Why We Should Celebrate Cancel Culture

Popzazzle | Wednesday, 6 January 2021 |

"They'd never come to your aid if the roles were reversed. They'd be the first to dance the dance of self-righteousness, on the grave of your career."


Empty Chairs
Photo by Jonas Jacobsson on Unsplash.

By Bob Leggitt
© Popzazzle
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We're becoming very familiar with the spectacle of celebrities popping up in media interviews with complaints about “cancel culture”, like it's the most catastrophic problem we face in the modern world. To them, in their bubbles of privilege, it probably is.

We're talking about people who have everything they want. People who can earn a year's luxury living expenses by making a 90 second TV commercial. And when given an opportunity to talk about current problems, they don't use it to express their disgust that they can't walk through their nearest city at night without finding people literally trying to sleep on the icy cold pavement. They use it to express their disgust that the huge privilege they enjoy could risk being reduced, if they are stupid enough to say something people find grossly offensive.

In themselves, poverty and homelessness, on our doorstep, in a rich country, are reason enough for celebrities and influencers to shut up about cancel culture. But let's take this further and explore the reality of cancel culture. Let's see how, far from being a threat to free speech, cancel culture is in fact driven by the tenets of free speech. And how so many of the celeb/influencers who gripe mercilessly about their right to speak being taken away, are among the most censorial people in society. There are some epic hypocrites out there. As you'll see...

A complaint against cancel culture is the ultimate manifestation of selfishness within privilege. It's a dismissal of society's right to reply and take its chosen action. A complaint against cancel culture advocates that privilege in itself is not enough. It advocates that privilege should additionally come with protections against loss of privilege. Like...

“However obnoxious and offensive I get, the public should not be allowed to take my privilege and influential status away. They should ALWAYS be the voiceless, powerless listener. And I should ALWAYS be the powerful orator.”

In truth, cancel culture is democracy in action. Opposition to cancel culture is opposition to democracy. No one ever got cancelled because one person didn't like what they said or did. It's an issue of majority dynamics.

CELEBRITY SPIN


Most of the celebrities and influencers who openly oppose cancel culture misrepresent it. They bill it as a threat to free speech. But that overlooks a number of things. Not least the fact that even after being “cancelled”, celebrities and influencers still generally retain much greater public reach than the average social media user. So their real beef is not losing the basic right to speak - which would be impossible to remove across the breadth of the Internet - but losing the privilege of hugely elevated public reach.

A privilege most people never get the opportunity to enjoy at all.

So in essence, they are asking us, who don't have what they have, to feel sorry for them, because they might one day end up in the same position as us. Have a little think about the logic of that.

HOW DOES “CANCELLATION” HAPPEN?


“Cancellation” is often a consequence of taking sides in a political, news-led environment, and falling prey to the obvious hazards of having an opposition whose right to free expression and speech is just the same as yours. It may, however, also result from expressing a deeply unpopular view which toxicises by association. Or from behaving in a way that is grossly misaligned with the adopted ethics of the core audience.

One of the first instances in which I remember someone being “cancelled”, came from the era before social media, when there was no recognition of cancel culture. It was early 1999, when England international football manager Glenn Hoddle made the following comment about reincarnation and people with physical disabilities, to Matt Dickinson, in an interview for The Times newspaper...

“You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime.”

Coupled with other comments from the same conversation, and comments from a separate interview tape recorded by The Observer, Hoddle was shown to have voiced a pretty unambiguous message that people with physical disabilities were actually former sinners being punished for their sins. And his use of the word “karma” also suggested he believed they deserved it.

Initially (and this gives a sense of how cancel culture works), the Football Association, knowing Hoddle was an effective manager of the team, strongly defended him and attempted to play down his comments. They drew attention to the support he'd given to the disabled both in and outside of sport, and said his position was safe.

However, after three days of outrage from both the public and senior politicians, plus media opinion polls, etc, the almost universal sense of repugnance toward his remarks became clear. The FA then recognised that their England manager had become an impossibly toxic association, and in a U-turn decision, fired him on the spot.

This was not an issue of free speech. Hoddle was never prevented from actually saying what he said, and indeed the entire media reported it, so if anything it was an enhancement to his right to free speech. What happened was that he suffered the consequence of people being disgusted by what he'd said, and exercising their right to free speech in reply to it.

