Who is the real victim when everyone feels under attack?
Everybody thinks they're under attack these days. Comedians, rich people, white men in general, Nazis, gun owners… all claiming to be attacked on any given day.
A friend recently reminded me of the dangers of allowing recipients of privileged cultures to use the language of oppressed cultures to frame things, like their feelings. Among the many causes for concern with such allowances, hyperbolic statements such as, “We are under attack,” made by people who are not in fact in actual danger results in a degradation of meaning. We lose perspective when we call things something that they aren’t. And when we lose perspective, we change the world in ways that comfort us but further damage others.
White supremacists are excellent examples here. The tenets of white supremacy are essentially illegal. It is illegal to discriminate. It is technically illegal to create legislation that supports agendas founded in hate or biological determinism. And while experiencing the feeling of hate is not illegal, attaching it to an action can make the undertaking criminal (or makes your already criminal act more heinous). So when I see a group of Nazis having their hands held through a news article quizzing them about being the all-American boy next door, or attempting to make a case for freedom of speech with behavior that borders on domestic terrorism, I know that I am experiencing an attempt to change reality by shifting perspective.
Comedians are also a good example of this right now. Sure, we've been talking about Dave Chappelle lately, but he is ultimately the most popular voice for a movement of trade observations that was well underway for at least the past decade. What is mind-boggling to me about their cause — again, a freedom of speech debate — is that for all their recriminations about cancel culture, none of these comedians have actually been “canceled.”
Every comedian who has had to endure a public shaming in recent years is back to work. Most of them have a new Netflix special for which they were likely paid several millions of dollars (assuming that they aren’t women). They have been performing to packed clubs and theaters. If they stopped engaging social media they wouldn’t really know that anybody had a problem with them. So how are they canceled? Who did the canceling? Where is the board that shows who's canceled this week?
The only comedian who has been demonstrably canceled is Bill Cosby, and that only happened because he went to jail. Every other comedian lodging these complaints about cancel culture are just people who are exasperated or had their feelings hurt by a think piece. They are not under attack. They are disliked.
You know who is actually under attack right now? Transgender people. Children in cages at immigration camps. Indigenous protestors of water rights. The citizens of Flint, Michigan. Black voters. All of that is happening right here, right now. Real attacks, real crimes, real damage. And in collective and systemic ways. People have literally been killed over white women’s tears.
Frankly, cancel culture is on the verge of canceling itself. Noted activist Shaun King is currently in a public row with noted activist DeRay McKesson in a battle of cancel culture Hot Potato. Not to mention that for every outcry to cancel someone, there is an article or post or tweet or essay written by someone who subscribes to the core values of cancel culture, but who thinks the whole notion may be kind of-sort of-maybe getting a little out of pocket.
At the end of the day, there is no cancel board or committee or method or rulebook or ombudsman. And most of the people who have been canceled in the public sphere seem to be doing just fine.
Personally, I’m not sure why we ever had to change the name for boycotting.