The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines cancel culture as the act of canceling as the removal of support for public figures in response to their objectionable behavior or opinions. I define cancel culture as an overreaction (in most instances) to society phasing out a behavior that was once acceptable.
The Outrage Over Dr. Seuss
Lately in American society, certain groups of individuals have been crying foul over the supposed cancelling of popular pop-culture figures, for no valid reason.
The most recent outcry, mostly by conservatives, has been over Dr. Seuss. Listen to any prominent right-wing media outlet, and you’d think that a whole bunch of “woke leftists” pressured Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company behind the beloved Dr. Seuss books that we all loved as a kid, into pulling several books from the shelves. The leading Conservative narrative is that Democrats want to cancel the Cat in the Hat because why not. The top Republican in the House of Representatives, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), went so far as to record a video of himself reading Green Eggs and Ham to show his support for Dr. Seuss.
However, that narrative simply isn’t reality.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises pulled just six books, not because leftists pressured them into it, but because they wanted to. Also, these weren’t any best sellers. Have you ever heard of “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” or “If I Ran the Zoo”. The books pulled included several racist images such as an Asian character labeled “Chinaman” with yellow skin, a pointed hat, and chopsticks. Other images in the books include two African characters with monkey-like facial features wearing grass skirts. Dr. Seuss Enterprises took these books off the shelves on their own volition. It would cost more to keep these books on shelves than discontinuing them.
Defending Old Disney
Rather than spreading their influence to spread on why these books got pulled, prominent Republicans used their megaphones to spread the misconceptions. They’ve done the same thing with old Disney movies.
Five months ago Disney+ added content warnings for several popular films. Instead of expressing outrage about it five months ago, conservatives picked up the conversation now, when cancel culture is most prevalent.
The movies include popular classics such as Aristocats, Peter Pan, Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp, as well as a few others. Aristocats was my favorite movie when I was five. A few months ago I watched it for nostalgia’s sake, immediately picking up on racist messages I missed as a kid.
I think any adult with a grasp on what’s acceptable in society can pick out what’s wrong in Aristocats. When the main characters get serenaded by the band of street cats, there’s one cat in particular that stands out. The Siamese cat has buck teeth, plays the piano with chopsticks, pronounces its L’s as R’s, and sings “Shanghai, Hong Kong, egg foo young. Fortune cookie always wrong.”
Rewatching now that I’m older and can comprehend racism and harmful stereotypes, there’s no way I’d ever want young children watching and thinking this is okay. The racism is even worse in “Peter Pan”. In a three minute scene involving characters depicting Native Americans, the racism is rampant. The Native Americans skin color is literally red, most all of them wear some form of large feather headdress, and several times throughout the scene both the Native American characters and Peter Pan made over exaggerated war cries.
The fact that conservative news outlets would rather lie and say that Disney+ dropped these loved films because of cancel culture, instead of telling the truth about the inclusion of content warnings is shocking. It’s almost as though these Republicans and news sources would rather leave these racist scenes untouched and unbothered, before acknowledging the prejudice. Why? Because it’s a distraction.
Republicans can get away with things like unanimously opposing Coronavirus relief and passing laws aimed at disenfranchising voters when there’s no one to hold them accountable. It’s easy to fly under the radar when your supporters are busy feeling upset about some culture war. It’s all a smokescreen to distract from real issues happening.
What Qualifies as “Cancelling”?
While calling out prominent figures in our society for bigotry is important, it’s also important to take note of when cancel culture is being used as a distraction. When J.K. Rowling wrote a number of transphobic tweets and blog posts, she was swiftly disowned by multiple “Harry Potter” fans because transphobia is unacceptable. When Gina Carano, an actress on Star Wars hit show “The Mandalorian”, equated being a Republican to being a Jew in the Holocaust, she got fired, not because of cancel culture, but because devaluing Holocaust victims is immoral.
In a recent press conference, embattled New York Governor Andrew Cuomo blamed the calls from Democratic Representatives for him to step down on cancel culture. Multiple women brought up allegations of sexual misconduct against Cuomo, and he recently came under fire for covering up COVID death in nursing homes. There’s a stark contrast between those getting called out and corrected because of insensitivity versus those who use cancel culture as a defense against unethical behavior.
Cancel culture is not the threat that it seems. No one gets condemned over nothing, and when someone does get canceled, most of the time it gets blown way out of proportion. It’s important for a society to have the power to punish those who are prominent within said society. When influential individuals say or do something that doesn’t match up with the public’s morals, they should get called out. We should not take this power for granted, and we certainly shouldn’t use it as some sort of boogeyman. We should never tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and bigotry in our society, no matter how long they’ve been around.