Cancel vultures

I’ve been seeing the phrase “cancel culture” thrown around a lot lately on politicians’ social media posts; one of them even wants to hold Senate Judiciary hearings on the subject. Can we all just calm down, please?

“Cancel culture” is an odd phrase, firstly because it lacks any standard definition. It means different things to different people. Secondly, none of those different things is an accurate description of what really happened.

It’s weird to say a work of art or a company got “canceled.” Even more so to say it of a person; that sounds like a euphemism for death. So I looked it up, and lo and behold, Webster’s has added a definition of “cancel” as “to withdraw one’s support for (someone, such as a celebrity, or something, such as a company) publicly and especially on social media.”

Okay. That’s accurate. So they’re talking about withdrawing support. People do it all the time, often following the lead of others who have brought their attention to an issue. I understand not liking that; I don’t care for the pitchfork-and-torch approach of social media mobs, either. But the irony is, counter-mobs push back in equal measure. Things get personal. Things get political. Things get ugly.

Maybe we should all back up, collect our breaths, and calm down – especially our public servants. I’m sure the root problem goes further back, but for the last 12 years, social media has revealed a stunning lack of professionalism on the part of our elected officials. It seems like U.S. Presidents, Senators, and Representatives go out of their way to insult and belittle each other. It’s not only tiring, it’s petulant. Behave, y’all. It’s okay to disagree, but keep it civil. Stop the pissing match, and do your jobs.

But I digress. We were talking about cancel culture.

As I said, I don’t care for the angry mob approach; people lose focus. I generally don’t approve of boycotts; people lose jobs. I am opposed to censorship and bans by any governing body; society loses art. I am vehemently opposed to authoritarianism and fascism; people and societies die. But here’s the thing – in recent “cancel culture” controversies, none of those things happened.

Use your head

Take “Mr. Potato Head” – last week, Hasbro announced its plan to drop the “Mr.” from the brand name. The characters Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head still exist. The plastic potatoes are still available, add-on body parts and accessories that run a gamut from traditionally masculine to traditionally feminine. They are not telling anyone what or whom to create, nor what to call it.

They’re even adding a Potato Head family set, with two adult potatoes and a little spud, plus plenty of add-on accessories. A kid can use them to create a young Potato Head boy or girl, plus two adults. The adults can be Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head; Mr. Potato Head and his brother, the other Mr. Potato Head who’s just lost his job and needs a place to stay until he gets back on his potato feet; a divorced Mrs. Potato Head who’s temporarily living with her sister, Ms. Potato Head, and having the time of her life, thank you very much; Mx. Potato Head and her live-in friend that everyone in the family calls her “roommate” but really know there’s something more there, the other Mx. Potato Head; or whatever scenario the kid chooses.

But you know what didn’t happen to Mr. Potato Head? He didn’t get canceled. Potato Head is a brand, with its own characters still in place – Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head – and with infinite characters created by the kids who play with them. And the kids are deciding themselves; no company or mob is telling them what to do with their potatoes, nor what to call them.

Mr. Potato Head also hasn’t been banned or censored; the government had nothing to do with this. It was a corporate decision – Hasbro did this of their own volition, and they’re probably going to sell a lot more toys as a result. Mr. Potato Head ain’t goin’ nowhere, folks.

Green eggs and sham

Know who else hasn’t been canceled? Dr. Seuss. Nor has he been banned. Nor censored. His own estate decided not to reprint six titles – out of more than sixty. And they decided it without pressure from the government or any other political entity. They felt the illustrations of – and some of the copy pertaining to – certain races portrayed in those six titles, fomented some negative stereotypes.

The illustrations and copy were generally considered acceptable when the books were first published – from 45-84 years ago. They are not generally acceptable today. So his estate made a business decision not to renew their publication again. (All of them had been re-issued in the past; we’re not actually on the first print of Dr. Seuss books.)

Decisions like that are made every day in the publishing industry. Sometimes the decision is due to lack of demand for the book, other times it’s due to altruism. But I promise you, there are literally thousands of children’s books that were once available new, but are no longer being printed. That’s what happened with the six Seuss titles – they’re still available in libraries, classrooms, and elsewhere, but the company is no longer printing new ones. They still exist; they haven’t been canceled.

Kermitting atrocities?

Next, consider “The Muppet Show.” Certain news commentators and politicians are up in arms, insisting Disney has “canceled” the Muppets. Disney Plus recently started streaming the show, but they’ve added a disclaimer at the start of 18 episodes: “This programme includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.”

After the disclaimer, each episode in question plays in its entirety. Nothing is edited, nothing is censored, and nothing is canceled. It’s just that the episode includes content that most viewers found acceptable 45 years ago, but probably wouldn’t today.

Some are calling the disclaimer a trigger warning. Read it again; it doesn’t warn anyone of anything. It simply makes a statement on how they feel about the content. I recently saw a disclaimer that said, “This movie contains product placement.” Is that a trigger warning, too? Is it an attempt to cancel commerce?

Send whatever signal you want

If anything, the Muppets disclaimer probably qualifies more as virtue-signaling – another phrase that’s been misused and maligned. Some people deride virtue-signaling as an attempt to prove “wokeness.” Maybe so, but how is that problematic? To me, it’s nothing more than letting people know how you feel about a topic. Sometimes, it’s a statement; sometimes, it’s a show of support. Neither makes it insincere, nor bad.

