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A Point on Points About Cancel Culture from a Celebrity Who Should Know Better

(Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

I think it’s pretty clear that very few of us in the United States like cancel culture, and while it is a massive problem, the word has begun to be overused.

This is the point formerly canceled director James Gunn, who was subsequently uncanceled, posted in a Twitter thread that pointed out how the overuse of the phrase is actually harmful to the fight against cancel culture:

Stop calling everything “cancel culture” because you’re too dim to have a nuanced opinion. People can be offended by something, or think something sucks, and that’s not “cancel culture” — it’s free speech. To all of those writing me about the times people get unfairly attacked — yes, that sucks! But that doesn’t mean every time someone is offended by something it’s “cancel culture.” Calling EVERYTHING that is a knee-jerk response that destroys your point.

I don’t think there are many people here, on the left or the right, who think Harvey Weinstein shouldn’t have been “cancelled” for what he did. Likewise, these are all nuanced conversations. I think most Latin people love Speedy Gonzalez, which is a pretty good argument that he shouldn’t be “canceled.” But Pepe le Pew, to me at least, is offensive because of the way he treats that cat.

And a book publisher deciding not to publish some books because some of the images in them are hurtful to minorities, is not cancel culture. That’s THEIR free speech at work.

Likewise, I sometimes see celebrities getting attacked on here for something minor or nonexistent & I think it’s unfair. Other times I see celebrities getting attacked for s*** that’s nearly unforgivable, or at least makes me not want to watch their movies. It’s nuanced. 

Most people know that. Most people have different thoughts & feelings about different situations. But Twitter is a place where the extremes on every conceivable side rise to the top, because those ideas are splashier.

Conservative outlets, including the Daily Wire, sold this thread as Gunn supporting cancel culture. I didn’t read it that way, and while I have my issues with Gunn (and you doubtlessly do, as well), I think there was a point that he made that actually does need to be paid attention to, if we’re to effectively fight cancel culture.

Not everything is cancel culture, but conservatives (and indeed, most Americans) can get a bit confused as to what constitutes cancel culture since most of the things the left gets mad at ends up losing their platform or becoming lesser, as the left works to make sure the target loses as many connections as possible. We automatically equate the left’s anger with action.

But the left is angry about almost everything. The modern left is made to see racism, sexism, and any number of phobias around every corner. They react to everything with negativity. That in and of itself is not cancel culture. What is cancel culture is what happens the moment people begin calling for the cancelation of the target and begin working toward it.

Automatically labeling anything the left doesn’t like as a cancelation attempt, which I’ve seen happening more and more lately, is probably not the best idea and for a couple of reasons.

For one, misusing the term makes it a flippant dismissal of the left’s anger,instead of the very real, societal problem that cancel culture is. Very real lives are being ruined as a result of it, and special attention needs to be paid to these instances, so that those who did suffer from it unfairly can get the help they need to recover. Labeling everything as “cancel culture” would only see these people get lost in the mire of conversation and “examples” that others may mistakenly throw up.

We come down hard on people who make false allegations about sexual assault or rape cases, due to the fact that those who claim sexual assault under today’s asinine rules actually take the needed time and attention away from those who actually suffered from assault or rape. Cancel culture is also life-ruining, and we should be more precise about what we define it as.

Secondly, and in the same vein, we don’t need to make the term “cancel culture” an arbitrary phrase that people get so used to that they stop taking it seriously. The last thing we need is the normalization of a phrase used to describe something that ruins lives, sending us on a hunt for a different one that accurately describes what it is that’s happening.

Cancel culture is nuanced, as Gunn proposed, but with that said, I do believe his idea of what constitutes cancel culture was a bit off. It’s pretty clear that the only reason Dr. Seuss’s foundation took the aforementioned books out of print was that a fever about them had risen on the left. The foundation, under the fear that worse would happen to it if it didn’t capitulate, took the books out of circulation. These books were effectively canceled.

Cancel culture is exactly that; the culture of deplatforming someone or something based on a modern idea of moral propriety. Even preemptive attempts at appeasing the mob count as cancel culture, because it’s still attempting to avoid cancelation. Acting on its own terms doesn’t make it any less so. It’s just like firemen using controlled fires to ward off wildfires.

It’s details like these that we should pay attention to, but labeling everything as cancel culture is not, ultimately, going to help it.