Friday, March 19, 2021

Cancel Culture

"Cancel culture" is just a modern buzzword for "boycott". People boycott products, companies, and artists they don't like for all sorts of reasons, and they have been doing so for centuries. In this country, boycotting is a fundamental part of our First Amendment rights. Does anyone reading this actually believe that Civil Rights activists in the 1950's had no right to boycott or "cancel" the Montgomery Bus Company?

I remember Catholics attempting to boycott or cancel "The Last Temptation of Christ" back in the 80's, and I remember Evangelicals and Catholics joining forces to attempt to cancel the movie "Dogma" in the 90's. I certainly remember efforts to boycott or cancel "Harry Potter", Howard Stern, yoga, Colin Kaepernick, Ellen Degeneres for kissing a woman on television, rap music, heavy metal, and more. Going back a few generations, religious groups tried to boycott or cancel jazz music, Elvis, Ray Charles, and more.  The main reason these religious groups were unsuccessful is because their numbers were, frankly, too small, and their attempts to cancel these films and artists ironically gave the films and artists extra publicity, which led to an extra boost at the box office. Therefore, the producers had a financial incentive to not only ignore the boycotters, but to increase their controversial output.

I don't believe it's a coincidence that Marilyn Manson, Eminem, gangster rap, and shock comedy movies and television shows all gained in popularity in the late 90's through the early aughts. The attempted boycotting of these artistic endeavors in the 80's and 90's actually helped to vault the entertainment industry into record profits. Furthermore, the people boycotting were unlikely to have ever been consumers of said products anyway. Evangelical church group members were probably never going to buy a Marilyn Manson CD anyway, so why should his producers care what that group thought of him? They lost zero revenue from the boycott, and the extra attention only brought in more money.
The issue we are running into today is that the actual consumers of these entertainment "products" (music, movies, television shows, etc) are the ones actually doing the boycotting and, to use the current buzz word, "canceling". This current trend of boycotting is having a very real economic impact on these companies' bottom dollars, and that is the ONLY reason contracts are being nulled and different actors/artists/personalities are being fired. The Catholics and Evangelicals couldn't do a thing to Marilyn Manson's record sales because they weren't the ones buying his albums in the first place. Young girls with a goth fetish are his core audience, and THEY are the main people boycotting him now because of the recent sexual assault allegations! So yes, "cancel culture" is an effective form of boycott (which is what makes it so scary for these artists), but it only seems to be effective when the artists' core audience are the ones doing the boycotting. Otherwise, said boycotting or canceling is likely to have no negative impact.

Here's another example: Recently, several Twitter users attempted to "cancel" Eminem. Millions of his fans responded by buying multiple copies of his albums and vaulting him once again to the top of the charts. The "cancelers" had no luck with him because the ones trying to cancel him were not his core audience anyway. Morgan Wallen is another example. He said the "N-word" in public, and got dumped by his record label, and yet his existing albums immediately shot to the top of the charts and have remained there ever since. It is almost guaranteed that his record label will re-sign him in a few weeks after the hubbub dies down.

You literally cannot cancel someone who is making too much money for the industry. That's how capitalism works. However, it is entirely possible to cancel someone when their core audience refuses to pay for their products. It is only at that point that the industry begins to take notice.

The Montgomery Bus Company had every legal right to segregate their buses in 1956 since segregation was not only lawful, but also encouraged at the time. However, after nearly a year and a half of losing revenue from their PRIMARY CONSUMERS, the bus company realized they had no choice but to give in or go bankrupt. Let's say a group of car owners had decided to boycott the Montgomery Bus Company in 1956. How effective would that boycott actually be? They weren't going to take the bus anyway. That boycott was only effective because African Americans usually took the bus more often than anyone else in town - because segregation also affected them in the workplace, and therefore, many African Americans in 1956 could not afford cars.

As an artist, do I worry about being canceled? Sure, it could happen. I write a lot of satire that could easily be misunderstood. When I was younger, I used to dream about the Evangelicals trying to shut down one of my plays. The idea of it was actually exciting to me, because I thought, "Oh, think of the controversy! Think of the news headlines!" etc. But today, I'd just be grateful if ANYONE showed up to one of my plays - with or without a picket sign.

But, while I certainly would hate to be canceled by folks that I respect or consider to be my peers, I also fear the alternative even more - a world in which we cannot criticize, boycott or challenge artists, companies, politicians and people that we disagree with. If person A says something terrible on the internet, I have the right to criticize that person. If I say something terrible on the internet, that person has the right to criticize me. That's how freedom of speech works. "Cancel culture" is only seen as dangerous today because it involves money, and specifically the loss of it. But, we live in a capitalist society, so why shouldn't we use money as a weapon? In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court essentially ruled that "Money is speech", so I guess some people feel that if they are losing money, then that also means they are losing their freedom of speech?

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