "unmarked", but that's a pretty good set to start with.

Now, there are ways that the "unmarked" give others "marks". The more marks we have, the more opposition and oppression we will face in life. This is also intersectionality, but instead of grounding this conversation starting from the intersections of oppression, I come at intersectionality as all of us carrying a set of marks into society, and if we are able to recognize where our marks come from and how we mark others, then we can at least have a table to sit and talk about stuff in a way that we can progress forward.

The ways people are marked by the unmarked:
Being Trans and nonbinary
Being a Woman
Being Black
Being Indigenous/Native
Being Nonblack/Non-Native
Having a disability
Having a mental illness
Being homeless
Not having the "right dialect".

(and so on and so on)

So basically, what we have to do is look at who is marking who, and who the unmarked are. Where this gets into nuance is that within groups of "unmarked" people there can also be a set of marks that we carry. For instance, Cis Women are "marked" by men, who are unmarked in the cis binary, but when you exit the cis binary and look at cis people from a trans perspective, Cis Women are both marked AND Unmarked, depending on the relative position of the person observing the Cis Woman. A Cis Man sees the femininity and sex assigned at birth of a Cis Woman as a "mark", and a trans person may see ALL CIS PEOPLE as unmarked, with cis women carrying marks. So, as a Cis Woman that gets complicated because men are marking you and trans people see how you are both marked and unmarked.

This same thing goes for all other marks as well, we all carry many marks, and some of are both marked and unmarked at the same time. If we can understand how we are unmarked and marked, and how we mark others, then we can at least talk about this shit in a more meaningful way.

I can't really do this idea a lot of justice here on Mefi, I know there are inconsistencies in what I've typed here, this is an extremely early work in progress for me and I need to really vet it out, but I guess what I'm trying to get across here is that "cancel culture" only cancels the most marginalized and oppressed among us and people who have platforms already don't really ever experience "being cancelled". My concern here is that we have a really shitty framework for talking about oppression, and if we don't find a way to find a path to bring empathy into our discussions that it's just going to be an endless shitshow of everyone dropping shit-hot takes on everyone else while capitalism and fascism burns the planet down.

So for me it seems like in this idea of markedness, we can begin to approach the central function of oppression, which is basically for me a tool for describing the process of how objectification originates and operates as the central oppressor in our minds.
posted by nikaspark at 11:42 AM on September 23 [18 favorites]


"Thinking I'm Chinese doesn't make me Chinese" doesn't have to be cribbed from Dave Chappelle, that is almost "attack helicopter" level of ubiquitous. He could have cribbed it from a Facebook meme

True, but I don't think it's a coincidence that Carson used it so very soon after Chappelle used it what with all the attention being given to Chappelle and especially since the alt-right/mainstream right have been some his biggest defenders in the wake of pushback against Sticks and Stones. (There's a clip of that so-called joke on YouTube but it's so utterly vile, I won't link to it.)

I wish I could believe that Chappelle and other comedians complaining about cancel culture and trying to "It was just a joke" their way out of criticism could watch a clip of Carson using that line of "reasoning" and realize that their jokes can and do have vast consequences for real and living people.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:14 PM on September 23 [3 favorites]


I am NOT making any statement about whether it was right or wrong, but to say no one who was 'cancelled' actually has their professional lives disrupted or diminished isn't true.

Where you start makes a lot of difference to what "disruption" means. We should absolutely be careful about what might genuinely ruin the lives of people who are already on the margins of society in some fashion. On the other hand, who talks about cancelling minimum-wage food service workers? This whole concept requires that you exist at a level of society where you're getting a better deal than the vast majority of the population, and that deal should come with a requirement that you do better than just "not actually joining the KKK". I'm not really concerned about this as long as the people involved are perfectly capable of going and having a regular life like everybody else who doesn't make it in show business, afterwards.
posted by Sequence at 12:42 PM on September 23 [12 favorites]


Sequence: On the other hand, who talks about cancelling minimum-wage food service workers?

It does happen. (And in this case, it was deserved, 'cause the guy is a Nazi.)
posted by SansPoint at 1:12 PM on September 23 [1 favorite]


SansPoint, is this the article you meant to link to?

(I ask because the person in the article you linked is a woman and was employed as a chef de cuisine which is not typically a "minimum-wage food service worker" job)
posted by Secret Sparrow at 1:58 PM on September 23 [1 favorite]


Secret Sparrow: Yes, sorry! I was a bit rushed in my reply.
posted by SansPoint at 2:11 PM on September 23


I wouldn't call what happened to Fullerton getting "cancelled". People just called for him to be fired or for people to not patronize his place of employment if he wasn't. But also, yes, actual Nazi!

So I'm mostly just trying to distinguish between "cancel culture" and something like that. I definitely think that firing someone low-income for making occasional racist jokes would be inappropriate abuse of the employer's power, if it didn't come with some small number of escalating warnings. You have to get into someone seeming like a threat to others before I'm okay with taking that opportunity to fix the problem away. Some people clearly seem to think celebrities with sufficiently "minor" infractions should similarly get warnings and some time to attempt to shape up.

