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Posted: November 23, 2019

Cancel culture is leading us down a dangerous road

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

Was it Captain Kirk who first said something about going boldly where no man had gone before? Forgive me if I got it wrong. I’m not a Trekkie. But I’m about to boldly attempt something I’ve never attempted before – explain what is meant by “cancel culture.”

Unless you live under a rock, you see this term everywhere now. Celebrities like Taylor Swift or the Kardashians being “cancelled,” though not successfully. The same for politicians like Maxime Bernier, who really did get “cancelled” in the last federal election. (Don’t we wish the same fate for Donald Trump?) And did we ever see it in the still ongoing furore over the ousting of Don Cherry from his bully pulpit known as “Coach’s Corner.”

But what the hell is cancel culture?

Well, the answer isn’t found in my good ol’ Oxford Dictionary, but something called the “Open Dictionary” carries this definition: “a form of boycott in which someone (usually a celebrity) who has shared a questionable or unpopular opinions, or has had behaviour that is perceived to be offensive is called out on social media . . .” Don Cherry certainly fits that definition and many others too.

This can hit pretty close to home especially if you’re a millennial or a follower of social media. And isn’t that everybody to some degree these days? But it most often happens to celebrities we all know and the number of celebs being erased nowadays is accelerating like a rocket in the sky.

For instance, there’s Prince Andrew, who voluntarily took himself out of public life this week – though some insist he got a push from the Queen – after he lamely tried to explain in a televised interview his dalliance with a 17-year-old girl who was a “friend” of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein who recently committed suicide in a Manhattan jail awaiting new charges. An example of cancel culture taken to the absolute extreme.

But critics say cancel culture is becoming a toxic phenomenon. Perhaps in a tweet to a friend you told an off-colour joke or made a remark that in the vaguest of ways could be interpreted in the Twittersphere as racist, sexist, homophobic or whatever. Bang! Before you know it, you’re being publicly shamed, derided and abused and regarded as untouchable or invisible if you ever dare to show your miserable face in public. This has happened to such celebrities as Kevin Spacey, Roseanne Bar and Woody Allen.

It’s also happened closer to home. Remember CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi the former host of CBC’s “Q,” the most popular interview show in the network’s history. In 2014 and 2015 several allegations of sexual harassment were made against Ghomeshi and he was charged and acquitted after a sensational trial. What did CBC do after Ghomeshi’s acquittal? They fired him, effectively destroying his broadcasting career.

Then there’s University of Toronto psychology Professor Jordan Peterson, author of the best seller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos and considered one of the world’s leading intellectuals. But Peterson’s social conservative political views and refusal to heed demands of the LGBTQ community to use pronouns they dictate have made him persona non grata at many universities around the world resulting in campus boycotts and demonstrations. Call it a victory for cancel culture, but hardly a victory for an enlightened, tolerant civilization.

So where is this all taking us? Certainly not on the road to free speech, tolerance and enlightenment. But on the other hand, there certainly are such things as hate speech, racism, homophobia and many other vile forms of human behaviour that degrade our civilization. What do we do now that society’s arbiter today is social media in the form of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like?

At one time it was religion, the rule of law and education that shaped our society. Now it’s the Twitter mob and you know who’s the most powerful user of that.

It’s hard to avoid thinking our future looks bleak.

– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist and an occasional user of social media.


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