Cancel culture is both “good for democracy” and a “way for a new generation of people to practice free speech,” according to a recent Rolling Stone piece celebrating the ostracization of those “guilty” of holding controversial positions, while assuring the practice is “here to stay.”
The Monday essay penned by journalist Ernest Owens and titled “Why Cancel Culture Is Good For Democracy,” begins by disputing the notion that cancel culture is a “new phenomenon that’s caused havoc on free expression and speech,” claiming it only “feels new” today “because of the digital platforms we have at our disposal.”
COMMENTARY: “Those who fear cancel culture may claim they fear suppression of speech, but it’s accountability that they want to avoid.”https://t.co/WMt45PTu8m
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) February 20, 2023
“We’re supposed to now assume that we can’t say or do anything without an angry mob instantly judging us and preparing to end our careers before they start,” the author writes, charging that, in reality, “we are the people who make up the so-called mob, and we have control of our own actions.”
According to Owens, cancel culture — which involves the public repudiation of people, brands, historical figures, and cultural works by a woke mob that now considers them overtly offensive — has “leveled the playing field for those who can’t always rely on the government to protect them,” given that “bigots” are currently “protected under the First Amendment to fuel disgusting rhetoric without state-sanctioned consequence.”
“The America that tolerated white supremacy in their policies and laws is the same country that wants to remind us how such forms of hate are still legal via free speech,” he charges.
However, the author describes cancel culture as the “poison to those in power that have benefited from unchecked free speech.”
“When conservatives on Fox News declare that it’s a ‘free country’ and that cancel culture is ‘un-American,’ they forget speech works two ways: It allows for discourse to take place but grants all voices can be heard,” he claims.
While “straight white men and other people with power aren’t used to getting pushback for the ways they conduct themselves,” Owens applauds cancel culture for having “reset the ways society can react.”
“Those who fear cancel culture may claim they fear suppression of speech, but it’s accountability that they want to avoid,” he alleges.
Whereas, in the past, canceling others was fraught with “many barriers, both technologically and socially,” Owens writes, the rise of the internet in the 1990s led to a “shift in how the public could consider canceling with less gatekeeping.”
Owens accused those who “fear” cancel culture of merely attempting to avoid “accountability,” despite their claims of fearing “suppression of speech.”
Describing cancel culture as a “way for a new generation of people to practice free speech,” the author hailed today’s access to digital communication tools for helping create more “advanced” ways to cancel others.
“It’s not the fault of the general public that society’s more progressive than in previous decades,” he writes. “In fact, that should be the goal of a democracy.”
He also calls to embrace the term “cancel culture” and avoid any “rebranding” or renaming.
“Instead of changing the name of cancel culture, we should set the record straight about what it really is,” he writes, adding that “when we consider who’s the most alarmed by the language surrounding cancel culture — it’s always those who are experiencing the brunt of it.”
“To hell with their feelings — cancel culture is here to stay,” he asserts.
Owens seemed to relish cancel culture allowing for people to be “put on notice that whatever move they make can now be checked, not only by the courts, law enforcement, or government but by the people,” as he claimed the woke practice “has essentially won the cultural wars.”
According to the author, cancel culture has “given a voice to the voiceless” at a time when other aspects of our democracy have come under threat:
Today, the voting rights we once thought were protected are under attack. Republican leaders, bitter over the presidential cancellation of Donald Trump, now want to make it harder for marginalized communities to vote. Such bold acts of intimidation harken back to the Jim Crow era, when powerful white men threatened the freedoms of Black people.
“Now, these acts are called out more publicly on social media, influencing everyday people to call on companies and other leaders to take a stand more boldly,” he added.
Owens also described the “potential” for cancel culture as “democracy uncensored and unchained.”
“Cancel culture gives us the chance to engage in new and exciting ways — civically, culturally, and politically,” he writes.
In addition, the author argued that cancel culture “can be cumulative,” like any and all forms of protest:
The segregation laws around buses didn’t change the moment Rosa Parks sat down. It took 381 days of Black people refusing to take the Montgomery buses—and the Supreme Court to rule that their seating rules were discriminatory—for things to change. Rosa Parks made a single gesture and created a domino effect that resulted in change. The Stonewall riots inspired Pride parades around the world and in turn sends the message of celebration, rather than suppression, to LGBTQIA people everywhere.
Owens concluded by assuring readers that “although there are still many more hurdles to overcome and social barriers to cross, the demand for accountability, just like our ability to cancel, will never die.”
In response, many slammed the biweekly magazine known for reporting mainly on music and pop culture.
“How blatantly obnoxious that they just want to keep canceling people! Do they ever write about music anymore?” asked Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
“They should rename themselves ‘Scolding Stone’, as all they seem to do these days is holier-than-thou nagging,” he added.
“Rolling Stone have got it completely wrong,” said former TV news host-turned-political commentator Piers Morgan.
“It’s the opposite,” he added. “Cancel culture is terrible for democracy.”
The essay comes as cancel culture becomes increasingly pervasive.
Last year, a Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) survey found that the vast majority of Americans believe people can “experience significant stress, even to the point of self-harm” due to the effects of cancel culture.
Meanwhile, an anti-racism course provided by the Open University and given to academics at publicly-funded universities across Britain claimed cancel culture benefits “racial/social justice.”
Following a Cato Institute survey showing that most Americans are silencing themselves amid online hostility, then-White House aide Stephen Miller warned that cancel culture “is a very grave threat to American freedom.”
Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.