The term “cancel culture” has exploded into the English lexicon since its birth as a name for the concept in 2019. While the movement, or those who constitute it, claim they’re motivated by empathy for the oppressed, in actuality, cancel culture is a tool used by radical left-wing activists to control speech, control thought and elevate themselves, if only momentarily, to a position of power over whichever public figure they’ve chosen to attack that day.
Aside from being devastating for its victims’ careers and lives, cancel culture is becoming a destructive force in our society. The trend arose from a new-age form of mob rule. It is threatening free speech and is used as a political weapon in a one-sided fashion. It allows multi-national corporations and corporate politicians to shift focus away from important gripes of the working class. It’s also reminiscent of well-documented moral panics of the past that have wrought disastrous consequences.
What is cancel culture? Cancel culture is creating enough stir to get people fired or removed from jobs, platforms, teams, etc. It’s generally done for perceived racial or sexual misconduct. Perhaps more often than real misconduct, people are “canceled” for saying or posting the “wrong” thing.
Cancel culture exists as a subset of call-out culture; that is, the propensity for those so inclined to call out peers for socially unacceptable behavior. Primarily on the left side of the political spectrum, participants feel as though dog piling on someone (often a celebrity, but not necessarily so) is a legitimate form of activism. Despite the fact that most evidence suggests cancel culture has not been effective. Cancel culture has its roots in postmodernism, which originated as a literary criticism and asserts that any phenomenon is subject to an infinite number of interpretations, none of which are quantifiably better than any other.
Postmodernists go on to suggest that interpretations (of any phenomenon or work), including the language therein, crafted by groups for the sole purpose of establishing power over other groups. Postmodernists have adopted Karl Marx’s theory from the Communist Manifesto of the owner class (the “bourgeoisie”) exploiting and dominating the working class (the “proletariat”) and substituted racial groups instead. That is, according to the postmodernists, white people have crafted the language, literary works and other structures of our society for the purpose of subjugating nonwhite racial groups.
Postmodernist theory, the engine driving critical race and gender theories, explains the modern left-wing activists’ obsession with language, word choice and “dismantling” institutions in the name of combating “systemic racism.” If modern society can be reduced to power struggles between identity groups, they reason, and language is one of the primary mechanisms for oppressing people. It then follows that controlling what public figures can and can’t say is justified, hence cancel culture. While the average Twitter user involved in a cancel mob may not understand, the activists pulling the strings do. The tendrils of postmodernism and neo-Marxism have reached deeply into the modern left wing.
“In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason,” — James Madison. The father of our Constitution, James Madison, voiced his concerns about mob rule. Democracy is fantastic in the sense that it gives power to the everyman. But when people group up over something they think is important, it’s common for things to be taken too far.
Twitter mobs form similarly to the way a riot might form in a city’s streets. For example, a group of geographically dispersed people encounter a bit of news about the time a white actor went to a Halloween party as Aladdin 15 years ago and whip themselves up into a frenzy. A couple prominent Twitter accounts get behind the cause and, the actor gets terminated from his most recent project. Now the actor’s career has taken a massive hit from which he may never recover. A bunch of self-righteous Twitter users feel marginally more powerful, and absolutely nothing has been done to improve the lives of Arab people or society’s general feelings about them.
Cancel culture rises to such prominence that it seems companies care very little whether the mob is comprised of customers who might take their business elsewhere if they don’t respond; they simply do as the mob demands and hope next time the wrath falls elsewhere. If a group of people agreed to boycott movies featuring the actor from the previous example because they felt like it was racist to dress as another ethnicity for Halloween, that would be more acceptable. If enough moviegoers boycotted the production that it lost money, the public would have spoken clearly. Where cancel culture becomes destructive is when they insist others boycott the person in question.
Too often, social-justice activists or their defenders argue that internet mobs forcing organizations to cancel people for comments on social media or even statements made in jest during private conversations doesn’t constitute a violation of citizens’ right to free speech. They argue that because the government is not the party limiting expression, there’s no free-speech infringement. The Constitution legally limits the government only, the Bill of Rights represents a philosophy of individual liberty.
The thinking that spawned the Bill of Rights began a political revolution that eventually unshackled all of Western civilization from totalitarian monarchy. This rugged ethic differentiates this country from ones where people become dominated by ideological or religious totalitarianism. It is a large part of what draws people to our shores from far and wide. The First Amendment may not legally prohibit activists demanding the destruction of people’s public lives for words they’ve said. Those mobs run counter to the ideas that gave birth to the Bill of Rights.
Imagine for a second that an anti-gun mob started approaching employers and demanding that gun owners be fired. When gun owners protest and cite the Second Amendment, others argue, the Second Amendment only applies to the government. You’re still free to own guns; you just have to find a new job. Arguments about the legality of a company firing employees under those circumstances could be made on both sides. It is up to us as members of this culture to ensure that our God-given rights are respected. Not just the government, but also by other members of our society.
