When I was an elementary student (I use ‘student’ loosely) some teachers tried to impress life lessons on me that they thought were important. Following are some of the criticisms directed at me in grades 1 – 4 and how I manage them now as an adult:
Childhood Problem Adult Solution
You must learn to tie your shoe laces I wear slip-ons
Your handwritten ‘n’ looks like an ‘m’ I print in capitals
You have to show your work I give answers
Breathe through your nose I breathe through the orifice of my choosing
You daydream too much I ignore intentionally
You socialize too much At least I have friends
Thanks a lot, teachers … life-changing guidance there. On the plus side, you taught me the silliness of “majoring in minors”.
Which brings me to the latest minor we are majoring in – cancel culture. From the Dixie Chicks to Fox News, cancel culture has been gaining notoriety as the lowest, easiest way to judge others.
Cancel culture even added a furrow to Rex Murphy’s¹ imposing brow when he wrote about it in the National Post. In an opinion piece, he incorporated two famous historic cancelers as allies – Cromwell and Lenin. He wrote, “The woke of our day are Cromwellian, or if you prefer Leninist, in their furious certitudes…” It would be exhausting to edit his ocean of words into a stream of meaning but let’s just say he doesn’t like cancel culture much.
Oliver Cromwell lived in 17th century Britain and served for a time as Lord Protector (pseudo-dictator). Cromwell was a Puritan so there were plenty of sinful activities to be canceled, like Christmas for instance. Yes, that Christmas: no carol singing, no festivities of any kind were allowed, and for good measure he had that raucous Easter season cancelled too. Among his other cancellations: drinking, dancing, theatre, and Catholicism. That’s right, he cancelled fun and Catholics.
Lenin, on the other hand was a
popular member of the Fab Four lawyer at the beginning of the 20th century whose Marxist ideas sparked the Russian Revolution and led to the formation of the Communist Party. He served as the head (pseudo-dictator) of a new one-party government that violently canceled opposition through what became known as the Red Terror. Lenin was a seriously Cromwellian canceler.
Of course Rex Murphy wasn’t praising a conservative Puritan or a liberal Communist, he was conjuring the lessons of their cancellation cultures and the real danger of the few imposing their views on the many. Rex might be partially correct. Cancel culture is Cromwellian and Leninist in that it is well intentioned but dangerously tyrannical.
But it is a far stretch to link Cromwell and Lenin to the silly subject of Mr & Mrs Potato Head or Peppy LePew. It’s not earth-shattering if either get canceled and equally not earth-shattering if they don’t.
I don’t have a Potato Head myself (insert cruel joke here). I can’t imagine how it would be fun to stick a fake moustache and glasses into a brown piece of plastic. But that’s just me.
It seems that a lot of passionate opinions are being expressed about the genders of these round-bottomed vegetables. Mind you I’m not as informed as others on social media are – I’m embarrassed to say I don’t think much about the sex of potatoes.
Anyway, Hasbro Toy Company has decided to neutralize the Head’s genders and tell the whole world about it. Many are applauding the corporate sensitivity while others are offended by the move (especially Mr. & Mrs. Head). Naturally this will require changing all their sex organs – noses, ears, lips, feet, and replacing them with gender neutral noses, ears, lips, and feet.
Then there’s Dr. Suess. I’m a big fan of course – I love the creativity and imagery. I can still remember laughing giddily as a kid while reading about that crazy time when the Cat in the Hat had the nerve to come back.
Anyway, Dr. Suess Enterprises announced that six of the good doctor’s books will no longer be published because they contain racist images. I’ve never seen any of the books that were discontinued but have checked out some of the images in question and I can understand how they are historical to some but offensive to others.
Now I see that Pepe LePew is in the centre of the cancel culture debate. It may be overkill to cancel him but it is also overkill to be angry about it. So much hoo-haw over a cartoon character; both sides of cancel culture live on steroids.
The problem is that we all operate under the same misperception: when you cancel culture it’s censorship; when we cancel culture it’s a boycott.
Both liberals and conservatives use the same weapons: influence and free market capitalism. Often though, the offended party ends up with new allies and opportunities, their profile gets raised, and their product finds different markets. (At last check, Hasbro’s shares have risen and Dr Suess books are flying off the shelves.)
The truth is that there has rarely, if ever, been a case of cancel culture working. They took a strong shot at canceling alcohol during Prohibition but that just made more problems. They cancelled Ellen and she came back stronger than ever.
Which leads to another issue: christians are particularly snarky and hypocritical when it comes to canceling. How is it that evangelicals can stay busy banning science textbooks while casually walking past Confederate monuments? I mean, christian groups have cancel-cultured the Disney Company, the Hallmark Channel, Amy Grant, and Burt and Ernie for crying out loud.
Fundamentalists tried to cancel premarital sex with their purity campaign in the 80s. Well intentioned? Maybe. But we are now learning that it was rarely applied fairly between boys and girls, and resulted in higher rates of abuse, shame, anorexia, self-harm, and even an increased exodus from churches.²
For people who talk regularly about the sovereignty of God, christians sure spend a lot of of energy trying to control things. Hey christians, we are much better when we are possessed by a different ethic; when we express better things.³
maybe it’s just me
Whatever side you’re on, nothing important can be changed through cancellation. We simply can’t legislate or manipulate morality because in the end the best we can hope for is a zero sum result.
All you cancel culture fanatics on both sides, remember this: It is bullies who are insecure.
Maybe it’s just me, but I can survive quite nicely with or without Mr. Potato Head or Pepe LePew. What really scares me are the Cromwellian/Leninist types who think our society rises or falls with such things.
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¹ Rex Murphy is a conservative Canadian opinionator who uses language to elucidate and languish in parsimonious presuppositions.
² For a brief introduction see https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/mutuality-blog-magazine/5-purity-culture-myths-and-why-they-are-false-promises
³ Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. – Phi 4:8, CSB