The Myth of “Cancel Culture” and the Beauty of Forgiveness by Chris Thompson

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The Myth of “Cancel Culture” and the Beauty of Forgiveness by Chris Thompson

There is a lot of talk about “cancel culture”. It keeps coming up every time someone does something that used to be the norm that is now socially unacceptable. People talked about “cancelling” Kanye West when he came out in a #maga hat and talked about eliminating the 13th Amendment. There was talk of “cancelling” Ralph Northam when pictures allegedly of him in blackface surfaced from his college days. Most recently, “comedian” Shane Gillis lost a job opportunity when it came out that he traded racist tropes about Chinese people on a podcast and video. It seems that every other month, someone is being “cancelled” for something they did. If you were to believe some folks (mostly male #ffffffolks), “Cancel Culture” is out of control. If only that were true.

CANCEL CULTURE IS A MYTH. The witch hunt for reasons to ostracize people who have done wrong in the past (or last week) does not exist. People do not need to walk on eggshells when they speak their mind. Say what you want. If you say something aberrant, people will decide whether to or not to consume whatever your product is. If an actor says something racist, I have every right to not watch their shows or movies. If a politician’s views are white supremacy wrapped in a pretty package, it is my prerogative to expose it and choose not to vote for them. If a singer keeps making songs that sugar coat rape, I have the choice to not listen to it. If a group of people do this, it is no one’s fault but the person who executed the aberrant action that they no longer are in favor with the general public. This used to just be called “boycotting”, and even then, no one forced anyone to boycott anything. People made that choice. The thing is that some people didn’t. Boycotts are not compulsory, but if enough people don’t consume a product or service, then perhaps the generator of said product/service should look to themselves and think about what it is they said or did. Or not. It’s a free-ish country.

Calling out and boycotting people and businesses has been around for years. At the dawn of this country. The term “cancelling” is only recent, formed in Black Twitter™ and disseminated to the nation and world. Folks have been “cancelled” for numerous reasons in the past. Black folks who could pass for white would run successful businesses or get into decent schools, only to be found out and run out of town when they were found out. Mary Ellen Pleasant, a black millionaire philanthropist, was slandered for supporting abolition and putting her money where her mouth was. It seems that “cancelling” and “cancel culture” is all of a sudden a problem because it is now affecting cishet (mostly white) men and their pockets.

All that said, forgiveness is a very potent salve. There is not one adult person who has NOT done something regrettable in the past. It is a matter of how they atoned for their misdeed. I don’t blame them for not wanting to bring up their past sins. Back in the day, just as I was getting over my toxic homophobia, I picked up transphobia when I learned that my co-worker John was now Judy. Though I kept professional at work, I definitely fed into the grotesqueness of using air quotes when referring to her in pronouns and making idiotic arguments like “why can’t she just be gay”? I look back at all of the things I thought and said, and I wish I could apologize to her in person. I couldn’t even find her if I tried (because I tried), and I have no business dredging up any trauma she suffered from my co-workers and me because I feel bad for what I said. She has likely moved on (she luckily found a better job that was more open to her), and I have spent years doing what I can to not be the asshole I once was.

No human starts out saying, “Hi I’m Gary, and look at all the homophobic rants I made 15 years ago! Can I have the job now?” A LOT of white politicians donned black or brown face in the past, oblivious of how racist blackface has always been. They have gone on to champion progressive causes and help the black and brown communities they now represent and govern. Some have acknowledged their actions, made full throated apologies, and their work afterword bore a sign of remorse. Others (Ralph Northam) have either denied or dodged responsibility. I am more willing to forgive the former than the latter. No one wants anyone to be banished from civil society…except I wouldn’t mind if Mel Gibson just disappeared form existence Thanos snap style. The bottom line is that “cancel culture” is not real. People are just mad that they are being held responsible for their actions. Forgiveness after GENUINE apologies is a beautiful thing.

“The bottom line is that “cancel culture” is not real. People are just mad that they are being held responsible for their actions”

Resources

  1. The Devolution of Kanye West and the Case for Cancel Culture | WIRED
  2. Why hasn’t Kanye West been ‘cancelled’? | The Guardian
  3. In Defense of Cancel Culture | Vice
  4. Let’s not ignore racism because ‘cancel culture’ is too much | National Post

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About Chris Thompson

Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog , he currently writes the Chronicles of Nonsense segment for the Almost Tuesday show on WAYO-FM 104.3, and regularly posts and writes on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon.Additionally , Chris is a Food Writer for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is www.chroniclesofnonesense.com

4 thoughts on “The Myth of “Cancel Culture” and the Beauty of Forgiveness by Chris Thompson

  1. You say that cancel culture is a myth, and that it’s just boycotting, which has been around for years, but we only worry now because it now affects White men, who are just mad for being held accountable.

    I would argue that cancel culture and boycotting are a problem for anyone, and if we start to pay more attention to their downsides because they affect White men, then that’s a good thing. Ideally, we would have paid attention ever since boycotting was a thing, but better late than never, and we can all benefit.

    In your example, you talk about Black people being run out of town for being Black. Boycotting isn’t enough to run someone out of town. There is likely hostility and persistent harassment stemming from racism. Boycotting is when you stop supporting someone. Cancel culture is when you run someone out of town—you make an active effort to oppress someone. Boycotting involves not doing a good thing. Cancel culture involves doing a bad thing. A lot of these celebrities are facing a bit of both.

    There’s being held accountable, and then there’s going too far. Imagine if you had to spend life in jail for calling someone “fat”. You’re being held accountable, but the consequences don’t fit the crime. Any anger of yours would be directed at the severity of the punishment and not the fact that you are getting a punishment. The same goes for people that get cancelled.

    I do agree that we need more forgiveness, though. People seem to forget that people can change.

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    1. No one who was “canceled” went anywhere. Louis CK was touring before COVID shut everything down. Kevin Smith is still working. Dave Chappelle has 3 successful Netflix specials. I could go on, but there are plenty of “canceled” people who are just living their lives. I’m not going to rewrite my entire essay, but “cancel culture” is a myth.

      Like

      1. Yes, the stories that we hear in the news of people getting cancelled aren’t the best example of cancel culture (at least in the long term), but it doesn’t mean that cancel culture is a myth. Your own example of a Black person being run out of town is a perfect example of cancel culture in action. Also, I’ve read in a few places that cancel culture affects average people more than celebrities since average people can’t bounce back so easily.

        Like

      2. My example of a black person being run out of town is from the late 18th/early 20th century, and an example of what Black people had to endure to survive. That is not “cancel culture”, because cancel culture does not exist.

        Like

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