Aside from educational institutions, tech companies are the worst hotbed for critical social-justice theories and postmodernism. Social media companies became largely composed of left-leaning employees. The moderate majority have been unwilling or unable to prevent the more radical and highly motivated minority of social-justice activists in limiting the spread of conservative-leaning information on social media. While certain left-wingers became canceled, there is an undoubtable bias against conservatives. Take, for example, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who appeared years ago in blackface and retains his title.
As a more recent example, take Gina Carano, an actress terminated from “The Mandalorian” for comparing modern thought suppression of conservative views by tech companies to pre-war Nazi Germany. Meanwhile, Pedro Pascal made a post comparing migrant facilities at the southern U.S. border to Nazi camps. However, he still remains employed.
The list goes on, with the point being that the goalpost for what is considered cancelable is completely arbitrary. Something acceptable 10 years ago may get you canceled today. Something a white person or conservative does may get them canceled. The same thing done by a Democrat or ethnic minority may carry no consequences. The combo of a predominantly left-wing media and the infestation of our most vital institutions by postmodernists and critical social-justice theories, along with the moving goalpost characteristic of cancel culture, have made it a sharply effective, although divisive, political weapon.
During the Black Plague, the Spanish government created a religious tribunal to convict people of crimes against the Catholic religion. The reasoning was that the plague was obviously a punishment from God. So, the tribunal set about questioning people about their own sins as well as their family members’ and neighbors’ sins. What followed was one of the worst abuses of a citizenry by its government in the history of Western civilization.
As with America’s Red Scare, the Salem Witch trials and modern cancel culture, the crux of the problem was that there was no guarantee of due process, no hard-set burden of proof or intent to be met and no actual way to prove innocence. Once hauled in front of the court, the accused had only the option to confess, repent and face punishment or be horribly tortured until they confessed or were killed.
Although nobody is being murdered and tortured by cancel-culture mobs, there are similarities to the Inquisition. A moral panic is defined, in sociology, as “a feeling of fear spread among many people that some evil threatens the well-being of society.”
Usually catalyzed by mass media, moral panics have a way of bulldozing people’s rights and liberties. Today, despite a multi-decade downward trend in racism involving massively successful civil rights movements, bigotry, including racism and sexism, has suddenly been characterized as ubiquitous.
Our educational institutions, as well as tech and corporate media, have teamed up to proclaim that racism is a clear and present danger to our society, which justifies any means of stamping it out. Now, just as the Spanish justified torture and execution on the grounds that heresy had brought on the plague, modern left-wing activists and media justify the dissolution of people’s careers and public lives often for unintentional or trivial offenses for fear of the evil that is “systemic” racism.
One negative consequence of cancel culture often overlooked is the unnatural alliance between corporations and the left. The left, in its purest form, should advocate for the financial interests of those on the lower end of wealth. It should work to create opportunities for the creation of small businesses and draft policies that allow them to compete. Also making policies aimed at improving wages, living and working standards and opportunities for working-class people.
One of the most meaningful ways the left could do this would be to reign in the political power and influence of massive multinational corporations like, for instance, Nike. However, the modern left’s obsession with race, gender and sex as opposed to economic imbalance has allowed corporations like Nike to feign commitment to the lower classes by prominently displaying support for social issues.
They do so through things like advertising campaigns featuring middle-of-the-road quarterbacks with voluminous hair and acquiescence to cancel-culture mob demands. For hardcore critical theorist types who conceptualize the entire world and all its machinations as power struggles between racial groups, a victory has been won. For the people in economic categories the left is supposed to represent, nothing is done. However corporate entities have been made to look like the champions of the downtrodden. They send jobs overseas, sell overpriced sneakers and lobby government to create policy. Of course, corporate Nancy Pelosi-type democrats have the perfect cover to support such economic policies. The focus has shifted, not without their willful push, entirely to social-justice issues.
Public figures deserve to be held to certain moral standards, but those should arise naturally. That is, if a golfer says a gay slur under his breath after missing a put and enough people are upset about it to stop buying his sponsor’s products, then they should release him. If not, then the people have spoken and they should keep him on. In this way, everyone gets a vote with their dollars and moral behavior is incentivized. The fact of the matter is that cancel culture has run amok.
Cancel culture is un-American in principle. It’s applied unequally. It plays to people’s worst urges to tear others down. Also, it shifts the political focus away from more important issues and it’s indicative of a certain type of cultural misfire. It’s possible the cancel culture phenomenon will eventually burn out. The takeover of our educational and media institutions by postmodernism will continue to wreak havoc however. At least until enlightenment-based ideologies of reason and the pursuit of objective truth return to prominence.