Cancel Culture May Not Exist, But Canceled Culture Does
Beyond the Book: Doubling Down On Assholery
I have thus far resisted adding a lot of commentary to the recent celebrity fuckery that is Kanye, Dave Chappelle, M.I.A. and more, but I’ve been thinking about this particular aspect of the phenomenon of people who seemed to “get it” to some degree leaping down the rabbit hole of reactionary bigotry for some time now. And since these celebs keep bringing it to my mind, and I can’t just keep ranting about it to my partner over and over, I decided to write it down before I get back to this book.
Why does it seem like these last few years we’ve seen an increase in this turn toward a boasting, gleeful offensiveness? It’s not just celebrities. We’re seeing it in our communities, even in our families. I’m going to try to write out what I see happening really just to get it out of my head so I can get back to my life. I’m going to call it:
The Trajectory Of A “Rebel”
Stage 1: You’re One Of Us!
At this stage, you are seen as part of the group. You are one of us. If you are a celebrity, you may not actually be one of us, but it still seems obvious that you once were, and we can imagine that if we were to run into you in a bar, you would share a beer with us. We feel like even if you aren’t one of us, we could be you one day - which is even better! If you are a celebrity or in any elite circles, you are surrounded by people similarly viewed by society. You are somewhat self-aware, and you have a clear idea of where you fit in with people.
If you are a comedian, your jokes are great - because of this self-awareness. You are able to see your place in the world in comparison to others. You know where the punchline is. You know what’s absurd and when you comment on it, people get it.
You are praised for how well you fit. You feel safe and comfortable.
Stage 2: One Of Us Is Your Personality!
At this stage, you are so used to being praised for how well you fit in, that it becomes who you are. You don’t really have to know why you believe what you believe. You don’t have to worry about moral consistency. You don’t have to actually observe yourself in relationship to others, because people are constantly telling you where you fit. You don’t have to learn or grow because you are no longer the observer, you are the center.
If you are famous, you are called a “genius.” If you are not famous, you are still ruling the roost in your Facebook posts or Instagram feeds. You know exactly what to post to get praise. The people closest to you are also geniuses. They love what you do.
You are in a comfortable middle place that can’t actually be current because you are no longer in regular contact with people who would keep you current. But people still listen to you, so you remain aspirational. You aren’t in relationship with people with different privileges or different viewpoints, so you aren’t accountable to them.
You are causing harm. Not more harm than most. You are causing the type of harm that many of us cause due to unexamined privileges and biases. But you’re getting praised for that harm because the people who are being harmed don’t have a way to reach you in a way that you will hear.
Stage 3: You Fuck Up
Here’s where you say the quiet thing a little too loudly. Or you just keep saying it like you always have but as time passes, that thing becomes less and less acceptable and those who are accountable to people have moved on and are noticing that you haven’t. Suddenly the thing you’ve been doing for years isn’t okay anymore. The thing you were praised for isn’t okay anymore. Certainly this is because everyone has betrayed you, right? Certainly it’s because everyone is a hypocrite, right? No? Oh, it must be that you are a genius, because everyone has been telling you that you are a genius. You were always “edgy” and you always “got it” so maybe that’s what it is now. Maybe you just “get it” and others don’t.
I mean, that has to be it, right? Because most of the people closest to you are still calling you a genius.
Stage 4: You Have Been “Called Out” And It Becomes Your Entire Personality
Oh no, you’ve been called out! You’ve transgressed to the point that even some of the people you listen to are mad at you. People don’t want to fuck with you anymore.
Just yesterday, everybody loved you. Now, everybody is calling you “trash.”
After years of being rewarded for just existing. After years of being called a “genius” by everyone around you. After years of making your entire personality about how much you “get it” - while your increasing privilege makes you more and more immune to the everyday lived reality of the issues you are known to “get” - you are now on the outside.
Other people are the ones “getting it” and what they are “getting” is you. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.
You don’t know what to do to get back to being “one of us.” There is no path back. Not one that’s clearly laid out. The only paths back require humility and emotional intelligence and the foundation of a strong relationship with those you’ve harmed.
You have none of those things.
In fact, you’ve been rewarded for having none of those things. When you were attacking “them” without care or compromise, you were rewarded. In these culture wars, you were one of our strongest soldiers.
There is no way back for you.
Stage 5: Accountability Becomes The Enemy
People are trying to hold you accountable. How dare they?
No but really, how dare they?
I’m of the firm belief that accountability is a relationship and if you don’t have a relationship with a person or entity, it is impossible to hold them accountable. And these people don’t have a relationship with you.
They think they do, and you think they do. But it isn’t real. Whether it’s because you are a celebrity who hasn’t sat down for a meal with anyone with anywhere close to the same lived experiences as the people now demanding accountability for years, or because you were a white dude who only had to quote bell hooks on facebook to get praise and never actually had to show up in real life for the people praising you for not being the absolute worst, there’s no there…there. They want a relationship with you where you care about the impact your words and actions has on them. You want a relationship where they go back to calling you a genius but you don’t actually have to do anything with them other than sign autographs or collect likes. That is not a relationship, and everyone’s finding that out all at once.
Stage 6: You Find Your People
But just as it seems all hope is lost. Just as it seems you are to wander the desert alone for the rest of your days. You find your people. People like you. People who have also been “called out” and it was also the worst thing to ever happen to them. People who were expected to be accountable to their fans, their communities, or their families. People who haven’t been called out yet, but feel it coming.
They show you that you aren’t alone. They show you how widespread the problem really is.
Did you know that people are being THROWN IN THE TRASH for questioning vaccines?
Did you know that people are literally being EXECUTED for being “gender critical”?
You thought at first that these people were on the outside because they had chosen to be. Because they had chosen their self-interests over collective responsibility. Because they had decided that the comfort of their ignorance and bigotry mattered more than the humanity of others.
But now you are one of them and you can see it much more clearly now. You are now one of the CALLED OUT.
And you are a genius.
So they must be too.
And all you have to do in order to be called genius again is refuse any collective responsibility. Refuse to be accountable to anyone else. Just be a beacon of obtuseness for the everyday guy who really can’t imagine how he will ever get laid if he can’t sexually harass women at work or the white woman who VOTED FOR OBAMA and yet was called “racist” she made one little joke….
And that’s it. You’re the antihero. The worst thing that could ever happen to you has happened to you and now you are part of a nation of those harmed by cancel culture. This nation spans races, genders and classes. It is the diversity that your new enemies could only dream of!
It is who you are now. You are rewarded for reliving the pain of being cast out over and over and over. If you do that, you’ll never be cast out again. All you have to do is promise to never grow, and never heal. And if you keep it up, the harm you insist on continuing to cause will insure that you have a community of fellow outcasts for the rest of your life.
You are the rebel now. You are counterculture. You are still a genius.
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