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 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”.