Back when the Great Recession made weekday morning TV watchers out of almost 9 million of us while at the gym or on the couch at home (in between internet searches for jobs), I came across a show that seemed to be on every time I looked up at the screen.
Never mind the Wiccan theme (I’m Catholic) and the Alyssa Milano-led cast (and how the cute girl from “Who’s The Boss” went down a path that involved faux witchcraft and lightning rod political issues that included proposing sex strikes?) In glancing at the show, I found an interesting character within that teenage soap opera.
In a series with all the expected sappiness that comes with programming on The WB in the 1990s, Barbas was very real. The demon of fear, the logic of why he acted, what he did, and how he managed to scheme were rather thought-provoking for such a show. Most intriguingly, Barbas seemed to have a way to use everyone’s past fears and past transgressions against them – including, in twisted ways, leveraging how people were fearful of others discovering the worst of their transgressions. It was through this denial of the past and refusal to heal through one’s flaws that Barbas was able to take control of a person, a group, or a situation.
I tell you what: although he is just a character on a TV show, Barbas would have fit right into America these days – especially in the cancel culture world we live in right now.
There are times when a shift away from people or groups that have a dogged adherence to injustice, criminality, and malice is necessary. That should also include times when there is a clear unwillingness to adjust one’s positions or actions in an acceptable fashion, particularly if the resistance to reform is rooted in arrogance or indifference to others. However, the overreaction that is cancel culture negates the opportunity for reform. This is not only an unfortunate reality in a nation that considers itself “The Great Experiment” (a moniker that inherently implies discoveries and modifications through missteps). It often comes off as a civic temper tantrum that works to rob people of history, of critical thinking opportunities, and of the fullness of the human experience that is exemplified in the Land of Opportunity.
For example, there is a continued push to reposition the birth of America through the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, which serves as one of the highest-profile examples of cancel culture. Through a lens that views the creation and growth of America with slavery as its primary factor, the definitions of “liberty” “freedom”, “revolution”, and “under God” are jeopardized as fully fraudulent – a condition that, if fully accepted, corrodes the nature of what America has been for millions since the 18th Century. It is obvious that the duplicities within America throughout our history were problematic and challenging, but the highest tenets of our nation have always remained restorable despite our human flaws. Cancel culture blurs the nuance of human realities that illuminate the deepness of the best and worst of ourselves – from hypocrisy that must be resolved to values that must never be relinquished.
Nuance and rationalizations on critical matters are common throughout history, yet in America, the ability for redemption allows for past rationalizations to become stepping stones on the path of a better society. For example, should the history of America’s love of democracy be canceled because men loved their wives for the first century of our nation’s existence, but did not respect them enough to ensure their rights to vote? Should the history of America’s constant pursuit of God-given rights be canceled because men fought for liberty while watching millions more be brutally enslaved until 1865? Should the history of America’s valor in winning World War II and defeating Hitler to save Western civilization be rewritten because it was done while partnering with Stalin? With each moment, America eventually took the painful steps to cast aside the rationalization and march towards a better society. Canceling the best of our past along with its pain disallows growth through experience.
It is evil to inhibit one’s ability to pivot from one’s wrongdoing into a better evolution of self. In a time when we are addressing “three strikes and you’re out” criminal justice policies, cancel culture is worse: it’s one misstep and you’re canceled. It prompts us collectively to act through fears and re-litigate – to futility – every past transgression. It negates the “lessons learned” that prompt extended growth and liberty for the days ahead. Cancel culture tarnishes the hope and faith necessary for us to work through those challenges and reclaim those tenets in new ways with each generation – even through the most inconvenient or egregious of situations. In America, cancel culture works to rob people of hope, replacing it with anger of past woes and pain from past inflictions. It steals away hope for change in society collectively and advancement from one’s woes in one’s daily life.
The fictitious Barbas would be proud of this. Everyday Americans must not be.
The beauty of the American story includes the notion that people from around the world – from European and Latin American immigrants to the descendants of slaves and peasants – are capable of reclaiming second acts in this nation due to America’s ability to forgive, heal, evolve, and succeed. America is a nation where drug addicts are defined by their victories over addiction, not their prior tumbles into despair. America is a nation where a man that was insecure and troubled can become one of the most important people in our history. America is a nation where a law-breaking runaway can become one of the most respected and sought-after men of his era. America is a nation where a self-described teen harlot could overcome molestation and health issues to become a billionaire. America is a land where sad songs of destituteness morphed into inspiring rhythm-and-blues.
Redemption is the essence of America. Cancel culture, in its current application, is the antithesis of everything secularly American and spiritually good and just. The American society is an ever-changing, self-improving story that advances evolution through self-reflection, grasps redemption through revolutions both small and large, and finds gems amid our warts and flaws. If America is the ongoing maturation of the best of ourselves through our values and despite our issues, cancel culture is the temptation to only see the missteps and live without grace. If American culture is a movement that purifies through fire, cancel culture does nothing but destroy with it.
There is nothing about cancel culture in America that shines this grace, speaks of this brotherhood, or unites us through the redemptive quality of America. In this era of unrest, embracing our fullness – not canceling it – will empower us to heal, overcome, and grow.