Cancel Culture: Censorship or Justice?
As a librarian, I am quite opposed to the idea of censorship. As an elementary librarian, I’m surrounded by it. The vast majority of censored books are for kids–because they’re for kids. Banned Books Week is incredibly important. The issue with banning things is that it’s almost always an extreme reaction to appease a small group of extremists without much consideration.
And then there are the Social Justice Warriors, a negative term to indicate people who battle “the man” to bring down anyone, particularly celebrities, who say or do immoral or Non-PC things. The idea is to make elite, powerful people accountable for their actions for once. This is a good thing–it led to the #MeToo movement and the arrests of Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein. The problem is when people start going too far, either by digging up old information or by not accepting change or apology. When does cancel culture trip the line between fighting for a positive culture and censoring history and society? And even then, do the majority of the cancelled stay cancelled?
This is also, in essence, the same argument as confederate statues. Look, I’m from South Texas. I know a thing or two about Southerners and southern history. I’ve had a neighbor with a giant, wall-sized confederate flag (speaking of cancel culture) hanging in his garage. My small town has a confederate statue–and it has zero historical connection to our town. My (blunt) opinion: I do not think confederate statues still need to be up, but I also do not think that is censorship. I think they need to be moved to a museum and taught within context of history. When Trump announced a garden for statues, I was surprised that I thought it was a good idea–and then he listed who the statues would be, and that dream ended just as it began. But theoretically, yes, a confederate garden could be an outdoor museum or even landmark that didn’t necessarily celebrate the confederacy as much as spotlight its relevance to US history. But even if that isn’t what happens, and the statues are taken down, that is not censoring history. As the comparison goes, you don’t see statues of Nazis around Germany, but they still remember that part of their history. Also, nobody should be flying or celebrating the confederate flag.
Aside from historical cancellations, celebrity or high status “cancellations” are what people really mean when talking cancel culture. The most recent cancellation attempt is JK Rowling, whom I have already discussed. There are also legitimate cases like Louis CK, Roseanne, and Donald Trump.
But there are also people like Kevin Hart or James Gunn where things go too far–people digging up years-old tweets. Granted, Gunn’s were particularly bad, but that was also at a time he was a “shock jock” style director. He had clearly changed over the decade since, and he apologized, but it wasn’t enough. Disney buckled and fired him from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, though that didn’t last long, as he came back on not too long thereafter.
Gunn isn’t the only cancelled celebrity that has more or less been uncancelled. Kevin Hart and Louis CK are fine. Kanye was cancelled at one point for supporting Trump, and then a couple weeks ago, half the Internet wanted to vote him for President. Cancel Culture is more a perception of power that occasionally gets one right.
But the complaint of “I can’t say or do anything! I’ll get cancelled!” is ridiculous. If Cancel Culture does have anything right, it’s that every person it’s cancelled has legitimately said or done something horrible. So if you think cancel culture is stifling your voice, then maybe you need to have some reflection on what words of yours are being stifled.
What Cancel Culture needs to be wary of is censoring debate and discourse and not allowing for change, apology, or personal growth. Then it becomes a means of attack rather than change. But I get it–people are angry. And they are angry for perfectly legitimate reasons. Corruption, greed, inequality, sexism, violence, bigotry, and overt racism are rampant in the US. It’s overwhelming. And rich elites keep getting away with whatever with little to no consequences for their actions. Cancel Culture is just another branch of the Revolution that maybe needs better leadership. We all need better leadership.
I guess I just see it both ways. JK Rowling, ironically, signed a document with over a hundred others about the dangers of Cancel Culture. But they made some fair points. The problems are cultural, and these Social Justice Warrior types are going after symptoms rather than the underlying cause. And to fix something culturally, there needs to be discourse, which can’t be done if it’s being stifled. But that does not mean that the behavior being stifled is good, either. The other problem is that discourse, protesting, etc., is also being stifled from the people who can make change happen. I don’t know the answer, but I do know the answer isn’t either cultural censorship or all-out civil war. At least, I hope not.