How Would You Even Stop Cancel Culture?

The C is for Cancel, apparently
The C is for Cancel, apparently Screenshot from The Closer
Dave Chappelle opened his big, stupid transphobic mouth again, and now people are rushing to defend him from cancel culture. The arguments are always the same: free speech must never be impeded no matter how harmful, comedians are the front line of thought, pushing back against cancel culture is necessary. It’s an argument almost as boring as Chappelle’s own jokes.

Let’s pretend cancel culture is a real social plague that needs reining in for a moment. Setting aside all argument over whether it even exists or is a bad thing, here’s the question: What exactly do you want anyone to do about it?

Cancel culture is, at its core, free speech, and is as protected as any Proud Boy screaming “it’s okay to be white.” There is no fundamental difference between Chappelle’s obnoxious and insecure anti-trans nonsense and someone on social media calling him an asshole that Netflix should stop sending dump trucks full of money to.

Should people not be allowed to write criticisms of artistic works, or should we simply be prohibited from calling someone a bigot no matter how obvious the evidence? Do you want social media to step in and stop organized protest? Who exactly do you want to shut up in these post-cancel culture worlds?

There’s a certain amount of bootlicking going on in Chappelle’s defense. I’ve seen people say criticism is just fine, but that Chappelle ever suffering financial consequences for his work is a bridge too far. It makes me wonder, at what exact level of celebrity are you no longer beholden to good public opinion in order to keep your job selling your opinions on things? What if this wasn’t about transphobia? What if The Closer was all jokes about airline food and wondering why you drive on a parkway and park on a driveway? Would it still be cancel culture if fans responded that Netflix should not give that act millions of dollars, or is it only cancel culture when marginalized people are hurt?

I’ve seen plenty of Chappelle defenders on the left, which is a shame because the backlash against cancel culture is definitely a right-wing grift to further white supremacy. Conservative fundraising emails are obsessed with the idea of canceling, with far-right figures like Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene often raising the specter of them being cancelled over their racist gobbledygook. It’s a tactic as old as George Lincoln Rockwell: make the argument about whether you can say something as opposed to what shit you’re talking.

Meanwhile, here in the land of brisket and football, we’re seeing exactly what stopping cancel culture looks like. It looks like teachers being afraid to teach that white supremacy was the reasoning behind slavery and the Holocaust. It’s pushing trans children into closets so they cannot stand as equal with their peers. It’s preserving statues of slaveowners put up during the Civil Rights Era in order to scare Blacks and calling it history. These are fundamentally the "cancelling" of ideas and speech, but they are presented as a response to speech being under attack. Way too many people are falling for it.

No matter what side of the political spectrum you may personally land on, hopping onto the “stop cancel culture” bandwagon serves the degradation of diversity in this state and country. The backlash is entirely about whether it is okay for ruling classes to ever face anger over the oppression they participate in. The only way cancel culture is ever going to be stopped in a practical sense, is when people who already have giant platforms and institutional power are free from opposition. Is that what you actually want?
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner