On the culture of the censored

Years ago a good friend of mine went to India, as part of a larger trip to explore as much of the world as he could. When the plane landed the attendants handed out these pamphlets that had a list of things not to do written on them. Apparently ignorant westerners can be enticed into doing unsafe things, mainly because the health and safety practices are so different than what they’re used to. On this list were things like don’t drink water from the Ganges and don’t get street ear waxing and various other supposedly dangerous things that westerners are attracted to while visiting India. This friend of mine was a very rebellious person, and chose to use this list as a travel guide rather than as a list of things to avoid. So he went around India slowly checking off all the things on the list that he had done, and yet was aware that he should not do.

When he came home, he wasn’t the same person. He ended up homeless and destitute, spent some time in jail here and there, ate out of dumpsters. Still a good guy, still brilliant, but off kilter and somewhat crazy. The thing is, as stupid as that was of him to do, I completely understand that impulse, I suffer from it to some degree and I’d wager many of you suffer from it too. It’s not exactly an uncommon motivator. If my mom brought home cookies and put some in the cookie jar saying “these are the ones for you guys!” and then put a second, different, box on the top shelf and said “these one’s you can’t touch” — well, you can bet your ass the only cookies I want now are the ones on the top shelf.

When Shane Gillis was booted from SNL recently for using slurs about Asians and calling Andrew Yang some… let’s say unsavory names; well, the first thing I did was to start following him on Twitter, then I went to YouTube and checked out some of his stand up. I saw some of his sketch comedy stuff and next thing I knew I was a member of his audience. I won’t say ‘fan’, but I was certainly watching his material and enjoying some of it. When I saw that Dave Chappelle had pissed off several reviewers for not being sensitive enough; for making fun of ‘marginalized communities’, I went home that night and watched his new special immediately.

I hated Donald Trump since I was a kid. I’d see him on Letterman and he was a jack ass in my opinion, and later on when he had his horrible reality TV show I could never understand the appeal, and when he first started running for President he seemed like a buffoon. Then he won and everyone kept telling me he was Hitler, that he was a fascist, a white supremacist, a danger to the globe the likes of which America had never seen. Well, I almost immediately softened towards him. I couldn’t do a full 180° but I was certainly not as angry at him as I would have been before the pink pussy hats and silly marches. Which truth be told, seemed too dramatic, too over the top, they over sold their case.

It seems to me that this ‘cancel culture’ (for lack of a better term) creates its own new culture. While one group yells about what we should and should not do there will be an element of the population that runs the other way. We will never all agree, you have to expect this to some degree. People will often over shoot their target in an attempt to get their point across; they’ll dramatically over sell their position for the sake of getting through to you. Yet I don’t find it to be a useful tactic for winning people over. If the person you’re over selling your case to discovers a lie or two, or even a dramatization of a point in your explanation, they might have a tendency to dismiss everything you say after that. To assume that you’re full of BS all the time. It’s counter productive. I’ve seen all sorts of people make this mistake. The climate change discussion is frequently over sold, the Imperialism of the USA is over sold, the extent of racism in Western nations is over sold… and it’s not like it’s just the left either. I saw the right use similar tactics for years, like with the effects of heavy metal and rap music, or the dangers of video games. This isn’t a right vs. left issue. It’s an issue with human beings in general.

When we discard nuance and truth in favour of a win at any cost—strategy that encourages us to stretch the truth, we risk pushing everything in the opposite direction of what we intended. If cancel culture is real, you can bet your ass that a culture of the cancelled is being created. That’s where I’ll be, watching the new Louis CK special when it finally drops.


Jacob Russell is a musician and writer residing in Vancouver, Canada.

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