Portraying cancel culture as a restriction on free speech is actually quite arrogant, because it awards the public no right to answer back. It's not just saying: “I should be allowed to say anything I like”. It's saying: “I should be able to say anything I like, without challenge, and without consequence”. And we'll see a demonstration in due course that this is exactly what some people with privileged public reach do think.

Cancel culture is not people being gagged. It's people being free to say offensive, hurtful and harmful things, followed by an equally free public reaction that says: “Okay, that's your view. And now, here's ours. Which is that you are not fit to hold an influential position in society”. The epitome of free speech.

BEING “CANCELLED” ON SOCIAL MEDIA


The people who are at greatest risk of being “cancelled” on social media are most commonly those who have used the virality of ideological group beliefs to build greater reach. Rabble rousers, in a phrase. If the rabble rouser goes too far with that (i.e. they breach the platform's rules), or they inadvertently align with the enemies of the very people who've handed them their power, they risk being “cancelled”.

Taking an existing ideological stance is now one of the easiest ways to gain viral drive on social media. But it's also one of the easiest ways to get penalised, because ideological stances normally exploit a victim mentality within the home crowd, which by nature has to demonise someone. Because you can't have a victim without an aggressor. If the demonised group is protected, that's classed as hate speech, which is against the rules on most platforms. The more extreme you are as an ideological demagogue, the better the viral machine works... But equally, the more likely it is that you'll break a hate speech rule.

If you portray these rabble rousers as innocent philosophers, just expressing their beliefs, it's possible to see them as victims of censorship or thought-policing. And that's how they spin it. But they're not innocent philosophers. Rabble rousers are deliberate trouble-makers, directly harnessing the passion of hatred to create pile-in arguments which will increase their own visibility. Every tweet they write is designed to make their audience angry about an ideological adversary. They don't offer a varied realm of ideas. They have one basic, hateful, anti-someone-or-other chant, which they keep repeating, in reworded form, over and over again.

High profile conspiracy theorists have also been subject to suspension. Conspiracy is just another form of rabble rousing. And no, professional conspiracy theorists do NOT believe their own, far-fetched theories.

The only limit to free speech on social media comes from the social media companies themselves. No member of the public can take your account down. Or take your posts down. Only the platform can do that.

There are two main ways that a social media cancellation is enacted.

1. By the enemy. The enemy of the group that normally applauds you, seeks to get your posts removed or your account suspended, by reporting you as in breach of the platform's rules. For this to work, you need to be in breach of the platform's rules. And you'll often also be given numerous chances to comply before any suspension takes place. That applies to an even greater degree with high profile users than it does with lower profile users.

This is how TERF demagogue Graham Linehan was “cancelled” - i.e. suspended from Twitter. He repeatedly broke Twitter's hate speech rule with regard to a specific protected minority group, was reported masses of times, and after it became clear that no amount of chances would change his behaviour, his account was banned.

This was a classic rabble rouser. Someone who knew he was breaking the platform's rules, and chose to persistently break them. He was allowed to make the same hateful point, thousands of times, before the platform finally gave up and banned him. He was allowed to speak, and God knows did he speak - on a mind-numbing loop of endless repetition and childishly abusive attacks on contradictors - until purely for the sake of the poor moderators' sanity, deleting him was a no-brainer.

The idea that he was punished for anything other than the promotion of hatred, is a non-starter.

Preventing hateful and harmful speech is no more a limitation to freedom of speech than preventing a punch in the face is a limitation to freedom of movement. This was not about free speech.

2. By the home crowd, for toxic association. You either offend, or threaten the reputation of the group that normally applauds you. Typically, this doesn't result in a suspension. Instead, the people who have facilitated your viral drive turn their backs on you, and even though you're still there, you lose visibility because your main attention-boosting mechanism is removed.

This is how far-right Bible-thumper Denise McAllister was “cancelled”. She was working as a writer for Conservative media outlets, when she made what was clearly an offensive, sexually-related remark to a gay man. The dynamics of the incident had parallels with the Hoddle case, except McAllister had a much lower profile, and it wasn't the first time she'd aired toxic views. After the incident, if the people for whom she was working didn't break their associations with her, they would be toxicised by her - to the point of commercial risk. Hence, they all dumped her in a unified action.

Although McAllister has been mass-dumped by the Conservative media, she still has her Twitter profile. However, without the publicity drive that her media associations afforded her, the large following she'd built has steadily declined. It hasn't helped that she's refused to show any contrition about what she said, and has indeed continued to gay-bash, whilst regularly complaining about her “cancellation”, as her audience gradually drops away.

