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  • Charles Watkins, Marble Falls

The Right Invented Cancel Culture

Lately, you hear a lot of right-wing politicians loudly decrying “cancel culture.” (In case you haven’t heard, it’s just “political incorrectness” with a catchier name.) Most recently, the outrage machine went into high gear over the cancelling of Doctor Seuss and Mr. Potato Head, so it’s time to take a closer look.



The right’s basic argument is:


Our way of life is under assault by the liberal conspiracy because the left just hates America and patriots like us. Next, they’re going to cancel you! Only the GOP can save you. Send money.


“Politically incorrect” was originally a badge of defiance, implying a contrarian stand on some issue of the day. Those accused thought they had some important insight the establishment was suppressing. For instance, before going to HBO, Bill Maher had a long running late-night show called Politically Incorrect, but he was taken off the air in 2002 for saying the 9/11 hijackers were not cowards.


That’s when political incorrectness became a third rail and media stars had to watch what they say.


Cancel culture did not become a thing it was used on message boards in 2018 to indicate someone had been banned for inappropriate conduct. It was later adopted by #MeToo to include prominent people like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein whose works were removed from distribution because of their sexual misconduct. This is probably where the Trumpies picked it up. But when the right got hold of the phrase, it was overstretched and now anytime a conservative gets called out for making some outrageous slur, they scream they’ve been cancelled.


The GOP’s cancel culture fixation may be a sign that the party is straying from its traditional values, instead fixating on non-substantive grievances.


Being called deplorables was insulting. Now being insulted isn’t enough. Now they’re being “cancelled.”


Today’s cancel culture has been taken up by the right-wing victim cult that loves being called “deplorables” because it’s proof they are put-upon by the woke liberal media conspiracy.


In reality, they are simply being called out for the offensive things they say and do. In so many cases, a cancel culture scandal just means someone was caught in some offensive behavior and is getting flack for it. They get back, so they cry, “We’re all being cancelled!” and label anyone who is offended by their offensive behavior as a “snowflake.”


(Funny, “snowflake” is meant to imply weakness, but the snowflakes seem to have enough power to foment unrest among the right.)

Trumpies were the first wingnuts to search newsfeeds for conservatives being cancelled. Each time, they emitted an outpouring of outrage and demands for freedom of speech – as if the First Amendment gives anyone the right to say anything without a response.


Republicans ought to understand how cancel culture works. They invented it.


Do you remember how the Dixie Chicks were blacklisted for being ashamed of George Bush? Under pressure, they now called themselves just The Chicks. Taylor Swift is now under similar attack along with dozens of other celebrities who politics the right doesn’t like. Until lately, cancellation was a strategy of the right, and they still use it whenever they can – even against each other. Now, though, CNN has adopted a strategic response, assembling a long list of those who Trump tried to cancel.


Cancel culture is just the latest catchphrase politicians float to see what sticks. Republicans prefer the term more than political incorrectness because it plays to their sense of victimhood and invokes the culture war that animates them. Politically incorrect? Most of their grievances are not political until they make them so, and they’d never admit to being incorrect, even ironically.


Even Ted Cruz has joined in. He had been trying to make the phrase “angry liberal mobs” float for a couple of years, but now he’s wants the publicity that Jim Jordan, Josh Hawley, Matt Gaetz and the other Trump wannabes are getting with this cancellation business.


It’s gotten to be straight-up hilarious.


As if there was nothing else important going on, right-wing media has been ablaze with the so-called cancellation of Dr. Seuss. They want you to think all Seuss books are being banned by Biden. In reality, the publisher itself decided to remove six titles from its catalog due to the racist images they contain. Period.


FOX News has been running the “Dr. Seuss cancelled” script nonstop for days, but you know what they never show? The images they are so valiantly defending! If these are so innocuous, why not put them on the air so we can see for ourselves? Instead, they hold up (or read from) familiar Dr. Suess books like Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, but those are not the ones the publisher discontinued. The right is counting on gullible followers jumping to the conclusion that all Seuss books have been cancelled.


And it worked. Trumpies immediately started buying Dr. Suess books as a protest, sending them to the top of the Amazon bestseller list and providing a windfall to the very publisher they are so mad at.


Just like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, the publisher is simply a company deciding to change the branding of a product for sound marketing reasons. It’s hard to see why a business should not be allowed to manage its brand and even harder to see why anyone would care so much. Are racist pictures such an important part of someone’s childhood that removing them causes existential angst? Can we not raise healthy children without showing them a couple of Dr. Seuss books with what have turned into, over time, racist images?


Just as whacky is the uproar over Mr. Potato Head. It seems Hasbro has decided to remove the word “Mr.” and market the product as simply Potato Head, providing parts to make either a Mr. or a Mrs. You might think the right is objecting to the potential blending of genders by someone adding a moustache to Mrs. Potato Head, but they seem to think it’s the liberal conspiracy out to promote gender neutrality. Glenn Beck has pronounced it the “end of freedom in America.”


As my favorite blogger The Rude Pundit put it in a recent post:


To be clear, if you really are such a fragile, quivering waif (emotionally speaking) that not referring to a plastic toy potato as “Mr.” is something that deeply offends your virgin sensibilities, you are by no means required to buy the product. In my thirty-five years of life, I have never once purchased a Potato Head toy, and no one has come to cancel me or anything. I haven’t heard anyone try to claim that you must purchase this particular plastic children’s toy in order to be a good and decent person.


The Trumpies forget that products evolve. In the beginning, Potato Head was a real potato, but for sanitary reasons he got a plastic head as well as a plastic body. And you may recall the original Mr. Potato Head was a smoker that came with a collection of pipes, but this changed in 1992 as part of the Surgeon General’s nonsmoking campaign. Potato fashions have similarly evolved to include sunshades and a propellor beanie, but none of that was seen as objectionable because this is not about the product but what it’s called. Any loss of a male gender marker is, apparently, emasculating.


It appears to me that the real game here is building publicity to spur the assault on their newest targets: Trans athletes. They know their base fears what it doesn’t understand, and their new scare is the transsexual agenda. Look for a continuation of that theme in the next round of outrage, which will be documented here.


Meanwhile, let’s just hope they don’t notice the Cat in the Hat is Black.

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