Unless you’ve been totally disconnected from all social media and news sources for some time, you’ve almost certainly heard the phrase “cancel culture” bandied about several times lately. In fact, you’ve probably heard it at least a time or two if you haven’t been living in total isolation at the South Pole. And there’s a very good reason why you’ve been hearing it: certain people have been trying very, very hard to make sure you hear it. Those people, of course, are right-wingers/ “conservatives”. And they are reacting to a string of recent disciplinary actions taken against some of their comrades: e.g., Twitter banning 45 and Project Veritas; YouTube taking down the pillow man’s unhinged video diarrhea about “election fraud”. And so on.
“Cancel culture” is such a big deal to conservatives that one of their leading (if that is the correct word) voices, Congressman Jim Jordan (Q-OH) went on Fox “News” and declared it to be the biggest problem facing the nation today. Yep, bigger than the pandemic, the economy, terrorism, climate change, or even Jewish space lasers. And given Jordan’s backstory, he clearly considers it a graver threat than sexual assault.
Whenever these folks are penalized for their actions, they invariably scream and whine that they are being censored, oppressed, persecuted, marginalized and socialized by Orwell, Hitler, Goebbels, Marx, George Soros and Hillary. They have adopted the cute phrase cancel culture for this imposition of accountability. They would have you believe that they yearn for a society in which anyone is free to say absolutely anything, anywhere, anytime, with absolutely no repercussions. And hey, maybe some of them actually mean it. Because the thing is, if that were the case, they would have a huge advantage — even bigger than the one they have now.
A forum that has no holds barred would be hugely tilted in favor of right-wingers for the simple reason that they are willing to say absolutely anything. And the truth is no match for lies; after all, for every single truth there can be an infinite number of lies. This is why right-wingers have flocked to Parler, which claims to have no “censorship”, no “cancel culture”; that isn’t true, of course –Parler has been known to ban people for being too progressive. But the very promise of having no restrictions lures conservatives like a stockyard lures flies.
In the narrative about “cancel culture”, which is really being driven into the ground on the social media from which they supposedly have been cancelled, there are five myths they consistently promote. Let’s take a look at them.
Myth # 1: “Cancel culture” is a thing
Cancel culture is not a thing. It’s a number of things, which wingers are trying to roll up into one burrito, and pass it off as a unified, deliberate, conscious movement. What they call “cancel culture” might include boycotting a business or prominent individual; pressuring someone to resign or be dismissed from a post; or removing someone from a platform. And it might be done for a number of reasons, some of which are justified, and some of which are not. Sometimes it just results from glitchy algorithms.
(Update: Right-wingers even wailed about “cancel culture” after Dr. Seuss Enterprises decided to discontinue 6 of its Dr. Seuss titles because they contained racist images. Yes, you heard that right: it’s considered “cancel culture” to voluntarily discontinue your own product. Or even alter its packaging and branding, as in the case of Aunt Jemima.)
Myth # 2: “Cancel Culture” is of recent vintage
Although they may not explicitly say this, the impression they try to create is that “cancel culture” is something that dropped out of the sky not too long ago, and suddenly is taking over the world. Apparently they’ve never heard of a chap named Galileo, who was “cancelled” by the Church for delving into science a little too deeply. Nor was he by any means the only outspoken visionary to have run afoul of the authorities. Socrates had his very life “cancelled”. According to biblical accounts, so did Jesus. In fact, “cancel culture” has existed for just about as long as culture of any kind.
In the modern era, one of the most notorious instances was the brutal and barbarous “cancellation” of millions of Jews in Nazi Germany. In the United States, McCarthyism led to the “cancellation” of many innocent people — some 300 were blacklisted in Hollywood alone. At about the same time, Madalyn Murray O’Hair was “cancelled” for challenging religious indoctrination in schools — just as school teacher Thomas Scopes had been in 1925. This dovetails with a long tradition of persecution (“cancellation”) of secular individuals by the religious establishment, which not infrequently resulted in book “cancellation” — i.e., burning.
Myth # 3: “Cancel Culture” innately violates freedom of expression
Conservatives are very, very, very fond of playing the “First Amendment” card whenever things don’t go their way. So it shouldn’t be surprising that they invoke it to support their claim that they should be able to say anything, anywhere, without “censorship”.
But there are major problems with that attitude. First of all, freedom of expression is not unlimited. There are laws, for instance, and justly so, against slander and libel, and against revealing classified information that could compromise national security or public safety.
Second, the First Amendment applies to government restriction of speech. What conservatives are bitching and moaning about is the actions of private businesses. And conservatives always vociferously defend the supposed right of private enterprise to do whatever it damn well pleases without government interference. Except when they don’t. If a baker refuses to serve gays, they say “find another baker”. If a tech company moderates or rejects their venomous drivel, they say “I’m taking you to court”.
