As our generation becomes more aware of progressive ideals and snubs against marginalized groups, a controversial buzzword is emerging: “cancel culture.” Some use it to demonize progressive social media mobs, counter criticism from hard-to-reach celebrities, and criticize corporate efforts for inclusivity. Others argue that the grassroots nature of cancel culture severely limits its power or firmly believe that it does not exist.
Be that as it may, we can’t deny the recent buzz phenomenon layered on social media around progressive corporate and celebrity missteps.
We can turn to the recent example of Dave Chappelle, a comedian known for his biting social critiques. Controversial topics and uncomfortable truths are inherent in his field of work, so many audiences are used to the deluge of allegations leveled against Chapelle and similar comedians. Nevertheless, Chappelle was castigated online by members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community about demeaning comments towards the transgender community in his Netflix special The closest, which debuted on October 5, 2021.
The peculiarities of a diatribe which pokes fun at transgender people’s appearance and identity, rejects the notion of gender fluidity and reinforces JK Rowling’s transphobia, with Chappelle unapologetically declaring himself part of “Team TERF”. It further treats Black and LGBTQ+ issues as mutually exclusive, advocating for the rights of the former at the expense of the latter, when the reality is that the two communities are intertwined and should strive to collectively move forward.
Offensive comedy has always been a nuanced and hotly contested issue, with many arguing that the purpose of the genre is freedom of expression, dismissing all criticism of the provider on the pretext of humor. Free speech in the United States is indeed sacrosanct, and it should remain so – up to a point. Comedy moves out of the realm of outlandish witticisms and salient sociopolitical commentary when it deliberately targets a specific, marginalized group with the intent of perpetuating intolerance.
Conservative objectors may view this conclusion as hypocritical, since individuals in privileged social positions are subject to intense scrutiny in the realm of modern comedy. However, these groups tend to be mocked by marginalized comedians below their high positions, making them less susceptible to systemic bias.
Additionally, alt-right comedians are often guilty of overstepping true comedy and veering into bigotry, weaponizing their platforms specifically to take hits women, BIPOC, liberals and leftists while flattering an audience for whom such vitriolic “jokes” are cathartic. Essentially, it is based on the desire to “own the libraries.” When comedy turns into insidious rhetoric against vulnerable populations, it crosses a threshold that opens the floodgates for pure bigotry and real harm.
Chappelle’s special faced a lot public outrage, prompting an employee walkout on October 20. The participants issued a ultimatum to Netflix, urging the media platform to strengthen trans and LGBTQ+ content and rights, which yielded no substantive results. In fact, several Netflix employees who condemned Chappelle’s comments were censored, suspended or expelled.
News recently broke that the comedian himself is expected to big title the Netflix Is a Joke Festival in the spring of 2022, which features over a hundred creators, not to mention his growing net worth of $50 million. Chappelle and the experts on the right decry the ostensible demonstration of “cancel culture” against him, but it remains to be seen how the without apologizing comedian was “cancelled”.
During a recent visit to his old high school, he refuted vehement criticism from students. He said, “I’m better than all the instrumentalists, artists, whatever art you’re doing in this school, right now I’m better than all of you. I’m sure that will change. I’m sure you will soon be household names.
With the widespread denunciation of cancel culture, it’s clear that this neologism is more of an alarmist buzzword to belittle a progressive generation than a real social threat. Many are claiming their own “cancellation” in order to absolve themselves of any responsibility, although they face no consequences apart from Twitter hate.
I’m not asking that Chappelle be stripped of his status and banned from acting. However, he clearly has the umbrella of big business, and they clearly don’t apply the same freedom of speech to Chappelle’s criticisms. This controversy accuses Netflix, and it represents a worrying trend among other monolithic companies such as Twitter and Facebook, which censor and fire employees and users they see as an affront to their interests.
Moreover, it is quite ironic that the right has flocked to Chappelle’s aid, considering that most of the members would disapprove of his Political Views. Personally, it seems they backed him because his situation fits their narrative that “woke” progressives crying for entitlement to dire and violent effect. From Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head at Christmasthey lament from the rooftops that liberals and leftists are tarnishing everything we hold dear.
Despite the insincerity of the cancel culture, some organizations and companies are in fact guilty of unfair censorship. In fact, censorship has always been imposed on leftist groups that threaten the status quo. Included between eviction democratically elected leftists in Latin America and establishment American-backed fascist dictators who expelled dissidents, Palmer Raids and Red Scare vilify socialists, communists and all their compatriots, extinction attempt and more… (deep breath) … time and time again we see that the real “cancel culture” is mostly taken vs the left, much to the chagrin of scammers who claim otherwise. Jumping to conclusions on social media without sufficient context is discouraged, but the supposed phenomenon of cancel culture is more inflated by those who seek to shirk responsibility.
Isabella DiLizia is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]