Boycotts and blacklists are tools conservatives perfected — they just don't like it when the tables are turned.
I don't want to alarm anyone, but...THE LEFT IS CANCELING MR. POTATO HEAD THEY'RE CANCELING DR. SEUSS, AND NEXT THEY'RE GOING TO CANCEL YOU!
It turns out that the political Left in the US is actually made up of various literary estates and multi-national toy corporations that are intent on destroying your cultural values by erasing the biological sex of a plastic potato and ending the publication of racist caricatures in some obscure books you were never going to read. But these are just the latest instances of what the Right-wing outrage machine has identified as a violent attack on free speech.
What happened to the era when a governor could get away with years of sexual harassment and assault? Do they hate him because he's not "progressive" enough?
These days it seems like a person can be canceled just for spreading dangerous misinformation and comparing herself to a Jew in Nazi Germany. These days it seems like anyone who disagrees with the liberal, Leftist, Hollywood elite position that trans people deserve rights and respect — and aren't a fundamental threat to womanhood itself — gets relegated to the dustbin of history.
Or, rather, they get to keep their immense wealth and cultural influence, and they win a Russell award for their "bravery" but a lot of people are mean to them on the internet. Which is basically the same thing.
Conservatives are so concerned about this trend that the theme of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was "America Uncanceled." But it may shock you to learn that "cancellation" was not always the refuge of the Left alone. In fact, once upon a time Right-wing Americans were all about cancellation for such heinous crimes as "opposing a war" and "being gay."
Here are nine times that conservatives proved they love "cancel culture."
1. Ellen DeGeneres, 1997
In recent years it's become the "hip" thing to do to hate on Ellen DeGeneres, just because she was spotted being friendly with former president George W. Bush...who opposed her right to marry, launched an incredibly bloody war on false pretenses, and approved the CIA to engage in torture. She's reportedly cruel to employees and service workers, but that's not the point. The point is that conservatives were canceling Ellen before it was cool.
Back in 1997 Ellen was not yet the queen of daytime TV, but a rising sitcom star with her ABC show Ellen. Then the long-teased "Puppy Episode" aired in which her character came out as a gay woman; and a week before, DeGeneres herself came out in a Time magazine cover story with the headline, "Yep, I'm gay."
Christian conservative groups wrote angry letters to the network and advertisers, urging them to drop the show. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell called it a "blatant attempt to promote homosexuality," and Robertson labeled the star "Ellen Degenerate." Ellen's career took a sudden downturn and took years to recover.
Even Laura Dern — who just had a cameo in the episode — reported that she was unable to get work for more than a year afterward and had to hire a full security detail because of all the hate the episode was getting. Sounds like a much more successful canceling than anything that's happened to Ellen recently...
2. Jocelyn Elders, 1994
Speaking of '90s sex scandals that sound so quaint today, in 1994 Dr. Jocelyn Elders was the first Black Surgeon General — and the second woman to serve in that role. She had already courted controversy by promoting wacky ideas like giving out free condoms, valuing children more than fetuses, and the potential benefits of drug legalization, but then she went too far.
When asked — at a UN conference on the AIDS crisis — if children should be taught that "self-care" is a safer alternative to sex, Dr. Elders responded, "I think that is something that is a part of human sexuality, and it's a part of something that perhaps should be taught."
And the conservative outrage machine went crazy. To appease it, Bill Clinton fired her almost immediately.
3. The Dixie Chicks, 2003
Before they shortened it to The Chicks, Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire, and Emily Strayer were the early 2000s country icons out of Texas known as The Dixie Chicks. Then on March 10th, 2003, in the lead up to the disastrous Iraq War, singer Natalie Maines said something so deeply offensive that country fans, music stations, and fellow artists around the country disavowed them and even destroyed their cassettes and CDs, reportedly by the millions.
The horrifying comments took place when they were performing in England for their world tour. Addressing an audience of thousands, Maines said, "Just so you know, we're on the good side with y'all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas." Huh...
In an interview with Tom Brokaw, President Bush responded, saying, "They shouldn't have their feelings hurt just because some people don't want to buy their records when they speak out." Which translates roughly to, "Nom nom nom, that's some tasty cancel culture! Keep up the cancellation, everybody!"
4. The Nation of France, 2003
Speaking of how much we all love the Iraq War, around the same time The Dixie Chicks were being canceled in 2003, France was refusing to support America's "preemptive strike." Despite the fact that invading Iraq and ousting Saddam Hussein was guaranteed to finally and permanently secure everlasting peace in the Middle East — with no negative consequences — they didn't want to back us.
So we canceled the entire country from even being mentioned, replacing the word "French" with "Freedom" in the House of Representatives cafeteria. And that's why we call them "freedom fries" to this day...