Like a lot of people who persistently complain about the unfairness of being “cancelled”, the number of people McAllister has blocked (and thus robbed of their means to speak back to her) is huge. There's often great arrogance and hypocrisy coupled with complaints about cancel culture. Like... “I should be free to say anything I like, even if people find it offensive, but if anyone says anything I don't approve of, I should be able to shut them up”. That's not an actual quote. But here are some actual blockings...


Remember that block-button enthusiast Denise McAllister is someone who has whined mercilessly about the unfairness of taking away people's right to speak. Also remember that she is supposed to have Christian values. This is only a tiny sample of her blockings...

Endless feed of Denise McAllister blocking reports via this Twitter link.

Linehan also had a penchant for the Twitter block button if you care to investigate using the same Twitter search protocol. His username was @glinner, and even though his account is banned, old mentions will still show up.

HOW CANCELLED IS CANCELLED?


There's a major question mark over how severely “cancellation” itself impacts on the careers of people with personal brands, and how much of their disappearance is down to their own decision to give up.

This debate was brought to a head when video maker Jenna Marbles voluntarily cancelled herself in mid 2020, by drawing attention to, and apologising for, past examples of racial disrespect.

At the same time, another video maker - Shane Dawson - also retired from public view, in part for the same reason, although Dawson was already under significant public pressure over his historical transgressions, in a way that Marbles was not. Indeed, she pre-empted him in apologising for 'blackface' and making a quit video, which, it's probably fair to say, placed more pressure on him to quit, since, among other things, he was guilty of 'blackface' too.

But neither of these people were de-platformed, and both made their own decision to cease posting on sites which were still giving them a level of reach and earning potential beyond most people's wildest dreams. They notably haven't deleted their social media profiles, and their video channels are still there. They don't stop making money out of those videos when they stop posting. As long as the ads are still running and the videos are not deleted, it's still a revenue stream of totally passive income.

So whether or not they were forced to go, or chose to go, the elephant in the room is that they're still profiting from the personal brands which a lot of people consider to have been cancelled. If there are percentage degrees of cancellation, that's really not very “cancelled” at all. It would be more accurate to describe them as having stopped making new content.

DRUNK ON POWER


I don't want to deny that virtue-signalling is out of control on social media. You just know that Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells has a computer full of porn and his own booth at the STD clinic. And yes, a section of the public does have a thirst to see successful people taken down. This is often a central component in celebrity complaints about cancel culture. But there's a flipside...

Most of the truly unwilling casualties of cancellation are drunk on power. They're not just expressing a point of view. They're spewing arrogance. They're goading. They're attacking. And especially in the post-COVID environment, they're sometimes even putting their own publicity interests before the basic safety of the public. They've built their profile around their ego. And they're not taking into account the fact that other people have egos too.

You can't expect people to simply tolerate attacks. If you're drunk on power, and the people around you have nothing - no voice, no options, perhaps very little money - there is going to arise a natural instinct to take that power away from you. It's human nature.

NOT OUR WAR


The overriding lesson that all people with elevated public reach and influence should learn, is that they have a privilege, not a right. They're not entitled to sympathy if their understanding of their own professional protocols is so woefully poor that they throw that privilege away.

Some will try to justify their privilege by saying they “worked hard” to get where they got. Like people in minimum wage jobs don't work hard. Like labourers who walk ten plus miles in a shift don't work hard. Like call centre advisers who handle 70 irate complaints a day don't work hard. Like nurses don't work hard. Like fire crews don't work hard. Most jobs are hard work.

There will be people who are so irrevocably locked into the bubble of their own importance and narcissism that they can't see that. And those are the exact people who are trying to brainwash the public into declaring war on cancel culture. But if it's not your privilege, it's not your war. Let celebrities, influencers and relentless rabble rousers fight their own battles. They'd never come to your aid if the roles were reversed. They'd be the first to dance the dance of self-righteousness, on the grave of your career.
Bob 'Interesting' Leggitt is a print-published writer, multi-instrumentalist and twice Guitarist of the Year finalist, Google-certified digital marketer, image manipulation expert, virtual musical instrument builder, "Twitter detective", and author of successful blogs such as Planet Botch, Twirpz and Tape Tardis. | [Twitter] | [Contact Details]