• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Death By Cancellation: Homicide Or Martyrdom


We no longer ask ourselves if the phenomenon of “cancellation”—the severe proscription of unenlightened works, the cruel suppression of daring or merely dated books and films against which academic opinion, if not public sentiment, has suddenly turned—is tantamount to death. We know, now, having watched for a year its brutal conduct take shape (and, worse, take arms), and having borne witness to its bloodlust and been subject to its inclement zeal, that it is, without question, a fatal process.


No longer shall we excuse it as being dangerous, merely, or the harmless paroxysm of a restless age. It’s undeserving of so innocent a charge, and we’d be unwise to dismiss it as such. Rather, it must be labeled for what it is—murderous, barbarous, deadly. In every way, it’s fatal, and it must be referred to in no gentler term than this. Despite the pain by which this recognition is attended, this much is clear, and not in the least bit overstated. Cancellation, at root, threatens our liberal existence, chastens our joy of discourse, and imperils our happy, democratic life.


Cancellation is, for all intents and purposes, a most gruesome and complete death. It’s public, unequivocal, and fantastically swift. It’s imperious, impatient, and proud of the gore with which it splashes the canvas at its feet. It’s the modern guillotine by which the head of liberalism, like that of Danton, is cleaved. The frightened rabble watches it fall from the pulsating stump of its withering neck. And like that fallen Jacobin, it produces a now unthinking, now unsmiling appendage very much worth the seeing. Indeed, it’s the stone by which the body of our inquisitive commonweal is silenced and pummeled, until it inquires no more. It absorbs those hostile rocks and blunt missiles like a youthful Saint Stephen, the first of all martyrs atop whom the weight of Christian enmity once fell.


In the peculiar style of its killing, there is in every cancellation a common theme. In all cases, these executions happen in the bright and unconcealed light of the public square, an open and inviting theater with which not even the ugliest leper, the meanest Timon, or the worst-bred misanthrope, is unacquainted. All are made to see it, and all, as a frightful but intended consequence, are deterred. In performing its work in so familiar a place, it ensures that all will be apprised of its role, and all will think twice before issuing an unwholesome opinion, or an edgy remark, by which its sharpened blade or heavy boulder might, yet again, and with savage alacrity, be provoked—this time, the difference is, it’ll fall on them.


It offers a direct and unfailing blow to the very heart of our literary spirit, an ethereal organ into which its cruel, blunt sword unhesitatingly plunges. It relieves its pressure only when, beneath the nerve of its hardened steel, it no longer detects a palpable beat. A fact not only of biology, but of society as well, the cessation of the pulse is never long in arriving. Having thus conquered an opponent by whom, sadly, strong resistance was never to be offered, it readily seeks fresh and tender prey of whom it might easily make a second meal.


No sooner is it found than cancel culture’s killing spree resumes. It needs not rest, and it’s never satiated. Confronted by another “problematic” text or a cartoon in need of further “contextualization”, it penetrates its blade yet further into our society’s all-too relenting and delicate flesh, a barren integument from which, as though a molting beetle, all toughness and fiber has been shed. It seeks to reach the depths of our artistic soul, that delightful—nay—essential part of our humanity by which our life is enlivened, our civilization adorned, and our hungry intellect both nourished and sustained.


Guided by the heavy hand of the unrelenting “woke”, the intolerant progressive in whose dread grasp, the bundled fasces, as once they did by the Lictors at Rome, wield their terrible might, the cudgel of cancellation looks to strike at our core. It delivers a blow from which, despite every sweet salve offered by the lover of freedom, and every heartfelt encouragement to which the classical liberal gives voice, there is no recovery.


Cancellation, then, is fatal. Its blow renders the intelligent body limp and the society into which it’s thrust, stunted. Its mercy, if even existent, is unforthcoming and insincere. It arrives not when aid is wanting, preferring, instead, to watch with cold detachment and haughty superiority as its poor victim writhes in a pool of its own demise.


It causes the delicate flame of Western civilization to shine yet fainter beneath its stormy and authoritarian cloud. Indeed, it’s a cloud from which, at any given moment, woke thunderbolts from some high throne are vigorously thrown. It replaces day with night, heaven with hell, and Olympus with Hades such that we never perceive the grandeur of the summits we might climb, up to which, tied to the wings of diverse and new opinions, we might be led. How quickly is the light of brilliance shrouded in its censorious dark? How fully has our glowing iridescence been smothered by an all-encompassing black? How deeply has it interred us in its subterranean vault, a depth out of which, like Zeus-smitten Titans, we lack all ability and direction to climb?