Furthermore, “censorship” isn’t really an appropriate term for what they’re contesting. It’s true that some governments have enforced censorship with a brutal iron fist. It’s true that media have been known to censor certain things — most notably nudity and swearing. But what conservatives are complaining about is really not that they have been prohibited from saying certain things — because they haven’t. They are actually complaining because they have had to endure the consequences of what they say like mere mortals. “Cancel culture” is more aptly called “consequence culture”. And one of the central tenets of conservatism is that as long as you believe the “right things”, you should be exempt from the consequences of your actions.
Myth # 4: “Cancel culture” is a left-wing thing
This is probably the myth they push the most — and it’s also the one that is most full of crap. If you look back at the most extreme, the most oppressive, the most violent and deadly forms of “cancel culture” throughout history, you will find that they come from the conservative establishment, or the extreme right wing. That includes the examples already mentioned.
Wingers, however, relentlessly push the narrative that “cancelling” is a phenomenon peculiar to leftists and liberals. Somebody tell that to Colin Kaepernick. Somebody tell that to the Dixie Chicks. Somebody tell that to Linda Ronstadt –who, because she merely recommended to the crowd at one of her Las Vegas concerts that they watch the film Fahrenheit 9-11, was literally cancelled by the management from her remaining performances after the crowd trashed the place in response to her suggestion. (Yep, she was penalized because some of the people in the crowd were assholes.)
I’m old enough to remember when right-wingers badgered a TV network into cancelling a scheduled biopic about Ronald Reagan because it wasn’t sufficiently worshipful. And when John Lennon made an offhanded quip in an interview about the Beatles being “more popular than Jesus”, prompting a conservative backlash that included banning the Beatles from radio and TV and publicly burning their records — which is only a slightly more extreme response to pop music than the religious right had already been displaying for years.
These same right-wingers who blame “cancel culture” on that fabled “liberal intolerance” are often enthusiastic supporters of the twice-impeached former TV star who literally fired everyone who dared to give him the straight truth. And who pulled out all the stops in an effort to cancel an entire election because he didn’t win. Then, when Congress tried to hold him accountable and a few Republicans broke ranks to stand for justice, their own party censured and tried to “cancel” them. At any given time, right-wingers are likely to have several campaigns to recall (“cancel”) officials that they don’t like — there’s presently a big one underway targeting California governor Gavin Newsom, mounted by QAnon nutjobs.
Remember the Red Hen? After Sarah Sanders was politely asked to leave by the owner, she posted the name and location of the restaurant on Twitter specifically so people could attempt to “cancel” it. Conservatives bombarded it with negative reviews, with hate mail, with protests, and even with chicken shit. (They also smeared feces on the walls of the Capitol. What is it with these people and coprophilia, anyway?) And true to intellectual form for MAGA cultists, they also harassed other establishments named Red Hen that were totally unrelated — including one in Canada and one in the Philippines. Nor is this kind of behavior at all unusual for them.
In short, the Right engages in “cancel culture” at least as often as the Left. But there are a couple of differences. The Left tries to “cancel” people who have said and done abominable things — often promoting bigotry. And it does so simply by trying to get them removed from their positions of power and influence. The Right tries to “cancel” people just for standing against bigotry and hate and fanaticism. And does so by promoting harassment and violence. Furthermore, right-wingers have been engaging in “cancel culture” for a long, long time. In fact, they invented it and developed it to a frenzied pastime. And now they are trying to blame it all on The Left. Maybe there should be a name for this kind of tactic.
Myth # 5: Right-wingers are “cancelled” just for being conservative
As always, right-wingers portray themselves as the victims — while denouncing The Left for supposedly indulging in victim mentality. Even after some of them violently stormed the U.S. Capitol hoping to kill public figures who did not support their drive to cancel the election, they branded themselves as victims of “cancel culture”. They claim not only that they specifically are the prime targets of “cancel culture”, but undeservedly so — that they are “cancelled” simply because of their conservative views.
They don’t explain how it is, then, that right-wing pages dominate the Internet. Social media platforms often even allow them to get away with the most severe outrages for a very long time. The Forty-Fifth White House Occupant was banned from Twitter only after several years of disgusting outbursts every day, numerous times a day.
One of the most amusing ironies comes to us courtesy of the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual orgy of white grievance, vicious polemic and spittle-flecked conspiracy theories. The 2021 CPAC has the theme “America Uncancelled” — though it seems to be devoted largely to keeping up the attempt to cancel the 2020 presidential election by perpetuating the Big Lie that it was “stolen”.
One of the originally scheduled speakers was an unabashedly anti-Semitic character who had stated that Judaism was “a complete lie” that was “made up for political gain”. After Media Matters For America’s exposure of these comments prompted public outrage, CPAC announced that this speaker had been…(wait for it)… cancelled. Evidently he was over the line even for an organization that regularly schedules speakers like Ann Coulter, Ben Shapiro, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and Wayne LaPierre.
