Why Being ‘Cancelled’ is Not Really That Big of a Deal – Labour Article
In this article, I will take being “cancelled” to mean the call for the irreversible removal of a person from their profession and/or certain aspects of society. It is a general silencing of their voice usually as a result of them expressing opinions not in line with those who are “cancelling” them.
In reality, does a cancel culture truly exist on any significant scale? Are the silenced ever really silenced?
Below is a brief list of some of the people anti-cancellers most sympathise with, along with evidence which I think suggests they haven’t really been cancelled at all. Their voices are far from silenced.
J. K. Rowling, CH, OBE, HonFRSE, FRCPE, FRSL
J. K. Rowling, one of the most successful authors ever, was ‘cancelled’ in 2019 after tweeting her anti-trans views. She received copious criticism, some of it threatening. But has she really been cancelled, as a person, as an author, or even as an anti-trans activist? I argue no.
Rowling has 14.2 million followers on twitter. Her net worth is an estimated $650 million. She has published 22 books, two since her so-called cancellation. She has an OBE and multiple honorary degrees. An astounding number of articles have been written about her recently.
None of her work has been censored post-cancellation. In fact, she published a widely-read blog post about her beliefs, in which she actually alludes to her “fourth or fifth cancellation”. If being cancelled is the silencing of a voice and removal of all a person’s credibility, how can it happen multiple times to one person?
J. K. Rowling expressed a controversial opinion and, alongside plenty of praise, she faced backlash and some reduction in book sales. But, if she can express her opinions, doesn’t everyone else have a right to criticise her, or stop buying her books if they want to?
Given that she is still the second-highest-paid author in the world, is widely adored, has an empire of films, merchandise and even a theme park based on her work, to suggest that she has been somehow silenced or ousted from society or literature is an insult to those living in environments where they genuinely cannot speak their mind. This is particularly true in light of the Conservatives’ new crime bill, which could effectively criminalise protesting.
The actor Laurence Fox has come under fire for his disparagement of the Black Lives Matter movement, his criticism of the film 1917 for its depiction of Sikh soldiers, and the fact he encouraged a boycott of Sainsbury’s after the company announced its support of Black History Month.
Again, he has certainly been criticised, but has he been cancelled? After the incident surrounding ‘1917’, he was given a slot on Good Morning Britain in order to address the issue. He has recently received enough funding to start his own political party, Reclaim, and has announced he is running to be the London Mayor.
Does this seem like the life of someone who has been thrown into the outskirts of society? Indeed, like many readers I’m sure, I had never heard of Laurence Fox until he started expressing these opinions. Fox, like many of his ilk, wax lyrical about their belief that people should be allowed to say whatever they want, no matter how dangerous. However, as soon as someone uses this freedom of speech to criticise them, they cry ‘cancellation’.
If we’re not allowed to criticise people who make such racist comments for fear of being accused of damaging the principle of free speech, then surely this in itself is an erosion of free speech?
I could go on and on. Louis CK was cancelled for sexual misconduct, then returned to stand-up comedy less than a year later with a successful international tour and a comeback show. Justin Trudeau was cancelled after blackface photos emerged, but he is literally still the Prime Minister of Canada. Jordan Peterson has been cancelled pretty much every time he opens his mouth, but still regularly speaks publicly. In fact he has just released a new book and is one of the most famous academics of our time.
Piers Morgan has regularly defended his right to say exactly what he wants. But he stormed off the set of Good Morning Britain when someone tried to respond. Yes, he lost his job after 41,000 Ofcom complaints, but don’t ITV’s customers have a right to express opinions about who they would like to see on TV, and doesn’t ITV have to listen to them if it hopes to provide a popular service? Morgan has merely been a victim of the free market forces he is presumably a proponent of. As for the idea that he will be silenced? Even overseeing illegal phone hacking wasn’t enough to do that.
