What is meant by “cancel,” exactly?
The newspaper columnist and social critic H.L. Mencken was one of the most famous people in America in the 1920s; over the course of the 1930s he lost his popularity and gradually, his influence. Eventually, most of his books went out of print. You can find them if you really want to—and you can find some of them in my own library—but no non-scholar under the age of 95 is looking.
Mencken lost his influence and relevance not because he changed, but because the world changed, and he didn’t react well, seeming for all the world to hate President Roosevelt far more than he hated Chancellor Hitler.
You might even say that Henry got canceled. But did he?
Sensibilities change, and people who don’t notice or adjust, get hurt.
A smart-assed, irreverent Chicago sportscaster named Mark Giangreco is being shown the door at local ABC 7 news because he called a Black anchor a “ditz.” Or said she was acting like one. Or that she could play one on TV. I hope Giangreco is shrugging at age 69, having made a great living teasing women anchors and overweight weathermen for more than 30 years. That’s an awfully long time.
And six of Dr. Seuss’s 60 books are deemed uncool by the people who print them, and so they have decided not to print any more. I don’t know how Theodor Seuss Geisel feels about that, wherever he is, but if he’s been keeping up with things like he did when he was alive, there’s a good chance he mostly gets it.
A friend of mine has for years been doing brutal Facebook criticism of women’s dresses on the red carpet at awards shows. I’ve never appreciated the spirit of it, always looked down on the meanness of it, but was occasionally amused by the clever cattiness of it.
In the half-decade since Donald talked about pussy grabbing, since #metoo and since I saw firsthand how even the sturdiest young women internalize the body madness, I lost any sense of humor I had, about shaming women—yes, even spoiled Gwyneth Paltrow types. It makes me as mad that this woman is still doing this as it would make me if one of my guy friends was doing it. More, maybe. Mad enough to write this, anyway, and to hope that she sees it.
So: My sensibility changed.
Does that mean I became a crypto-Nazi liberal fascist?
We all live in society, my friends. And we’re all social creatures. We reward some people, and we do not reward others. I hope my friend the fashion-shamer gets the message, either from a lack of “likes” on her Facebook page, or from this post. Or maybe I’m the one who’s out of step on this, and my friend and the fans of her fashion critiques will sock me in the goddamn face, and I’ll stay plastered.
We shouldn’t “cancel” anyone, for any reason—meaning, if they are our friends, we should always answer their calls. And I don’t personally have the heart to do anything that risks anyone’s livelihood, unless their livelihood perpetuates or enables their continued cruelty. For the same reason, I don’t believe in the death penalty.
But I’m not sure we need to cancel people, once their transgressions have been made public. For instance, I’m just not that interested in seeing Louis C.K. Why? Much of the reason I thought he was funny was that he was basically a regular guy, confessing to things that regular guys do. Like buying Cinnabon at the destination airport. But not like jerking off in front of hopeful women comics.
So I love me a little Mencken, but I don’t quote him a lot these days, I thought Mark Giangreco was amusing back in the day, but won’t miss him too bad. I love Dr. Seuss and that hasn’t changed any. My pal will remain my pal because we’ve been pals for 15 years and I doubt she’ll shitcan me for this; I’m sure she’s heard it before, and has a defense for it. And I got lots of joy out of Louis C.K., including once seeing him in person; plenty, I’d say.
And who cares what I think, aside from: We shouldn’t be shocked when times change, because change is what times do.
And people who rely on wide popularity for their living are obliged to change with them.