On Cancel Culture

Cancelled
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This is one I struggle with. Does someone turning out to be a bad person invalidate their unrelated prior work?

“Cancel culture” might say yes.

And yet, there are many instances where the prior work was so significant that the individual was given a pass.

This came to mind because of Jame’s Fell’s “On This Day in History” about Henry Ford. Apparently Ford was a raging antisemite, to a degree I hadn’t heard of before.

And yet that’s not what we remember. He’s lauded for the automobile company, manufacturing process, and treating his workers like humans (something else I was unaware of).

So how do we rationalize that? Should we rationalize that? And why are we so much more extreme with others?

A more current example might be the actor Kevin Spacey, currently under investigation for sexual misconduct. He lost a prominent acting role because of it.

The story broke not long after I purchased an album of his singing. He’s quite good. But now … do I feel guilty every time I listen to it? If I stream it, am I sending a few pennies into the pocket of a sexual predator?

The same for Bill Cosby‘s early work. It was funny, but now … can I listen to it? Even if it’s OK, will it feel weird?

For many situations, there’s no coming back. Do we cancel too quickly? Do we cancel too easily? Do we cancel too completely? Do we hold people to unreasonably high standards? I’m not suggesting sexual predation isn’t cancel-worthy, but cancelling seems a go-to response for so many lessor transgressions.

Should there be a place for “un-cancelling” after some kind of honest mea culpa, reparation, or something else appropriate?

The problem I have is cancelling work unrelated to the situation, especially that produced before it became common knowledge. Is Spacey suddenly a worse actor in the roles already completed? Of course not. Same as the singing; he’s a good singer both before and after the actions he’s accused of.

There are no simple answers, of course.

Perhaps since Ford’s no longer with us, “cancelling” him would literally be pointless. Avoiding the work of someone current, on the other hand, prevents them from being rewarded. It prevents any more of my money from going to individuals and causes I cannot support.

Much like my choosing not to eat at Chick-fil-A.

Their sandwiches are good. His singing is good.

I just don’t want more of my money supporting either.

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