"Cancel Culture" is perhaps the most useless but still over-used phrases in the lexicon of our ongoing culture war. More often than not, it's used as a catch-all term that mutates the pejorative "snowflakes" into vicious killers, in the name of freeze peach. Despite the hundred of thousands of words on the topic that have littered op-eds across the country, no one's been able to offer a particularly clear definition of what it stands for. Is it every Twitter pile-on, or just the undeserved ones? Is it trans kids begging to be treated with respect, or is it Christian nationalists being oppressed for not treating trans kids with respect? Maybe "Cancel Culture" is simply the act of someone saying "Hey, I would rather my tuition/tax dollars not be used to pay exorbitant fees for people who gleefully espouse the kinds of views that make my life demonstrably more difficult."
In other words, cancel culture is kind of like porn — you know when you see it — except in this case, the thing getting fucked is our entire concept of civilization.
But maybe there's some hope.
Writer Parker Molloy recently teamed up with writer Freddie deBoer for a back-and-forth letter series — not a string of pithy tweets, but actual, full-length thought-out letters, old-school-style — to discuss the issue of what is, or is not, "cancel culture," and whether the gravest threat to free speech in America is in face a few over-eager college students at random universities, as plenty of pundits would like you to believe.
And it's … honestly a refreshing discussion.
Parker is someone who I consider a friend; she also writes one of my favorite newsletters, wherein she explores corporate and right-wing media criticism with a shocking sense of nuance and empathy. Parker has a unique knack for articulating "Yeah, this person said/did something stupid and bad, but here's why the reaction to that on X News Outlet was disproportionate and even more damaging to the fabric of society." And while Freddie deBoer is not someone I know personally, I have always enjoyed his perspectives, even when I don't agree with them (though frankly, I don't agree with those who consider him persona non gratis for violating certain leftist orthodoxies, either).
Over the course of six back-and-forth letters, Parker and Freddie engage in an actual, honest-to-cthulhu civil dialogue, that coveted cryptid that everyone American pundit cries out for but so few of them actually bother to engage with (#bothsides). While they may not achieve any mind-blowing consensus on defining just what the hell "cancel culture" or "freeze peach" really is, they do have some good faith debate about the scope and seriousness of certain issues that have been captured under that lexical umbrella. They don't always agree — especially when it comes to issues like how much weight do campus "cancel culture" issues truly hold — but the fact that they're both willing to engage each other in such a way to build a better future is (shockingly/pleasantly/depressingly) refreshing.
On Free Speech and Cancel Culture [Parker Molloy and Freddie deBoer / Substack]
Image: wiredforlego / Flickr (CC-BY-NC 2.0)