A phony pandemic has swept across our country in 2020, one that allegedly can strike anyone at any time, although you couldn’t name more than a handful of actual victims. It’s supposedly a novel malady, but it is a familiar political messaging strategy to make healthy people appear sick.
I’m not talking about COVID-19 (a bona fide plague), but rather “cancel culture,” which is touted as being just as contagious as coronavirus. After the term “cancel” was invoked to end the careers of R. Kelly for preying on underage girls and comedian Louis C.K. for masturbating in front of female colleagues, we’re now told liberals seek to “cancel” anyone who makes an honest mistake or uses a bad pun.
“Cancel culture has tried to remove every one of us from this show for one reason or another,” Meghan McCain said on a recent episode of “The View,” “and by some miracle, we’re all still here.”
Hallelujah! I must see miracles every goddamn day.
Iliza Shlesinger and Whitney Cummings, two female comedians with a testicular swag to their standup acts, both warned about cancel culture during their monologues while guest-hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” without either noting that neither of the edgy humorists would be appearing on network television if cancel culture were a real thing. During a podcast I was listening to this week, one of the hosts apologized for the delay in new episodes about old school wrestling by saying, “I swear it’s coming, the mothership will be landing soon.”
“There’s a joke in there, but I’d probably get canceled for it,” replied his co-host, who was more afraid of exploiting a double entendre than he was later mocking the “simmering sissified delivery” of one wrestler and describing a women’s tag team match as a “four-way girl abortion.”
For all the fear about cancel culture, it doesn’t appear to have much negative impact on one’s finances or future. Kevin Hart was reportedly canceled in 2018 over anti-LGBT tweets and bits — even though he voluntarily walked away from hosting the Oscars, then topped “Forbes’s” list of highest-earning stand-up comedians in 2019.
Sadly, most of the folks I have mentioned thus far are considered progressives, and liberals have proven themselves workhorses for conservatives’ strategic wordplay. In the same way that calls for basic decency were eventually ridiculed as political correctness, the term “cancel culture” has become a shield and a weapon — protecting people from accountability by portraying their critics as tyrannical.
Just as calling someone a racist became more offensive than being a racist, folks who object to tasteless or offensive sentiments have become the thought-police while bigots and bullies are victims or free-speech warriors. Even corporations like Goya are counted among the targets of cancel culture, since “boycott” doesn’t convey the Orwellian impulses of people who do not give money to businesses that disrespect them.
I once risked my career advocating for transgender dignity at my workplace, then a few months later wrote a column about Ann Coulter looking like a drag queen and was labeled transphobic. The accusation stung because I knew my heart and sense of humor, but what I wrote was indeed small-minded and insensitive, and after being called out, I have not repeated that mistake.
Many of us believe that because we are right about one thing, we are right about all tangential regards. Those who try to place too much weight on someone’s shortcomings should remember that none of us are right in every circumstance, and the rest of us should not mistake being corrected for being canceled.