The Universal Notebook: Questions about cancel culture

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U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, says cancel culture “is the No. 1 issue for the country to address today.”

Not 500,000 Americans dying of COVID-19? Not a president who tried to overthrow the U.S. government? Not climate change? Not racism? Nope. Cancel culture.

Cancel culture has become one of the big GOP bugbears along with Antifa and socialism. It refers to the practice of withdrawing support from any person or company that says or does something considered offensive or objectionable. Boycotting, censuring, shaming, shunning, canceling are weapons of the American culture wars.

Jordan, one of Donald Trump’s staunches defenders, was complaining that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, was the victim of cancel culture because the rookie representative was stripped of her committee assignments for embracing QAnon quackery. 

Greene liked a post that said “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from office and liked other comments about executing FBI agents seen as part of the Deep State working against Trump. She is lucky she wasn’t removed from Congress and brought up on charges. 

In many cases, what conservatives call cancel culture is just a little belated social justice, such as taking down Confederate flags and monuments and renaming military bases named for Confederate leaders. Wasn’t the Confederacy a failed attempt to overthrow the U.S.?

Here in Maine, a statue of Melville Fuller, the Augusta native who became chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, is being removed from in front of the Kennebec County Courthouse because the Fuller court was responsible for declaring racial segregation constitutional in 1896. The vote was 7-1. Weren’t most white men racists in 1896? 

And I see a South Portland guidance counselor has been placed on administrative leave because he questioned whether a principal should be actively promoting an organization that is only open to students of color. Should any student who supports racial equity be able to join a Black Student Union? 

Liberals are more apt than conservatives to perpetrate the cancel culture, but liberals are also just as apt to be the targets of it. 

Late-night comic Jimmy Fallon was the target of cancel culture a few years ago when it became known that he once wore blackface while doing an impression of comic Chris Rock on “Saturday Night Live.”  

“Hey, man, I’m friends with Jimmy. Jimmy’s a great guy. And he didn’t mean anything,” Rock said in defense of Fallon. “A lot of people want to say intention doesn’t matter, but it does. And I don’t think Jimmy Fallon intended to hurt me. And he didn’t.”

Intention is a squirrelly issue, of course. Devotees of racist team mascots like Redskins, for example, are forever saying they intend to honor Native Americans, not demean them. But if Native people don’t feel honored, isn’t the noble intention mute?

A few years ago, some Bowdoin College students were reprimanded for wearing sombreros at a tequila party. Stereotyping? Political correctness? Cancel culture?

Actress Scarlett Johansson faced the wrath of cancel culture because she played a transgender person in a film. She also took heat when she played a cyborg who turns out to be Japanese in an anime movie. Really?

Personally, I’d like to see cancel culture replaced by reparation culture. Don’t get mad, get even. The Netflix mini-series “Bridgerton,” for instance, is a popular Regency romance in which Black actors play British nobility. Probably not historically accurate, but then who cares?

Turnabout is fair play.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.

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