It looks like a fraught debate about cancel culture is raging.
Now I’m sufficiently sage to appreciate the apocryphal source of the term, having watched New Jack City back in the day. I say back in the day; it was actually around 2008, when I had a penchant for the 4 ex-rental DVDs for £10 in Blockbuster when that was a thang.
The film is 100-minutes of scarcely mitigated crap, but in it, the drugs kingpin ditches his girlfriend with a ‘cancel that bitch, I’ll buy another one’, after she tells him a whole host of what he does not want to hear. And that’s what cancel culture purports to be. Removing people from platforms if you don’t like what they have to say. But is it real?
Well, it has certainly never been easier to get yourself defenestrated simply for having an alternative opinion. Repentance appears to be as outmoded as the Church of England, which arrows into focus when your HR Manager whips out a 10-year-old tweet with a smugness that would endear you to a Harvey Weinstein zippity-do-dah, recalls your less than finest hour, and airbrushes your most recent accolades from the corporate roll of honour. Not so prevalent that it is the culture per se in a wider societal sense, but that appears to be the direction of travel. The incidence of fruitful intolerance is worryingly and gingerly tickling an upward curve.
Accordingly – and predictably – the white-hot argument doing the rounds has hinged on semantics, and detractors have settled on a conclusion that if there is no widely permeating culture, then the arguments underpinning the claim are baseless.
The only thing I’d add to that argument would be some canned laughter.
Cancel culture is effectively a pithy phrase that captures all manner of illiberal intolerance that seems to be achieving an unwarranted measure of change. The ‘culture’ part might equally relate to the comfortable ease at which certain sections of society can slip into attack-mode where slicing off some minor miscreant at the knees becomes the new raison d’être. Sometimes it works, sometimes it bombs.
The fact that it can work at all should be raising eyebrows but not fazing highbrows. A sly browse over the salient facts should tell us why and how.
Whatever its moniker is, or should be, we certainly have a swelling population (yet not a swell one) that is seeking to re-mould society into its own permanent safe-place bubble. They’ve booked themselves into a witness-protection programme for truth and normality.
They have their own alternative narratives for all manner of subjects that in some spaces seem to be gathering pace unopposed. A full-on steamrollering awaits any poor old soul who dares to offer up dissent, which will likely precede removal from prominence. These dudes don’t trouble themselves with debate. Many of them don’t inconvenience themselves with the values they claim to espouse. The importance lies in their comfort and self-preservation.
So how is it happening? Well, it’s all down to the momentum of social media, which is absolutely not the privileged purview of the Alt-Right.
Through waves of virtue-signalling, a plethora of wacko views and perspectives become artificially inflated and a new norm. This in turn heats up the poker for organisations and institutions who just want to go whichever way the wind blows, and they take the path of least resistance and the golden bridge to the land of loot. Our favourite woeful monoliths and small players alike are driven by an unbridled urge for lashings of profit, which they link to popular opinion in a crass over-simplification of customer motivations.
In essence, they in turn perpetuate the new values and discourses and augment their own fake attachment to them through their branding (which leads them into innumerable excruciating charades and preposterously bonkers activities along the way) and a not-so-virtuous circle is set in motion.
Think about the police officers in Manchester dressed up as rainbow glitter bees for Pride, or office workers having to add pronouns to their email signatures, and you’ll get the picture. Those who fail to comply get removed, most often under the safe guise of non-adherence to company values.
Sadly, organisations that are the most backbone-bereft are weakened and those caught up in the mayhem are the ones raising the red flag. That’s where the cancel culture claims are born.
As the epitome of futility, very often the movements or causes who propel those in their proximate zones towards these inexorable outcomes simply fritter away. Spare a thought for all those people who got brusquely sidelined into ‘special projects’ for questioning the BLM movement two months ago, and who now find themselves perfectly in tune with the mainstream but irrevocably out in the cold. Everybody loses out.
And that’s not simply a wrecking ball for the individuals who get banged, but organisational Lingchi, or a prolonged institutional self-harm. It won’t forever be a blissful chain of battlefield victories for serious activists either; they will need to start engaging committed disciples rather than relying on thumb-frenzied hitchhikers who keep them company only to first base, or risk seeing their causes stumble into terminal disrepute. BLM has already strapped on its greased roller-skates for a steep descent. Whether campaigners for equality who stepped into their strapline slipstream accelerate in the same direction remains to be seen.
In the wheezing post-COVID world, posturing will get people nowhere. Stupidity will get them there a lot sooner.