Is it time we cancelled cancel culture?

Mun, I love being cancelled," disse Dave Chappelle to a crowd of 19,000, after his Netflix special saw a member of staff walk out in protest at the way they’d handled complaints for his jokes about trans people. Leaked internal financial data revealed that Netflix had spent more than $20m on each of Chappelle’s shows, a figure that goes some way towards persuading me that “cancel culture” could be one of the most profitable startups in living memory.

I read Chappelle’s quotes on my phone while waiting for a friend in central London, a place now frosty and faintly hysterical, standing outside what appeared to be a Monopoly theme park. sì, just up from the closed-down Habitat is a new and gleaming theatre, where for approximately £60 you can play an immersive version of Monopoly. By Christmas this may be the only way for most people of us to enjoy the experience of buying a house in London – strolling round a massive board with colleagues who have fattened significantly since they last shared a workspace, slightly drunk on red cocktails, alternately yearning for home and sickening at the idea that this fun must end, and by midnight, confused completely by the concept of cash.

As well as offering a cheery dystopian thrill, it reminded me slightly of the latest grift, sorry, gift from the “anti-woke” community, the University of Austin. Launched by a group of cancelled academics in “fearless pursuit of truth”, it is so far similarly illusory. Very much a work in progress it as yet has no campus, no degree programmes, no faculty – it is just a glossy facade.

It becomes more and more clear that a defining feature of “cancel culture” is not, as one might expect, silence, apology or shame. A defining feature of cancel culture is lots and lots of money. Certo, it’s worth stressing that there is still no real consensus on what cancel culture actually is. Everybody has a different idea of what it means, or what it should mean, to be “cancelled”, a word I must regularly accessorise with frilly quote marks for sanity – it is used to describe the consequences of social transgressions, but used in a way that attempts to shame the critic. This vagueness of meaning allows almost any conservative or contrarian or person who’s facing a little online friction to benefit from cancelled status.

And the benefits can be vast. The beauty of embracing a cancelled identity is that it imbues on the cancelled an aura of rebellious glamour. Rather than being seen as maybe mean, possibly out of touch, perhaps a bit of a bully, they become an outlaw. This exoticism allows them to take their next steps through a cloud of virtual cigarette smoke, their opinions quickly rinsed of offence, now suddenly bewitchingly controversial. Simply by dabbling in the forbidden, regardless of what they said or did, they have become interesting. Which leads to attention, which leads to celebrity, which leads to profit, both for the cancelled and those that report on them, hi.

Louis CK, who promised to “step back” after accusations of sexual misconduct (and saw his TV series literally, in realtà, properly cancelled) è stato nominated for a Grammy for best comedy album. His career has no doubt been impacted by the revelations, but it’s difficult to say if the darkness that attached itself to him after sexually intimidating multiple women has had a wholly negative effect, or whether, infatti, it has also found him a new audience, with critics seeing depths down among the weeds. As has Marilyn Manson, currently facing three sexual assault lawsuits, with accusations from more than a dozen women of psychological, sexual and physical abuse.

It’s not fair to lump all the “cancelled” men in together, lo so, and perhaps theirs are actually some of the best albums of the year, of the decade, of all time. It’s possible! It’s possible. But when industry judges behind awards like the Grammys choose to lift up those accused over the countless other artists vying for space, including other artists who did not, ad esempio, build soundproof booths in which they imprisoned “bad” girlfriends (as Manson is accused of doing) or masturbate in front of female comics (Louis CK), knowing that doing so sends a very clear message to the world, about art, about rewards, about who and what really matters, it does make you question what justice should look like today. When even literal cancellation likely leads to glittering prizes.

No doubt there are people right now putting the final touches on a racist tweet designed to get them thoroughly and gloriously cancelled tomorrow, an eye on the riches ahead. No doubt there are people right now, practicing their spicy opinions on gender and rubbing their thighs at the promise of a many-lunched career in punditry. If this is not reason enough to cancel any belief in “cancel culture” then I don’t know what is.

Email Eva at or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman




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