It’s highly doubtful that they actually were unaware of his remarks before they booked him — if so, it’s an extremely inexcusable absence of vetting. In any case, by disinviting him, they have tacitly acknowledged that “cancelling” is a justifiable practice that even they support. And yet they continue to push the narrative that it’s uniformly unjust, tyrannical and left-wing. By insisting that they are being “cancelled” merely for “conservative views”, in the face of repugnant individuals like the one they themselves cancelled, people and organizations like this are not painting a very favorable profile of “conservative views”.
Thanks POP, This is a wonderful collection of facts which point out that the right wing is really one of the most enthusiastic proponents of cancel culture there is. Maybe our concern for coping with actual political reality makes dems prone to forget about the Dixie Chicks, Linda Ronstadt, John Lennon, and anybody else who dared to question today’s Trumplican values. It’s also a good thing to point out that the 1st amendment does not apply to every word we utter or write, and that the 1st amendment usually refers to government censorship, not ways to muzzle businesses and organizations who naturally want to have a say in what kinds of speakers address their members–such as those in a large auditorium full of students at Berkeley for example. And how true that right wingers are usually offended most by the fact that rational thinkers object to the lies and falsehoods they are pushing (to quote you):
“…censorship” isn’t really an appropriate term for what they’re contesting. It’s true that some governments have enforced censorship with a brutal iron fist. It’s true that media have been known to censor certain things — most notably nudity and swearing. But what conservatives are complaining about is really not that they have been prohibited from saying certain things — because they haven’t. They are actually complaining because they have had to endure the consequences of what they say, like mere mortals.”
I think that most Trump supporters in Congress, and in others positions of power, care very little about whether what they say is true–they are just concerned about being able to bamboozle the public with lies convincing enough to get them elected–As you pointed out, the Internet does not really ban right wing websites where Trumplicans, neo-Nazis and right wing radicals have the right to comment in any dam way they please! Never mind if they yell fire in a crowded theater, or viscously slander anyone who tells them that what they are saying is false. What they really care about is being able to fool enough voters and rearrange the political landscape with Jerrymandering schemes and by passing absurd voter suppression laws. The transparent crookedness of Post Master DeJoy is so damned obvious that one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry! His explanations couldn’t have made it more outrageously clear that his boss and he, were trying to force voters (many of them seniors with underlying health conditions who had to wait for 8 hours in line to vote) to endure an unnecessary ordeal—even if the pandemic is an indisputable example of of something which placed undue burdens on voters!
I take hope in the fact that mainstream media and its reporters, have mostly begun to open up their eyes and see that balanced reporting is not always needed or appropriate—such as in cases where the supposed balance is clearly false and unequivocal i.e. (whether the Nazi scourge killed 6 million Jews and countless others, or whether it was all a lie created by the Allies)—or whether our mainstream, well-educated climate scientists should have their ideas challenged and discredited by unqualified experts who claim that Climate scientists are only in it for the money?–assumptions that end often up in print without actually being checked out to determine if they are actually true or are just ways of pushing outright lies in local opinion pages,
[…] Epoch Times and Charlie Kirk. And the pieces they publish include jejune drivel about “cancel culture” and “culture wars” and “voter fraud” and “Wokeness Is The […]
this is a pretty sad posting. so patently partisan and self-congratulatory as to qualify as fake news. you have grappled with nothing substantive, used past situations (inquisition, McCarthy) to tip scales, and paid no attention to the role of social media in creating something new, largely dominated by the “woke.”
try examining cases of people who criticize black lives matter and get canceled before making silly statements like: “The Left tries to “cancel” people who have said and done abominable things — often promoting bigotry.” Unless you think that such criticism is abominable.
all said, your post is a good example of propaganda, prof.
Normally, I wouldn’t even post such a silly commentary as this, but it’s so full of denial, distortion, projection, and many, many other techniques of propaganda and examples of misinformation and illogic which I’ve analyzed in the past, that I thought it might be instructive for readers to have a crack at examining them. So thanks, I guess. I would just add that among the many articles I’ve written that it might be beneficial for you to read, I’d recommend the ones on the topic of fake news, since you’re clearly highly confused (to say the least) about what the term means. And just out of morbid curiosity, who exactly has been cancelled — and in what manner — merely for “criticizing” Black Lives Matter? As my high school math teacher would say, be specific and show your work.
can you recommend one of your articles on fake news, please. i’m interested.
here’s a sampling of academics who ran into the BLM buzz-saw. i’m surprised you have no knowledge of this kind of thing.
