A writer’s experience with the culture of cancellation

When I was in senior year I had a weekly column in the local newspaper, the San Bruno Recorder-Progress. By not writing for the school newspaper, I hoped to cover more controversial topics.

Growing up in the tolerant and pluralistic San Francisco Bay Area, I wanted to write an article that would be pro-LGBTQ +.

But the column turned against him.

I don’t remember the exact words I wrote, but it was something like “the head cheerleader or quarterback of the high school football team might be gay” so refrain your just indignation.

But the chronicle was read differently: “Attention! They are everywhere !

Looking back, my choice of words was indelicate to say the least. But it was too late. The newspaper received a scathing letter from San Francisco’s leading LGBTQ + newspaper, urging me to seek therapy. The Recorder-Progress then fired me.

To use contemporary language, I had been canceled.

You would think I would have learned from my indiscretion in high school, but a year later I was editing the newsletter for a program I attended at UCLA. We had a suggestion box where other students could submit jokes. One of these attempts was a crude and misogynistic retort. My 18 year old self either thought the controversy was good! or was hopelessly distraught. I published it.

The backlash came quickly. Canceled again.

I AM NOT here to defend my youthful lack of tact – and I hope I never write such things today. But it gave me a sensitivity to the power of words, a power that in 2021 is turned against public figures by those who feel offended or triggered.

Write on a computer keyboard [Illustrative] (credit: ING IMAGE)

And while there is a lot of horrible language that deserves to be challenged and even quashed, it has created a climate of fear for writers like me. If I apply for something particularly provocative, could I be canceled again? So, I hold back (even though it seems like I’m usually overkill).

Others weren’t so lucky.

Old New York Times Journalist Bari Weiss regularly denounces the culture’s cancellation, featuring on her website and podcast professors like Peter Boghossian from Portland State University and Dorian Abbot from the University of Chicago, all of whom have two were canceled for alleged “false speech” on campus.

Abbot, for example, who advocated racially-independent university admissions policies, was barred from speaking about his actual area of ​​expertise, “as if his views on racial preferences irrevocably tainted his work in climatology. John McWhorter notes in The New York Times. .

This has led to “an epidemic of self-silence,” Weiss writes in the Deseret News. She quotes a law student who wrote that “self-censorship is the norm, not the exception. I censor myself even when talking to some of my best friends for fear the rumor will spread.

A study by the Cato Institute found that 62% of Americans say they censor themselves.

For the most part, we should take this as a good thing. Social networks are ugly enough. Imagine if people didn’t censor themselves at all!

But I fear that we are losing important voices that can no longer be heard, because they said or wrote or did inappropriate things in their past.

What do you do with someone who has unique gifts but whose language or actions are blatant? Earlier this year, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that it was canceling the publication of six of the famous author’s books “because of racist and callous images.”

Or how about the famous anti-Semite Roald Dahl? Are we negating Dahl’s work entirely? Putting trigger warnings on the covers of its books, like HBO did when it repackaged Gone with the Wind for the Awake Generation?

When it comes to sexual abuse, the discussion becomes even more confusing.

HBO’s documentary Allen vs. Farrow details Woody Allen’s allegations of sexual abuse of his adopted daughter, Dylan. The program doesn’t fire any punches: from the start, it proves without flinching that Allen is indeed guilty.

Allen then lost a book publisher, and Amazon ended a four-movie deal he had with the director.

Woody Allen may be a serial abuser and, as the documentary reveals, a serial idiot, but we lost a creative voice, someone I loved growing up. It’s not just his future job – many won’t even watch Allen’s past movies anymore. Can I?

Old Haaretz Columnist Ari Shavit aggressively hit journalist Danielle Berrin and other women, resulting in her resignation from the newspaper. Yet he also wrote My Promised Land, one of the most astute books on modern Israel. Earlier this year, Shavit released a new book, which was outright rejected by many, not on the merits of his arguments but because of his off-the-print behaviors.

Then there is “intersectionality” which has created an environment where unashamed Zionists – and all Jews by extension – are excluded from participating in progressive causes. The recent hubbub over Sunrise DC’s disinvitation of three Jewish advocacy groups to a rally focused not on Middle East politics but on climate change highlights the fact that, as Weiss laments, if you don’t want to be canceled, “you must disavow Jewish power and you must disown Israel.”

THE ANSWER to the annulment conundrum is balance. Certain behaviors and speeches are clearly beyond pallor. We should never tolerate racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia or sexual abuse.

Other actions and writings, however, demand more nuance – which is sorely lacking in today’s extreme political climate – and even the possibility for the offender to do teshuva (repentance), provided it is sincerely offered.

Can we do this in today’s increasingly polarized world? I am not sure. But what other choice do we have than to try?

The writer’s book, Totaled: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Take on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. brianblum.com

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