5. Janet Jackson, 2004
Remember in 2004, when a "wardrobe malfunction," at the Super Bowl halftime show led to people kind of seeing Janet Jackson's chest for a few seconds? Did people even know that women had nipples before that?
They were supposed to remain forever hidden — a terrifying secret too grotesque for the human mind to comprehend. But then Justin Timberlake tore off a part of Janet Jackson's top in a choreographed stunt. So it was obviously necessary for both...or just Janet Jackson to be punished.
"Nipplegate" prompted over 500,000 complaints to the FCC, with conservative watchdog group Parents Television Council claiming responsibility for more than 65,000. Jackson was promptly blacklisted from the entertainment industry — her scheduled performance at the Grammys was dropped, she was forced to resign from her starring role in a planned biopic about singer and civil rights activist Lena Horne. Jackson's career never fully recovered.
6. Colin Kaepernick, 2017
Speaking of Super Bowls, you know who used to play really well in them? Colin Kaepernick.
He used to be such a good quarterback that it's kind of weird that no NFL team has been willing to sign him since 2017. It's almost like he's been blacklisted, or "canceled." Huh...
Maybe it has to do with that thing he did where he supported Black Lives Matter and protested police violence against Black people by kneeling during the national anthem and instantly became the most hated man in conservative media, because...kneeling is disrespectful? To the troops?
7. The NFL, Nike, Keurig, 2017
Of course it wasn't enough just to cancel Kaepernick himself. Other players were soon kneeling too.
And while the NFL pushed back, it wasn't enough for conservatives. The NFL was canceled too! Time to ditch your jersey.
Then Nike signed Kaepernick to make a commercial about standing up for what you believe in. So it was time to cancel Nike!
Soon conservatives were sharing images and videos of themselves burning their brand new Nike gear. And if they didn't have any to destroy, they went and bought some. Sure it means giving Nike more money, but what's really going to hurt them is seeing you disrespect the merchandise that underpaid sweatshop labor worked so hard on.
This same weird reaction took place again when advertisers like Keurig caved to social pressure and started pulling their commercials from Sean Hannity's Fox News Outrage Hour. Videos of conservatives smashing their own expensive appliances started showing up on YouTube and social media.
If these futile gestures had done anything to hurt Nike or Keurig — who are responsible for an ungodly amount of plastic waste — that might have actually been a good thing. But it's the thought that counts, and that thought was, "Let's do some cancel culture."
8. BDS, 2017
The Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement, known as BDS, is an international effort to apply political and economic pressure to the nation of Israel to push for the recognition of the rights of Palestinian people currently living in Israel and the occupied territories. Adopting the tactics that helped to end apartheid in South Africa, BDS hopes to end the oppression of the Palestinian people.
While no mass political movement is without some toxic elements, efforts to paint the entire BDS movement as anti-Semitic are plainly in bad faith. Sadly, that bad faith is somewhat bipartisan, and when an anti-BDS bill was introduced to congress, more than a dozen Democrats cosponsored — along with more than 40 Republicans.
But because Israel's existence as a Jewish ethnostate holds a special value for many Christian conservatives — who believe it will play a major role in the coming apocalypse — and because the Israeli government has aligned itself with the Republican party, this is an issue where conservative cancel culture really shines.
Many states have passed anti-BDS laws requiring any employee or contractor working for the the state to sign a pledge agreeing to never boycott Israel, and some have passed laws punishing businesses who would not be willing to do business in Israel, or even in the controversial Israeli settlements that have been expanding into Palestinian land in the West Bank. So...criticism of Israel is canceled, brought to you by the party of free speech.
9. Young Pharaoh, 2021
This is where things start to get really ridiculous. Remember that "America Uncanceled" theme for CPAC?
Well conservatives know that they can't have that kind of message delivered entirely by old white men. It would seem like they just wanted permission to be bigots. So they made sure to invite some token members of marginalized groups to agree with them.
One of those people was Hip-Hop artist and free speech advocate Young Pharaoh, who is very critical of the democratic party and buys into a lot of the conspiratorial ideas that are catching on in the Right. Unfortunately the CPAC organizers didn't do quite enough research, or they would have found out that those ideas can sometimes go along with some really virulent actual anti-Semitism.
Young Pharaoh has been quoted as saying that Judaism is a "complete lie," and that Jewish people are "thieving fake Jews." So it absolutely makes sense that CPAC canceled Young Pharaoh's engagement at the anti-canceling event... It's just funny.
In the end, it's almost as though we all "cancel" people whose views are offensive to our values. By shunning voices and ideas we find repellent, we make more room for the stuff we like.
It's a tool for affirming and perpetuating values we agree with — whether of inclusion or of bigotry. It's just that conservatives are the ones who perfected that tool, and they don't appreciate it being turned against them.
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