The first thing to make clear is that we don’t have a cancel culture. Culture is, in its simplest form, collective regard and social norms. Today, there is not enough collective support or care for cancelling acting careers or concerts because of the thoughts and behaviors of celebrities. There just isn’t. The average person does not spend enough emotional or intellectual energy keeping up with or responding to controversy. Instead, the energy around cancel culture is really about the shock, anger, and demands of a small percentage of people and the instantaneous fear that it sparks in advertisers and CEO’s.
None of this is intended to diminish the plight of anyone calling for the cancellation of this person or that show, nor to lessen the horridness of some of the things they are protesting. Instead, we just need to recognize the reality that for all of the legwork put forth to cancel culture in the name of accountability and improved humanity, the culture is not in fact cancelling. Instead, the ‘cancelled’ (Roseanne, Louis CK, etc.) are taking a temporary knee before resurfacing to future success. Meanwhile, the average person is giving an eye roll and a shoulder shrug to what they see as an over sensitized stream of movements that they want no part in. It should also be acknowledged that even as companies cancel things that “aren’t consistent with…” their “…values”, the truth is a bit more calculated, literally.
When Roseanne’s TV show was cancelled, it was not because the studio changed their values overnight, it was because they had visions of their overnight ratings diminishing and their advertisers running for the hills in response. Amazon’s fiasco with Woody Allen had money moves written all over it. In short, he had a 4-picture deal worth north of $68 million dollars. Amazon cancelled it in the wake of several actors and actresses noting their regret of working with him in the past, and their refusal to do so going forward. A.K.A. — This was not a sudden burst of humanity but a foretelling loss of millions of dollars. The Victoria’s Secret show is coming to an end. For several years, it has faced scrutiny for having a narrow view of human beauty. Some people would like to believe that the scrutiny has driven the decision to cancel it but as LZ Granderson so accurately stated in his op-ed piece, “society hasn’t grown a conscience, it just got a smart phone”.
All of which begs the question: Are we more humane as a result of these cancellations or are company’s minding their pocketbooks while most people just sit and shake their head? Of course, it is the latter. Everyday people are stubborn, prideful, and they’ll be damned if they are going to let someone play morale police on their behalf.
Dave Chappelle is no fan of the cancel culture. He’ll tell you all about it in an indirect way in his Netflix special, ‘Sticks and Stones’. In it, he professes his disbelief in Michael Jackson’s accusers and throws shade at LGBTQ people. And although he has not stated it directly, it is widely known that he made such jokes as a way of sticking it to a society that has attempted to draw lines in what comedians are allowed to joke about. What do the watchers of his special think about it? They love it to the tune of a 99% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
It was reported this week that Michael Jackson’s story is headed for Hollywood from the producer who helped make the hit film “Bohemian Rhapsody. As well, the Jackson estate is backing a new Broadway musical about the singer, due to open in July 2020. Lastly, the Jackson show “One” from Cirque du Soleil continues to play in Las Vegas. Have we canceled Michael Jackson or have his fans indirectly cancelled the cancel culture edict placed upon him?
Can Louis C.K. still do stand-up to a sold-out crowd? This article would offer a resounding yes.
Are these good men? Not in the eyes of many and yet the very culture that was supposed to cancel them is doing the complete opposite. Again, culture is collective regard and social norms. Pay attention to the bolded words and let’s go through a couple of questions:
Question 1: Is the collective going to change how they regard particular people who have done controversial things? Not according to the box office returns and Academy love of ‘Green Book’ nor the fact that Liam Neeson has 12 films in various stages of production. In both of the above cases, there were cancel demands, this due to accusations of racism.
We could also look at this weeks Billboard Hot 100 where Maroon 5 and Chris Brown are both firmly planted. The former is 1-year removed from being blasted for agreeing to play at the Super Bowl while the latter physically assaulted his girlfriend. Consumers know these things and they have heard the cancel calls; they’re just not listening to them.
Question 2: Are social norms going to change because people feel the pinch of others being cancelled? Not according to statistics that show rises in: sexual harassment and assault; white supremacist leanings; inequity across race and gender lines; and a host of other issues that have been interlinked to various cancel culture efforts.
The fact is, culture is complicated because people are complicated. There are nuances to what people see, feel, believe, and fight for — all of which are coming to the forefront of the various movements and counter movements and, in this case, the cancel culture effort.
Of note, Psychology Today recently published an article about why people love the cancel culture. They cite things such as a strengthening of social bonds and a decrease in the status of people they are trying to cancel. Although I am not a psychologist, I have facilitated hundreds of discussions that had aspects of cancel culture within them. Everything I saw corroborates these findings. There is a bond that develops when our anger and demand for action is supported by others, an easy task in todays age of social media and instant access to the thoughts and feelings of the masses. And as we tweet our disdain for what someone did and call for their removal, it is satisfying to see an almost instantaneous decrease in their status, no matter how contained or temporary. This may be hard for people to read or swallow but they are consistent with psychological realities that have been explored, accepted, and taught for decades.
Over the past couple of years, I have wanted to see how people would respond in the aftermath of controversy surrounding a popular figure they liked. For instance, if R. Kelly were to announce a concert in Washington, D.C. and the cancel culture did not exist, how many people would buy tickets? The answer to this question would be a truer testament to the collective regard people have for him than any cancel culture edict. After all, if the collective truly takes enough issue with someone to cancel them, a social media campaign would not be necessary.