I often debate the insanity of Cancel Culture on my Facebook Wall and the same four or five social-justice-oriented friends participate in a spirited argument with me. One defense they make is that cancel culture doesn’t stick. A lot of the people who we perceive to be cancelled like Roseanne Barr or Gina Carano or Shane Gillis (famously fired by SNL) or Billie Bush found work again. Even some of the greater exiles like Woody Allen and Louie CK still are working in some capacity.
I’ll readily admit for people who have been victimized in the same way that Louie CK victimized women or Casey Affleck behaved on a set that it can be frustrating to see those people working again and think like nothing is getting done. I can understand that frustration.
At the same time, is it really our place to evaluate the damage done to another person? Isn’t the whole point of recognizing privilege taking a step back before speaking about someone else’s suffering?
Besides, the basic ethical tenet of our justice system and common-sense morality that people shouldn’t be punished disproportionately for their crimes (something that’s not happening), there seems to be a growing hypocrisy in our level of empathy that needs to be addressed.
I find in my interactions with people on this encroaching new way of being that the empathy these people have to people who have been perceived to commit the kind of crime that upsets the new wokeness is much lower than those who get hurt by ways that can be explained (or perceive to be explained by sexism, racism, or misogamy.
For example, Bachelorette host Chris Harrison got fired earlier this year for calling for “a little grace, a little understanding, a little compassion” when Rachael Kirkconnel was accused of racist behavior.
Rachael Kirkconnel’s sins amounted to having conservative parents, retweeting something from Prager University, attending a old south sorority party, and supporting the police. The article also states she’s engaged to a black man. Even more disgusting, Harrison just called for an open dialogue.
Someone on my Facebook wall who is very attuned to the fighting of racism and misogyny responded that “it’s just business.”
But by that same logic, can that person tell me with a straight face that hecan keep that same level of “it’s all business” to anyone who has a whiff of appearing victimized by the magical triumvate that woke people traditionally lose their marbles over (Women, the LGBT+ population, or POC). When they read of a feminist like Brie Larson losing popularity because she “appears” difficult or that actor Robert Leonard on Heroes claimed racism on set or Mira Sorvino didn’t have a career after the 90s, that he can just say “oh it’s all business.”
So yes, the “it doesn’t stick” argument is basically acknowledging that a potentially harmful system of meting out punishment is failing to do the harm it intended to do. That’s not necessarily an argument for the strength of an extra-judicial system of justice.
More to the point, you know what else doesn’t stick? The microaggressions that these people, whose lives have been derailed, have been accused of.
Let me preface this by saying that I am not a fan of the comedy or political views of Roseanne Barr but when she tweeted a racist comment about Valerie Jarrett, did the pain of that microaggression stick for very long? I am aware that Roseanne Barr is a rich person and won’t incur much of a loss but if “the pain won’t stick”, the loss of a job and your flagship creative property is a lot more of a permanent scar.
Lest you think this only happens at the top levels, a small number of high school students of color at my local high school went after a chemistry teacher’s head when he posted an insensitive test question about George Floyd. The teacher apologized for making a pun in a chemistry test and changed the question, but student Sofia Miller persisted in e-mailing administrators and carrying out a campaign until his career has been destroyed (resigning after becoming a national news punchline does not seem recoverable):
“The girls’ classmates — many of them White boys, they said — are arguing that the Floyd pun was not offensive, that Sofia Miller and Riana Aquino-Richards are being dramatic and that the teacher’s suspension is an overreaction. Some have started a social media campaign urging Arlington residents to band together and save the teacher’s job.
Riana said she is ignoring the White boys’ posts. She would rather focus on the sixth- and seventh-grade Black girls who, after news of the Floyd pun broke, posted on social media detailing how upset they felt.
‘I want to fix this so the middle-schoolers who are more diverse who are coming up don’t have to experience this in chemistry class,” she said. “Nobody should have to worry about racist attacks at school.’”
So by the estimation of these two students, attempting to destroy the career of everyone who does something insensitive is worth the cost of any possible contamination of the pristine environment of HB.
And let’s be clear: Ignoring the “white boys posts” (a generalization at that) means ignoring the fate of a career. Again, if anyone is suggesting that a career loss doesn’t stick, then let me humbly point out that neither does the discomfort of having to face a microaggression at school. And keep in mind, there’s no evidence these students pointed out of a continuous or deliberate racist barrage they have faced as students outside of this incident. I personally know faculty at H.B. Woodlawn and I have had experience with the student body from both my days as an APS student and seeing younger relatives go through the system.
You know what a more sophisticated and better way to handle conflict is? Being aware of teachable moments. I’m reminded of when actor Viggo Mortensen used the N-word during a Q & A for the film “Green Book” (something that has gone from impolite and wrong to worthy of career ruin) and Mahershala Ali chose to forgive him because it created a teachable moment.
Building a better society involves being kinder to all parties involved. It doesn’t only go one way