Sunday, March 07, 2021

Cancel Culture

 In the last 24 hours, I have had discussions with friends that trembled on the edge of becoming heated. I've read numerous screeds that have caused my blood pressure to skyrocket. I have had to repeatedly calm myself, compose myself, temper my passion a little, and listen and listen again. 

I would have had this blog written already: it's beyond dead at work. But we can't access our Gmail accounts on work computers for security reasons (we can't access much of anything, including Spotify--nobody has bothered to tell me how Spotify compromises security, but as in most jobs, it's better not to ask questions). 

So here we go, the phenomenon of our time: Cancel culture.

What's that, you say? Humans have been cancelling things they disagree with roughly forever? Why, you're right! If you watched TV in the 50s and 60s, you might have been forgiven for questioning where people went to the bathroom, since you couldn't depict a toilet under any circumstances. (I bet a substantial fraction of people could see their toilets and their televisions without averting their gazes overmuch, but heaven forbid a toilet shows up ON the television, that's scandalous!) Likewise, the species was doomed in that halcyon time since "pregnancy" was completely unheard of.

Betty White, God bless her, hosted a television show in those days. She had  Arthur Duncan, a black man, appear regularly. The network execs were horrified: you're supposed to pretend "those people" don't exist -- or if they do, they certainly aren't to be shown as respectable in any way. By the way, she responding by giving Duncan a larger role. I do love Betty White. 

They tried to cancel the Beatles. They DID cancel disco.  

Rumours. Whispers. Smear campaigns. Destroyed careers and lives. Suicides. We humans are a fun lot, aren't we?

Recently, of course, it seems as if the wave of "cancellations" is cresting. Just this week we found out:

  • "Mr. Potato Head" has dropped the honorific;
  • Six lesser-known Dr. Seuss titles will no longer be published;
  • Disney+ will no longer stream Dumbo, Peter Pan, The Aristocats, and The Swiss Family Robinson in its children's section
Let's start at the top.

I never had a Mr. Potato Head--to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I knew such a thing ever existed. I DO know just how I would have reacted had this shown up in my toybox: Mommy, can you smash this for dinner tonight? Now it's going to be just Potato Head. Hasbro is rebranding it "for the modern customer" will invite kids to create their own Potato Head family with two large (gender non-specific) potato bodies, a small potato body, and 42 accessories." 

One of my friends made a good point this morning, asking why they couldn't just give the thing a unisex name like Pat (Pat Tato?) or Sam (I. Yam?). You'd have to ask Hasbro to be sure, but my guess is that "Potato Head" trades on almost 70 years of name recognition. But also: must it have a gender? Hell, maybe some kids want to play Dr. Potato Head. 

Something very important to note: nobody threatened Hasbro. They did this of their own accord, to reflect that things have changed since 1952. I am quite certain that's the disconnect: conservatives are positive that nothing has changed since 1952, and if it has CHANGE IT BACK. Guess what, conservatives? There are trans, nonbinary and genderfluid/genderqueer people. AND THEY KNOW THAT'S WHAT THEY ARE WHEN THEY'RE KIDS. (And oh, yes, they existed in 1952, as well, and lived tortured lives. )
An analogy I found on Facebook: handedness. If you're not ambidextrous, pick up something in your non-dominant hand and really note how wrong it feels. Now multiply that over your entire body, 24/7, and that's how trans kids feel going around presenting in the gender they're not. 

Nobody's asking you to understand these people. If you have to understand someone before you can respect their identity, I'm sorry, but you've got things all backwards. 

Dr. Seuss. 

Complicated character. Most humans are.  Cheated on a cancer-stricken wife. He has a huge body of much-loved children's books. He has a body almost as large of military propaganda. Conservatives hate him for The Lorax (they tried to cancel it!) because it "promotes environmentalism" (the horror). But he also dealt in racial stereotypes. His first children's book was published in 1937; it wasn't until 1978 that he relented and allowed the publisher to change a throwaway joke about a "Chinaman" into one about a "Chinese boy". 

In 1978 little Kenny was hearing jokes about "Chinky chinky Chinaman". I don't think white people actually understand how hurtful that kind of crap is. Imagine if most of the people in your world were of a different race. Now imagine they call you "honky" and "cracker" and such, in tones from why-are-you-so-upset-I-said-nothing-wrong  to fuck-off-you-albino-asshole. I suspect you'd speak up, too. 

I'll admit I was a little nonplussed at one of the points that triggered the trustees of Seuss's legacy to yank those six books: an Asian girl was shown holding chopsticks. Here's where I need to be educated, because I can't think of anything that says Chinese more than chopsticks. I'm not sure what's wrong with the depiction. Maybe I should ask someone of Chinese descent. 

See, that's the thing. I'm white. I'm learning how my privilege manifests, and I'm working towards being inclusive. I have blind spots, and even some prejudice, still. I'm working on it and I'd appreciate help when I fuck up, if anyone has the energy to spare. 

I said "I'm white", but I should have said "I'm liberal". That commitment to be better is what separates us from conservatives. If you're conservative and chafing at this...sorry, not sorry. 


Oh, have conservatives ever had it in for Disney. The biggest bone of contention is that Disney dares to suggest homosexuals exist. I've also seen rants against single parenthood (and never mind that Disney is infamous for killing off parental figures; I guess the bereaved spouse is supposed to marry again the next day). And of course there's the hullabaloo over Gina Carano, who was fired for posting this:

“Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors…even by children. Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views"

I'll tell you how, Gina. Unlike your ethnicity, your political views are something you choose. If you choose to be  misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist and racist -- in other words, conservative -- then you're fully responsible for the reaction. 

And here I have pissed off friends of mine who call themselves conservative. I would invite them, each of them, to really look at what conservatives stand for, politically. Not a single Republican voted to help Americans last week. Not one. There are no leftist Proud Boys. You don't see liberals doing their utmost to disenfranchise people of colour, or complaining that men aren't allowed to walk around casually assaulting women anymore. 

Like the meme says, the Germans had a word for people who tolerated Nazis. That word was: NAZI. 

You saw the films listed above? Many of us have seen at least one of those four. I think I've seen all four, though I don't recall The Aristocats at all. 
Guess what.
You can still see them!
That's right. Not a one of them has been "cancelled". They're not on the children's stream of Disney+ anymore, but they ARE on the adult stream. Your kids are fine with mature content? Go to.

And that's the last point I'd like to make, another sticking point between liberals and conservatives. On a friend's wall, one woman said it should be up to her what her children are exposed to and I thought oh, you sweet, sweet summer child. How interesting, that you believe you control your child's every waking moment. I will maintain this with my dying breath: your child is not yours. Your child belongs to the world, to society, and you have a responsibility as a parent to prepare that child not for the society you wish existed, but the one that actually does. Many parents do an admirable job of doing this. Many more don't, and as a liberal, that's a major concern of mine. What do you do to make sure those kids are removed from their toxic parents and surroundings? 

I say this three times I say this three times I SAY THIS THREE TIMES: there is no such thing as "cancel culture". There is accountability. There is responsibility. There is reading the room. And, in the cases of Potato Head, Disney, and Dr. Seuss, there is good ol' laissez-fare, invisible-hand capitalism. 

Last I looked, the right loves capitalism!

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