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What Is Cancel Culture … And Why Artists Should Fear It

The phenomenon is growing stronger, and that doesn't bode well for Hollywood

The phrase “Cancel Culture” didn’t exist until a year or so ago. Now, it’s as mainstream as our national pastime.

What Cancel Culture represents, of course, has been around for several years. The 2015 movie “Can We Take a Joke?” chronicled its impact on comedy. Colleges previously tried to cancel everyone from Bill Maher to Ben Shapiro, although conservatives typically face the brunt of the attacks. 

Still, the precise term is both new and helpful in putting the practice into context.

So what does it actually mean?

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Cancel Culture isn’t debate, heated or otherwise. Nor is it an attempt to right cultural wrongs despite those who say it’s precisely that. Cancel Culture wants nothing less than to rearrange western culture, to enforce some mantras while making others off-limits in polite society.

It thrives on fear, a lack of context and cultural conformity.

The practice can mean re-investigating our past under newly forged restrictions or ensuring only select voices can share select opinions. Adherents can say all the “right” things but run afoul with a single, contrary opinion. And by “afoul,” we mean someone’s livelihood can be stripped away in a Thanos-like snap.

The movement is wildly inconsistent, something notable in entertainment circles. One performer may be forced to apologize for actions that date back years, if not decades.

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Another artist can commit a similar “sin” and find their transgressions ignored or explained away, often due to his or her political leanings. Homophobic comments offer a similar split decision, depending on the person uttering the words.

One Cancel Culture victim vowed he had moved on from his transgression but didn’t want to endure another Apology Tour.

It didn’t prevent him from losing a gig he cherished dearly. 

Cancel Culture encompasses much of our daily lives. It impacts the corporations we support with our purchases, the sports teams we cheer on and the news outlets that deliver breaking headlines. Even fast food isn’t immune.

Cultural appropriation, a powerful subset of the movement, dictates the foods we can cook, the fashions we wear and the music we create.

RELATED: Iliza Shlesinger Gently Scolds Cancel Culture to Mock Trump 

Few societal corners prove safe from Cancel Culture, and its rules are constantly in flux. Cancel Culture enforcers may demand a film from the 1930s is no longer worth our protection, but the same crowd may consider films less than a year old “problematic.”

Cancel Culture thrives on social media. Reporters and disciples alike scour Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for examples of “wrongthink,” and magnify them as needed. A mob can quickly form as a result, even though the number of voices can be small.

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Anything remotely associated with race, from so-called dog whistles to bigoted jokes, triggers warnings, apologies or swift cancellations. Anti-Semitism, however, routinely earns a pass.

Some Cancel Culture victims stay canceled indefinitely. 

And, of course, Cancel Culture is having a “moment” in the wake of the George Floyd protests. Consider:

  • The NFL’s Washington Redskins will announce its new name in the coming days
  • Trader Joes is changing some of its food labels deemed “racist” in select corners
  • Actors are maligned for not strictly adhering to social media dictates
  • A museum curator, who vowed not to “cancel” all white artists, found himself unemployed
  • A sports announcer who shared the message “All Lives Matter” lost his job as a result.

Major corporations are either on board with Cancel Culture demands or fear its repercussions too much to admit otherwise. Celebrities, after learning they’ve broken a Cancel Culture dictate, offer groveling apologies that sound alarmingly similar and strained.

Cancel Culture can be fickle and fleeting. One A-list actor came under fire for foul behavior in his youth, but by not addressing the matter he survived the cancellation attempt (for now).

Other stars have dug in their heels against Cancel Culture. One podcaster began his latest book by vowing never to apologize for his comments. To date, the cultural mob ignores him as a result.

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The cultural movement dramatically impacts the arts. The last few years have seen a decrease in successful big-screen comedies. One director, responsible for a massively successful trilogy, says woke considerations convinced him to abandon comedy projects. Other films have hired sensitivity experts to ensure the content doesn’t offend select parties.

The problem with Cancel Culture extends to Hollywood more than ever before now thanks to the societal changes following the George Floyd protests.

A recent article suggested white male actors feel under fire of late, worried their careers may expire due to their sex and skin color.

Movies and TV shows featuring police officers, considered racist and/or dangerous in some Cancel Culture circles, may be dramatically altered to avoid heroism or selfless acts.

Actors who might ordinarily lunge for a role now stand down for fear of reprisals. It’s common thinking in these cultural circles that only gay people can play gay characters and female directors must direct films featuring female protagonists.

Cancel Culture has no interest in protecting conservative artists from an increasingly hostile industry, however. Nor does it concern itself with human rights abuses in select countries, like China.

Artists remain either silent or scared due to Cancel Culture’s ascendance. The movement impacts all walks of life but represents a dire threat to creative expression.

Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash

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