Cancellation, as I’ve learned, claims its victims in one of two ways: homicide or martyrdom. There’s no lack of examples attesting to either form. Those pacing the morgue, studiously scrutinizing the corpses over which they now step, know the grisly distinction, and their large quantity, too well.


Its homicides are countless. In an effort to abbreviate their vast number, and demand a smaller commitment of your time, I’ll name only a few.


They include the murder of the beloved Aunt Jemima and the genial Uncle Ben. Together, they made for a convivial pair, a team of mealtime friends, a solicitous, if not always nutritious family in whom a hungry lad could at any hour confide. The two, in truth, were fixtures in my pantry and at my table, a duo in the midst of whose ghrelin-stimulating gaze, and carbohydrate-craving smile, I so often quieted the restive appetite of my youth. Having now grown to adulthood in this, the insatiable age of the woke, I feel the weight of their absence, and the concomitant lightness in my belly.


Since cancellation has taken control of the age, my plate has awaited their return, but, alas, it waits in vain. To date, it’s gone unvisited by that avuncular tablemate with whom I passed so many starch-laden lunches, and the saccharine aunt under whose sweet, viscous ambrosia, I daily bathed. I now dine in the solitude of my empty table, a heap of wood unaccompanied by the affable smiles and bountiful harvests to which it once played host. There, alone, I sit—yearning for the intimacy of their bygone friendship, and the love by which, in but a single bite, my stomach was fed, my heart was filled, and my loneliness—at least for the length of those leisurely repasts—temporarily banished.


We might also remember the bucolic warmth and giving hand of the Land O’ Lakes Indian, the genuflecting goddess and elegant native by whom our assorted butter products were once so cheerfully delivered. Without the pasteurized yield of her bovine gift, how flavorless would be my pancakes and how coarse my rice? How utterly uninspired would be the countless dishes into which I plunge my fork and knife, my spatula and spoon? I can tell you, from the recent experience of my breakfast this morning, far less delicious, indeed.


Now, since her recent homicide, an event to which the lyre of every solemn glutton’s dirge is tuned, those pancakes stare back at me as though an arid, unimpressive stack of paper. They look not like the fluffy Babel of yore, a building ascending with confidence to the airy heavens above, but a dry, wobbling tower of grain for which, yes, that same cancelled Aunt Jemima’s milky maple need be once again tapped. The same can be said for Uncle Ben’s vaunted rice, a carb to which, in the absence of at least one stick of butter, some other seasoning or spice need be added, posthaste.


These are but three examples of Cancel Culture’s homicides. More could be named (Ryan T. Anderson’s book, When Harry Became Sally, comes first to mind, followed quickly by that of Debra Soh and Abigail Shrier, and the recent expunction of the documentary about the conservative Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas), but I’ll spare you the horror. What follows, now, are a few of her martyrdoms.


Admittedly, these are less frequent, but that trend is beginning to shift. More companies than ever are awakening to the fact that their lifespan, should they remain idle in the face of this sans-culotte threat, will soon, like the cropped breeches of the men by whom the Bastille was overcome, and the clergy murdered, be cut terribly short. More importantly, they realize that, should their sluggishness persist, their profits are apt to go the same declining way.


If, thus far, they’ve managed to remain unperturbed by the woke, and somehow unassailed by the menace by which so many others have been killed, they’re beginning to realize the looming imminence of their fate. Revolutionaries, after all, are an indiscriminate bunch; their tendency is, once wearied of the taste of enemies, to eat their own. These large, putatively “liberal” companies know precisely how appetitive their detractors can be. From a distance that shortens by the day, they can calmly assess the storm into which they’re bound to float. In so doing, they can anticipate the violence by which they might otherwise be caught unaware and, instead of being overtaken by it, gallantly welcome it upon themselves.


Thus, do they opt to martyr themselves, and they do so for all to see. They choose, rather than be murdered, ostensibly to sacrifice themselves to a larger, nobler cause before which we’re all told respectfully to bow. In this case, that cause is cultural purity, a lofty, somewhat abstract woke standard to which—even if it means hemorrhaging some lucre and blood—they’re not only willing, but eager to conform. It’s a standard for which, with the help of any sharp instrument conveniently at hand, they’re ready to open their wrists and spill their life’s humor.