William Jacobson, “There’s an effort to get me fired at Cornell for criticizing the Black Lives Matter Movement,” Legal Insurrection, June 11, 2020, https://legalinsurrection.com/2020/06/theres-an-effort-to-get-me-fired-at-cornell-for-criticizing-the-black-lives-matter-movement/;
“U. Central Florida Fires Dissident Prof. Charles Negy After 8-Month Retaliatory Investigation,” Legal Insurrection, January 31, 2021, https://legalinsurrection.com/2021/01/ucf-fires-dissident-prof-charles-negy-after-8-month-retaliatory-investigation/;
Jessica Mundie, “Calgary tenured professor critical of Black Lives Matter has been fired,” National Post, January 5, 2022, https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/calgary-tenured-professor-critical-of-black-lives-matter-has-been-fired.
Oh, I’ve encountered things like this plenty of times. But upon further investigation, it invariably turns out that there is more to the story than initially reported. There is reason to doubt, in other words, an individual’s claim to have lost a position merely because they were critical of Black Lives Matter or any other organization. People who are critical of Black Lives Matter usually express racist views in other ways. Which, if egregious enough, falls under the heading of misconduct. And it’s people who get “cancelled” for blatant misconduct, of any kind, who always whine so loudly about being “cancelled” merely for being “conservative”. Furthermore, even if indeed such a thing happened occasionally, it hardly corroborates the existence of some widespread “cancel culture”.
Here are three of my articles that deal with fake news, and the efforts of right-wingers to redefine the term:
Answer to conservative people on POP;
It’s hard to guess if such actions were called for or not. Professor Negry makes the first case with this tweet:
“If Afr. Americans as a group, had the same behavioral profile as Asian Americans (on average, performing the best academically, having the highest income, committing the lowest crime, etc.), would we still be proclaiming ‘systematic racism’ exists?”
No doubt he and other conservatives share the belief that outrage and hostility from BLM are innapropriate and should not be part of university politics, but is that contention really believable?
First of all, though many races and ethnic backgrounds have suffered from persistent bias and cruelty, But black Americans share a unique history of being slaves during and before the civil war, and of being subjected to blatant Jim Crow oppression for at least half of the 20th century!
Their oppressors have done this via a near monopoly view of the justice system and by ignoring their constitutional rights during the reconstruction period and then throughout decades of Jim crow oppression, all of which bound African Americans with an illusion of freedom which could not have been effective if not for the fact that racism has been practiced systemically by southern and northern politicians, State governors, the police, and the terrorism relished by the KKK, if these things were not backed or tolerated by institutions in the first place?
When black students were not allowed to enroll in colleges and denied their rights to vote, how could this have happened if State governors, the police, and terrorist groups like the KKK existed without the government’s knowledge and it’s tacit approval? Remember George Wallace, poll taxes, and how the police used attack dogs to injure and intimidate peaceful demonstrators at the Edmund Pettus bridge? All of these injustices were created by Politicians, police, and terrorist groups, the latter of which was considered a normal part of Sothern society–so they could not have existed without the support of institutions and legal authorities that failed to lift a finger to prevent outright persecution and the marginalization of blacks for many decades.
To sum it up, all of these legal atrocities were supported by the rule of law and by politicians who decided they had the right to deny African American’s equal status under the law. And what was that but institutional racism?
Where the CRT controversy is concerned, there are very few grade school teachers who have heard of, or even understood, this academic theory, much less trying to make their students hate themselves for being white, because of it?
It’s hard to judge Professor Negry without hearing exactly what he said and why he said it. But it’s important to note that there are many kinds of “truths,” espoused by society, that are considered right. i.e. If a math teacher taught your 8 year old that 1+1=7 and then lowered your Child’s grade for not furnishing the correct answer, does your school board have the right to terminate this teacher, unless he provided objective mathematical knowledge to his students? Yes, this may be a very unlikely scenario but none the less, all misinformation and disinformation could not exist if there were no attempts to suppress or spin real facts. A less unlikely example is the fact that many Trump following activists are actively spreading lies about Covid-19 and its variants which have the power to disrupt the supply chain endlessly and cause many more deaths that would have been prevented if it weren’t for the outrageous conspiracy theories which glorify lies without any rational proof of their existence.
So if Negry and people like him want themselves to be heard, I suggest that they lay out their cases on websites like this and many others. And while they are at it, let them provide specific cases and objectively verified facts. Without providing these facts they can go on endlessly claiming they were the victims of left wing persecution even if no verifiable facts are included in their comments.
Interesting how one of the biggest “Cancel Culture” critics is Bill Maher. He’s a man who was truly “cancelled” by ABC in no large part due to Bush P.R. guy Ari Fleischer calling for his cancellation after agreeing with another conservative Dinesh D. Yet, Maher blames the other side. It’s truly become an excuse to excuse a_hole behavior.