Cancel Culture is an uncomfortable place to be

Trevor Soderstrum

During the pandemic, a new phrase entered the nation’s lexicon: “Cancel Culture.” Two little words that can make grown men quake in their boots. It is the attempt to ruin a reputation or the livelihood of a person or organization because of their perceived harmful or problematic opinion.

A highly successful, religious science-fiction writer, one of the giants in his field, loses a movie/television production deal due to his negative statements about homosexuality. A woman is fired from her job, has her dog taken away from her by the organization she adopted the pet from, and her reputation is smeared as she becomes known as a “Karen” because of a hysterical interaction with a man simply watching birds.

A stand-up comedian is fired from his gig of hosting the Academy Awards because of some gay jokes he made almost a decade earlier. Words that he had years earlier expressed regret over. A popular commentator is disinvited from speaking at a university because of his political leanings.

Trevor Soderstrum

A widow was almost kicked out of her own state party because she cannot support a president who has repeatedly insulted her dead husband. A production company takes heat over an actress simply clicking the “like button” on a couple of conservative group’s Twitter comments. A comedic actor has his television show canceled after a woman writes about his boorish, but not illegal, behavior on a date. Cancel culture.

You don’t even have to have done anything wrong. All that is needed is the allegation. A snap of the fingers. All the years of hard work gone. Suddenly, you have your nose pressed on the glass on the outside of the window looking in.

Conduct or a joke that might have been socially acceptable a decade or two ago is now icky in our magnifying glass of this contemporary world. A word that is a commonly used suddenly falls out of social favor in a day or two. The world changes so quickly. It is impossible to keep up.

Is it any wonder people get anxious, stand on one foot and then on the other, vote against their interests, because of such things, especially in a politically divided country where the sharks are constantly swimming in our cultural waters waiting to attack?

I know that I, like everyone else, have said and done a lot of stupid things. Nothing illegal, just unartful and far from sensitive. There are times I want to walk down the street and apologize to everyone I meet that knew me when I was younger. Mistaken memories have had me in places I know I have never been and put words in my mouth that I know I never said. I am sure I will have an attitude or two in the future where I will be out of step with the culture or dead wrong.

Still, cancel culture is not is a new thing. Ask an African-American, if you looked at a white person the wrong way, whistled or said the wrong word? There is a history of people vanishing. Hands at 10 and two on the steering wheel. “Officer, I am reaching into my jacket for my wallet. Please, don’t shoot me.” Emmett Till. Billie Holiday’s strange fruit hanging from the poplar tree. Burning crosses. Race riots. Black homes burned down by white mobs. “We don’t want your kind here.”

Ask women. Unwanted whistles. Having to take a slap on your behind or a sexist comment from your boss. A wrong word and you might suddenly find yourself out of a job. Wrists grabbed. “Look at what she wore. She was asking for it.”

Ask a homosexual. Words like “I’m gay” could not be said, an ill-timed tilt of a wrist, an unguarded moment, or even a rumor that might not be true, and you might find yourself out of a career, in a mental institution, or kicked out of your family. Matthew Shepherd. Cops with billy clubs.

The only things new are that white males have finally been invited to the party. Cell phones with cameras are ever present. People think it is normal to express their every thought on social media.

Mobs will continue to pick up torches and pitchforks. Sometimes they will chase real monsters. Sometimes they will stand in the shadow of a cross of an innocent person. Too many moments where the punishment will far outweigh the crime. Step outside the group think of your political party and you quickly become a profile in courage.

It is a problem as old as time itself. There are no easy answers, especially in a world where the line is always moving. There are difficult words that we need to relearn, words that stick in our throats, words like tolerance, forgiveness and “it is time to call off the dogs.”

Like a pyromaniacs with a match in a pool of gasoline, each one of our worlds could go up in flames at any second. It is an uncomfortable place to be. Maybe that is where we need to start.

Columnist Trevor Soderstrum was born and raised in Story City. He can be reached at tjsode@gmail.com.