As I provided three examples of homicides, in equal number will I count the martyrdoms. The first is also the most recent. Unilever, the British conglomerate of cosmetics, shampoos, deodorants, and soaps, announced that it would remove from all packaging any mention of “normal”. Yes, normal—that inflammatory label by which countless feelings have been hurt, is no longer fashionable in the world of hair and skin. The word has suddenly become passé. We might conclude, then, that it’s opposite, abnormality, now enjoys the distinction of acceptable use. Abnormal is de rigueur, after all, and we’d be wise to embrace the startlingly change.


The word, you see, carries with it too many undesirable connotations, nasty reminders of an “ideal” type by which the sensitive buyer, finding herself uneasily situated beyond that precious scope, might be offended. “Normal”, much like “ideal”, assumes a general and, frankly, unremarkable standard, a kind of average upon which those of us less endowed with eccentricity are likely to converge. The trouble is, in the minds of the aggrieved and eccentric shoppers, “normal” perpetuates what might be called “exclusionary” language, the sort of advertising epithet for which they simply won’t stand. It damns those who are different, forcing them to reflect on their inherent abnormality, and to shop elsewhere for their fascist lotions and discriminatory soaps.


Unilever, then, martyred itself as a means of paying tribute to the beast of cancellation, that foul-smelling Minotaur to whom aromatic, Attic children are fed.


The estate of Dr. Seuss decided to do the same, but fell one short of the seven Athenian children for whom the Cretan monster made his demand. With a keenness for sensing micro-aggressions and “problematic” images of which today’s undergraduate couldn’t help but be envious, Dr. Seuss Enterprises cancelled six of its eponymous author’s books. Among the suppressed titles, works through which the innocent eyes of infancy shall no longer dance, are The Cat’s Quizzer; And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street; Scrambled Eggs Super; If I Ran the Zoo; On Beyond Zebra; and McElligot’s Pool.


Seek the contents of Theodore Geisel’s famed oeuvre, and, if anything like me, your honest efforts to discern racism will be stressed. Rest assured, though, especially to those with a less penetrating eye, such examples do exist—albeit at a depth to which normal, healthy perception seldom plumbs. You simply lack the perspicacity and insight for which racial consciousness and, dare I say, wokeness calls.


Thus, before the Cancel Crowd could descend upon Dr. Seuss Enterprises and, after a brief struggle, fix another head to a pike, the company made peace with the imminence of its own death. Like a martyr, it yielded with passivity to a nobler cause in which it suddenly and wholeheartedly came to believe. In so doing, it purchased itself valuable merit in the woke afterlife, a virtuous realm to which it ascends.


Finally, we reach Disney. At long last we arrive at that brilliant, revolutionary, and world-spanning company to whom, from its birth till its death, each generation is completely devoted. Can such a fate of adulation and fidelity be helped? We are, after all, rocked in our cradles to the lull of its melodies, transfixed in our childhood by its shows and its movies, enamored in our adolescence to its dizzying theme park rides, and—as I’m coming personally to experience—gripped in our adulthood by the nostalgia into which, time and again, we can’t help but slip as we reminisce on the foregoing three.


What can one say, though, of a company to which the genocide of an abused and wretched people, the Uighurs of western China, is of absolutely no consequence? With what applause are we to greet a company that extends its gratitude—in the credits of its recent live-action film, Mulan—to the department by which that massive effort of extermination is being pursued?


The woke worries little about such marginal affronts to humanity and such small crimes against a distant race. What concern is it to them, after all, if a few million Muslims die? Surely their austere and patriarchal religion isn’t one into which their cherished groups—radical gender theorists and Marxist atheists, to name a few—will be hospitably welcomed. The woke, as we know, have more exigent concerns; the fish they must fry are far bigger. They have, for example, much more sinister Siamese cats to abolish, much rowdier Muppets to neuter, and many more unwholesome depictions in Dumbo to erase. Can we really be so importunate as to ask them to be bothered by real issues?


And so, Disney—like Unilever and Dr. Seuss before it—joins in the martyrdom of which, in growing numbers, so many companies are eager to partake. Those Chinese Muslims are meaningless; its only concern is the appeasement of the woke. Like the others, it allows itself to be killed, yet it dies for a reason about which it makes no bones. The explicit aim is for its woke purity to be preserved and, having attained to that heightened state of grace, for its beatification to commence, and for its great profits to suffer no further harm.

Thus, in these two ways does Cancellation kill: homicide and martyrdom. Whether or not we have the capacity for the corpses, only our tolerance for bloodshed will tell. At the time of writing, the boundaries of the graveyard know no limit, and the depth of the soil, no end.

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