If you kneel during the National Anthem, you’re virtue-signaling. But here’s the thing – if you stand for the National Anthem, you’re also virtue-signaling.

If you adorn a pin or ribbon on behalf of marginalized people, you’re virtue-signaling. And if you adorn a pin or ribbon on behalf of people suffering from an illness, you’re also virtue-signaling.

If you put a “Black Lives Matter” bumper sticker on your car, you’re virtue-signaling. If you put a “Blue Lives Matter” bumper sticker on your car, you’re also virtue-signaling.

On Independence Day, I enjoy wearing red, white, and blue – but guess what? It’s virtue-signaling. Is that a bad thing?

Flying a flag – whether it represents your alma mater, your favorite sports team, some organization, or your country – is virtue-signaling. Wearing a tee-shirt of your favorite band is virtue-signaling. Putting a campaign sign in your yard is virtue-signaling. The examples are endless.

There’s no one out there who hasn’t virtue-signaled, so maybe we should stop using the term as an insult? It’s just announcing, This is how I feel about something. This is where I stand.

The same is true of that Disney disclaimer. They added it to say, This is where we stand; meanwhile, here’s the show in its entirety. If you don’t agree with our feelings on the content, you can still watch the show.

Here’s the irony of the whole situation – “The Muppet Show” wasn’t widely available before, but now it is. That’s pretty much the opposite of canceling.

To the people who are outraged about Potato Head, Seuss, and Muppets, I offer the reminder that the most recent of those products or works was first released in the mid-70s. The oldest was first published in 1937. Culture has changed quite a bit since those times.

We’ve learned a lot over the past 45-84 years, and I’d rather not go back. You might feel differently, but if that’s the case, I invite you to ask yourself exactly what you miss from life in 1976 that you can’t have today. Just remember – there’s plenty we have today that you couldn’t have had then. Advancement and progress go hand in hand, and neither is a bad thing.

Don’t get Cara’d away

Now let’s talk about Gina Carano. Remember her? I know, that was so four weeks ago.

She’s an actress who played one of my favorite Star Wars roles – Cara Dune, from “The Mandalorian” on Disney Plus. She was in the series for two seasons, but Disney has opted not to bring her back for future seasons, due to some of her controversial tweets.

Carano’s tweets over time had mocked mask mandates, pushed election fraud conspiracy theories, denigrated Black Lives Matter, and belittled trans people’s pronoun choices. In early February, she tweeted a picture comparing backlash against contemporary Republicans to the treatment of Holocaust victims in Nazi Germany – at best tone-deaf, at worst anti-Semitic.

First, there was an uproar. In this case, yes, the angry mob formed and the hashtag #FireGinaCarano trended. Sure enough, Disney announced they were not bringing her back.

But I’m positive the hashtag wasn’t the thing that inspired them to take action. They had reportedly warned her to stop, but she didn’t. If your employer told you to stop doing something and you refused, how long do you think you’d stay employed by them?

This is more of an issue pertaining to corporate human resources. Her tweets denigrated marginalized groups; I guarantee that would get anyone a spot in front of an HR rep in any big company today (and rightfully so).

She had taken aim at Black people, Jewish people, trans people, and gay people; this is going to draw the disapproval of any employer worth its salt, let alone one like Disney. People aside, Disney also has mask policies in place; I’m sure they were equally unhappy with her tweet mocking masks.

Carano’s tweets had to have violated HR policy. She disobeyed the rules, and employers don’t look kindly upon that. The same thing would have happened to you or me if we posted similar things. If we were currently working, our employer could and should fire us over that. And if, like Carano, we were between contracts, the employer shouldn’t bring us back.

If you don’t believe she did anything wrong, consider this – she deleted the tweet. Generally, when someone hasn’t said something wrong, they don’t attempt to hide what they said. Words matter, and actions have consequences.

Yes, a cyber-mob formed. But no, they didn’t persecute her. Disney opted not to hire her back, as is their right.

She hasn’t been canceled; Ben Shapiro has hired her to make movies for “The Daily Wire” – if you want to watch her work, you still can. And if you’re mad that she wasn’t able to mock certain groups of people without consequence, I wish you would ask yourself why you think it should be acceptable to mock those groups.

Cancel the lies

These works, products, and people haven’t been canceled. The outrage claiming they have is a distraction – another kind of virtue-signaling, if you will. The commentators and elected officials screeching about cancel culture are trying to garner your support by appealing to the thought that they are protecting you from some vague threat. But that threat doesn’t exist.

When they try to convince you this is a threat worthy of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that’s a lie. Congress can’t legislate anything against cancel culture. And if there’s real censorship out there, we are the ones who need to push back – not Congress – until it gets to the level of the Supreme Court.

When they try to convince you this is a political agenda, that’s a lie. No politicians asked Disney, Hasbro, or the Seuss Estate to do these things; they did them on their own. While there is arguably some progressive thinking behind them – changing with the times, etc. – they are not the actions of a Progressive political party.

The only ones making a big deal out of this are people who stand against it, and we should all ask about their motives. It’s regressive more than conservative; why do they want to regress? Whatever their motives, they’re not being candid with you. Don’t fall for their act – they are populists, lying to you for your support.

They are vultures, pretending to be eagles.

About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at www.danbain.net; thanks!
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