Rest assured fans of Piers Morgan, Jordan Peterson, J. K. Rowling, Laurence Fox – for better or worse (and I’m inclined to think worse) – we’ll be hearing their voices loud and clear for a long time yet.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Jess Wilson
Point of Information
Ineffective? Perhaps. Insidious? Certainly – A Conservative Response
I must admit I’m rather perplexed.
It seems as though this article is arguing that, because ‘cancelling’ is ineffective, it is nothing to worry about. To me, it still is.
Granted, Jess is absolutely correct to highlight that the above celebrities have not, indeed, been completely ostracised. Many of the above continue to make millions each year to voice their opinions.
Where we disagree is with Jess’ definition of “criticism”. She argues that everyone should be able to criticise everyone else — a point with which I could not agree more — but, I do not think that “cancel culture” is criticism. Criticism is: “I think you’re wrong, here is why…”, whereas cancelling is: “I think you’re wrong, thus, you should disappear…”. There’s a marked difference.
Yes, ‘cancelling’ may not be hugely effective (yet) — although, we cannot measure the extent of self-censure within the general population — but that absolutely does not mean that it is not insidious in its intentions. Just because the vitriol doesn’t work, that does not make it excusable.
’Cancel culture’ also eliminates the possibility of change, reform, or the making of mistakes. It puts people into a binary: those that are doing the cancelling? Virtuous. Those that are being cancelled? Forever immoral. It is a strange casting of tweet-shaped stones by people who forget that they’re in glass houses, too.
Perhaps, Jess finds little problem with cancel culture because she agrees with those that are doing the cancelling. If the shoe was on the other political foot, however, I doubt she would be so laissez-faire.
Written by Chief Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis
What Cancellation Really Means – A Liberal Response
In many respects, I agree with Jess. For one, ‘cancel culture’ – in the way Jess defines it – is certainly not as pervasive as many on the right would have you believe. ‘Cancel culture’ is not some top-down ‘war on free speech’, orchestrated by university and government elites. Rather, it is an organic reaction to our fast-changing societal mindsets.
Indeed, bringing attention to the Police Bill, our Conservative government ministers are the actual top-down oppressors of free speech. As Jess notes, it is more accurate to see ‘cancellation’ as part of the ideological dialogue that occurs on the ‘marketplace of ideas’.
However, this is where my agreement ends. Unfortunately, whilst Jess’ article hints at something important, it underplays the deeper consequences of ‘cancellation’.
Let’s talk about J. K. Rowling, the most prominent figure in the cancel culture debate. Whilst Jess argues that her legacy is still intact, it is a legacy built entirely on her work prior to any controversy. Her fame and wealth are likely to live on long after any controversy, and likely even after her death.
In any case, her reputation has taken a strong hit after her odious comments and subsequent cancellation. Her latest book, ‘Troubled Blood’, tanked in sales compared to her ‘Casual Vacancy’ novel, released 10 years ago (for reference, 65,000 sales in the first 5 days compared to 375,000 in 6 days for the latter). Rowling’s ill-informed opinions and the book’s transphobic plot are likely reasons for this relative failure. However, concurring with Jess, this was not some top-down silencing though. People are voting with their wallets to keep Rowling’s influence to a minimum.
Onto actual voting, Trudeau’s legacy also took a hit after his inappropriate past-use of blackface. Whilst Jess brushes over his name, it is worth resting on the scandal a bit longer. True, he is still Prime Minister – but he very nearly was not. The 2019 election was a close call, with the Conservative opposition actually winning the popular vote. This was a far cry from the levels of popularity Trudeau enjoyed in 2017. Trudeau’s one saving grace was his somewhat sincere apology.
In fact, we need to revisit Jess’ initial definition. ‘Cancel culture’ is not just about physically removing people from their professions/engagements – this is only its most extreme apparition. Rather, cancellation is about a communal understanding of who is ‘persona non grata’ and who isn’t. I would go as far as to say that it is a modern way in which we manifest a community. A community that wants a very different world.
So, whilst cancel culture is not an authoritarian device wielded at will, it certainly does exist. More than that, it has repercussions. Repercussions that are meted out by a community looking for change.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Frank Allen