Like, so many people trying to get famous get their careers effectively cancelled for so much less. For having the wrong body type, for having a baby at the wrong time, for being the a race not usually considered for leading roles, whatever. What I'm saying is that there's a clear distinction between doing something without warning that might make someone homeless, and doing something without warning that might make someone insignificant. Anybody big enough to cancel had plenty of notice that they should do better.
posted by Sequence at 3:26 PM on September 23 [1 favorite]


Maybe "cancel culture" is the right term for this, maybe it isn't, but every time people say there are no consequences to online pile-ons, I can't stop thinking about the time a bullied Steven Universe fan artist attempted suicide after hundreds of people jumped on her for drawing a character "wrong" (1). I can't stop thinking about people who've posted a stupid joke to Twitter and had it go viral and had the entire internet on their neck within hours, and gotten fired as a result. (2) And I can't stop thinking about the two times I've seen, in real life, people get frozen out of small communities for things they did years ago that would be hateful nowadays but which don't represent them today, after a pile-on that they were unable to respond to.

Just because people with wealth, a fanbase, and connections can weather an internet storm doesn't mean that everyone who's hit by a pile-on can come out unscathed. Young people, people without deep pockets or deep social networks, and the people with the least privilege in a given setting are the people who probably get hurt by it the most. Internet shaming may be a useful tool in some instances but it sure feels like a blatant lie to say it doesn't hurt people. And I suspect that it's an excuse for people to feel good about being on the right side of an issue without actually creating positive change.

When we see a judge assign public shaming as punishment for a crime, do we feel justice has been served? If a convict were required to stand outside an intersection holding a sign saying their name and their crime, would that be justice? That feels like retribution to me - not something corrective, just something that makes other people feel good for not being that person.

Overall, I feel like shaming is just... not a tool I want to have in my toolbox for advocacy. I think it may have a role in influencing more powerful people, but only as long as it's clear the shame is tied to their actions and that they can change (because if you don't allow someone to change, how can it be useful to harangue them?) And I would never want to shame someone who can't weather it. I'd much rather go through private channels first.

When fact-checking this comment, I found a really lovely John Oliver video discussing the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yq7Eh6JTKIg

cites:
(1) https://www.dailydot.com/parsec/steven-universe-fanartist-bullied-controversy/
(2) https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html
posted by LSK at 4:08 PM on September 23 [14 favorites]


Has there been anyone in the 21st century who's been cancelled and just went away?

Michael Richards, pretty much.
posted by rhizome at 7:48 PM on September 23 [1 favorite]


Richards was already "gone." He'd had a failed TV pilot, was under the radar for years, had the incident, and got more press than he'd gotten since 1998.

The Dixie Chicks are the go-to example for having been cancelled, but that doesn't fit the narrative since they were cancelled from the "wrong" side.
posted by explosion at 8:23 PM on September 23 [2 favorites]


the author of the piece is interviewed in the second half of this episode of SH!TPOST They mention how Justine Sacco ...did not have her life destroyed - she ended up in a similar position in a different part of the PR branch she worked in.
posted by The Whelk at 11:38 PM on September 23 [12 favorites]


I don’t like that we’re using “cancel culture” like it’s a real thing and not a thought-terminating cliche created by reactionaries to complain about people choosing to patronize them anymore.
posted by maxsparber at 3:55 AM on September 24 [13 favorites]


Sinead O'Connor got cancelled, if you don't mind looking back to the 90s for an example. Seems like it only sticks if you're a lefty.
posted by harriet vane at 4:13 AM on September 24 [9 favorites]


To pile on to the list of people who were "cancelled' and had it stick, Janet Jackson... for reasons that are utter bullshit, and have to do with Les Moonves being a shitty human being.
posted by SansPoint at 6:19 AM on September 24 [8 favorites]


Seems like it only sticks if you're a lefty.

I have to think this is of a piece with the right embracing its extremists and the left's habit of doing the hippy-punching thing.
posted by rhizome at 1:22 PM on September 24


I'm pretty sure PWR BTTM are going to stay gone, for another example. How much power you have to start with is a very big determiner of how things play out.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 3:30 PM on September 24 [2 favorites]


Seems like it only sticks if you're a lefty.

Yup. It seems to be sticking to Kathy Griffin too.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:34 PM on September 24 [1 favorite]


Let's ask the Hollywood Ten about cancel culture!
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:15 PM on September 24


Roseanne literally got canceled.

I'm on the side that says cancel culture is largely a bullshit idea and even in the instances where it does happen, I'm not losing sleep over its "victims."

But even so, to engage in this argument in good faith we have to look at ostensible examples of people being canceled. And Roseanne having her hit show canceled and then brought back without her and with her title character killed off fits their narrative.

(It doesn't mean reasonable people have to have a problem with that outcome, but it's disingenuous not to acknowledge/discuss the example.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:36 AM on September 25 [3 favorites]


And Roseanne having her hit show canceled and then brought back without her and with her title character killed off fits their narrative.

Phil Donohue says hi.

"Cancel culture" complaints are just the right wing being upset that they're no longer immune to the tactics they have employed to great success for decades. It's working the refs and should be treated as such.
posted by PMdixon at 9:13 AM on September 25 [9 favorites]


Yes, this is what we are saying here.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:52 AM on September 25


It's a bit more sinister than that.

Complaints about "cancel culture" are fundamentally an attempt to discourage people from voicing their reactions to what others are doing. At some level, it's a form of gaslighting -- sure, you saw that person advocate for genocidal policies, but you're not supposed to react to that if this isn't a "political" context.

These complaints are honestly no different than your shitty racist relatives demanding that you just suck it up and have a nice family event and pretend like you don't know they literally voted for your civil rights to be taken away, because otherwise by their logic you're totally the rude one who won't just leave politics out of it.
posted by tocts at 9:55 AM on September 25 [12 favorites]




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