Here’s what I mean. This may not be articulated super well, so bear with me:
Tier 1: “These people did horrific shit and we should generally expunge them from the societal record”
I don’t know if I would throw Hitler and Harvey W. on the same level, but let’s say both of them could be in this tier. Other dictators and just generally “bad hombres,” to quote some classic Trump in there too.
Tier 2: “Need to likely be cancelled, but there is some nuance here”
A good one for me on this would be Kavanaugh trying to get on the US Supreme Court a few years back. That became a very political, very divisive thing for sure. It eventually went “far left woke” vs. “far right let us be men,” and the Instagram/Facebook virtue-bombing about it was unreal. True story about that period: my cousin posted something online about hurting herself if he got on SCOTUS. I responded and, somehow within about 17 seconds, she told me that “my entire family hates me.” OK, cool. As I said, divisive issue.
So, if Kav raped a woman, he should be cancelled. I would say all rapists should be cancelled, generally-speaking, although then you can get into this whole rabbit hole about the point of the prison system. Is it just to hold bad people, or are we supposed to bring them around? I have no idea. I had a podcast in 2011 and interviewed a warden in Idaho, and she (yes, a female warden!) said we should try to make people better and re-release them into society. So maybe don’t cancel rapists? I am not sure.
But on Kav, I always wondered: let’s say this guy was horribly gropy at a party 32 years prior. Does that mean that he can’t be a good justice? Don’t people evolve in 32 years? Isn’t that, like, life? So while I see the argument for “cancellation” in that case, I also wonder if we need to think deeper about issues and not just react to the first narratives we’re presented.
There are lots of other cancellations that fit into this bucket, too.
Tier 3: “This might be a valid cancellation, but why are we discussing it 25 years later?”
This would be like … Jimmy Fallon in blackface in 2000 as Chris Rock. Yes, it’s stupid, and even in 2000, we shouldn’t have been doing that … but why are we trying to cancel him for that now? Plus: did he even write the skit? Do we need to go find the skit writers, the director, the producer, Jimmy, Lorne Michaels, etc. and cancel all of them? Strip them of jobs? Where is the bottom of this well? And did Chris Rock think it was funny 20 years ago? Should we talk to him, or no?
Tier 4: “What is this accomplishing?”
I throw the Dixie Chicks stuff in here. I get it, and I understand the associations of the word “Dixie,” but now we are calling them “The Chicks,” which a ton of women I know don’t like being called. So … we cancelled one thing and basically made it worse along another continuum? Hmmm. I just wonder what some of those are accomplishing. It seems more like a PR gesture than a “embracing the black community” gesture. I might be wrong.
Tier 5: “Life happens”
This is a little bit me recently, and it’s not even “cancellation.” I got married in ’13, divorced in ’17 (our wedding anniversary was the same month we got divorced, OUCHIE!), and then just got engaged again in ’20. So, randomly a bunch of people who I had been connected to on social and text — but it’s not like we were exchanging lots of messages or anything — since ’10, when my ex and I first started dating, basically just up and blocked me, left me behind, whatever. Again, it’s not like I was actively in discussions with these people since ’17 when I got divorced, but sometimes you get left behind by groups, or friendships change, or there’s general evolution and geographic/work shifts. But again, I think that’s life and not “cancellation.”
All the tiers: Can we have a discussion about action plans?
My fear with “cancel culture” broadly is that we basically took a young person’s Instagram ethos — “I don’t want to see this person who fucked me over once, so I will block them now” — and scaled it for society. But a block or cancel does not mean the person dies. It also does not mean the issues you are cancelling go away. Just because one guy or 10 guys go down the river for sexual assault — it’s a great thing that justice was done, but there are 10 guys behind them trying to do the same thing. It’s the same with racism or anything. I feel like “cancel culture” prioritized the symbolic gesture and the “out of sight out of mind” ethos as opposed to letting us have real conversations and find action items.
Eventually for anything to change, laws and legislation does need to change. People can have moments of profound shift and clarity — it’s more common than maybe we admit — but for a society to change, we need laws to change. Symbolic gestures are a part of that process — “I posted this because I’m cancelling cops!” — but they are not the entirety of that process. We still need an action plan for cops and funding, what types of calls they respond to, who we recruit, how we compensate them, etc.
“The cancel culture” is the gesture, or the idea that you’re somehow being “woke” because, in a vacuum outside of discussion, you’re deciding who or what gets to keep on being. What we need is the discussion and the action items.