“Cancel culture” is the less-than-perfect name for the tendency of extremely online people to form mobs and publicly shame others in response to perceived cultural and political transgressions, from sending racist tweets to selling food of a culture that’s not your own. Sometimes it’s celebrities who are cancelled for choosing a “problematic” role in a movie or making an offensive joke on stage. Sometimes it’s regular people who posted something dumb or misconstrued on Twitter, or who got caught on camera doing something insensitive or misunderstood in real life.
From the perspective of cancel culture’s critics, such incidents are examples of a dangerous tendency toward mob justice on social media platforms and in some offline spaces as well, like college campuses. From the perspective of its defenders, it’s the product of the democratization and social leveling of the internet, which has allowed for previously excluded voices to make themselves heard in the public arena, ruffling some feathers in the process.
Osita Nwanevu, a writer at The New Republic, has made the latter case, in a provocative essay called “The Cancel Culture Con.” In it, he names, among others, the journalist Jesse Singal as someone who has raised a false flag against cancel culture. Jesse, who has, many times over, been targeted for cancellation himself, wrote two essays for his newsletter in response to Osita’s piece.
If you have the time, you’ll get more out of this episode if you go back and read Osita’s piece in The New Republic, and Jesse’s two responses, which you can find at jessesingal.substack.com; our discussion gets somewhat into the weeds of that dialogue. And if the phenomenon of cancel culture is entirely new to you, we especially encourage you to read them first.
• Osita’s New Republic story: https://newrepublic.com/article/155141/cancel-culture-con-dave-chappelle-shane-gillis
• Jesse’s responses
• YA fiction article by Kat Rosenfield: https://www.vulture.com/2017/08/the-toxic-drama-of-ya-twitter.html
• San Francisco mural controversy: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/08/george-washington-history-mural-san-francisco-arnautoff/595363/
• Leighton's 2017 documentary adaptation of Angela Nagle's Kill All Normies, which Jesse appears in: https://vimeo.com/263452186