Last week felt like one long discussion about the evil effects of cancel culture. First it was former MMA fighter turned actress Gina Carano. She was fired from her role on The Mandalorian after posting some questionable opinions. I’m a Star Wars nerd, so I made a point to know exactly what was said that was so objectionable, and aside from one tweet misrepresenting the Holocaust as something that was “just like today” and another insinuating the January 6 raid on the US Capitol was justified, Carano’s offending posts were largely just bad jokes and conspiracy theories only the stupidest in Q’s ranks would entertain.
Then Friday night came word that Chris Doyle had resigned from the role he was recently given with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Urban Meyer hired Doyle despite a long list of accusations against him from his time at Iowa. It started with verbally abusing players and ended with accusations that he was an unapologetic racist. Urban Meyer defended Doyle at first, but by the end of the week, the fight was done and Doyle was gone.
We can bemoan cancel culture if you want. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that this is all these two moves were about. But is that the truth? Is cancel culture even a real thing?
Culture, any culture anywhere, is ever-evolving. What was acceptable to one generation isn’t to another. What yesterday was “harmless fun” or “boys being boys” is looked at with more scrupulous eyes today. That isn’t a bad thing.
Sure, that can be a tough road to navigate, but in a business where we talk for a living, doesn’t it make sense to understand what the line is now and make educated choices about your words and which hills are worth dying on? Doesn’t it make sense to pay attention to what the new norms are for your audience? It doesn’t mean you can’t take controversial stances. You just have to be aware of what is unpopular versus what is unforgivable.
While I’ve never really been one to dwell on cancel culture and its effects on America, I saw a video on Friday that totally reframed the argument for me. People don’t get cancelled just because they said something stupid and offensive. They get cancelled because they said or did something offensive and they are not valuable enough for their current or future employers to weather the storm that will inevitably die down.
As a fighter, Gina Carano fought just eight times, and not at all in the last 11 years. As an actress, she has been in eleven movies and two scripted TV shows. You’ve heard of a total of 3 of them. Gina Carano has name recognition. She doesn’t bring irreplaceable value to anything she does. Even in the case of The Mandalorian, her character’s story arc was pretty much done. There was no reason Disney had to think she might be worth the headache.
Chris Doyle is a strength coach. You can find a replacement at any athletic program in the country. The position he was hired to fill in Jacksonville was some made up bullshit title, “Director of Sports Performance”. It was Urban Meyer trying to help a buddy out. I guarantee it is a role that doesn’t even exist after the weekend.
The video I mentioned earlier featured Dave Chappelle. Whether you like the guy or not, you have to admit that he is an absolute legend in the stand up comedy world and that he is a guy people with money look at and say “he is worth it.”
In the video, Chappelle says some objectionable stuff, as he often does. Remember, this is a guy that has rightfully been accused of blatant misogyny and transphobia in the past. He also explains why he asked Netflix and CBS/Viacom to take down episodes of Chapelle Show, the sketch show he created for Comedy Central early this century and then walked away from after just two and a half seasons. More importantly, he explains why the two companies obliged his request.
Here’s the thing about Dave Chappelle. Theater owners, Netflix executives, and anyone else he does business with think Dave is worth the fight. Killing Them Softly remains a standup special on par with Eddie Murphy Raw and Chris Rock’s Bigger & Blacker. Chappelle Show has the misfortune of existing the exact same time as The Sopranos and The Wire. The show didn’t get nearly as many fawning think pieces as its peers, but make no mistake, it is one of the very best TV shows that has ever aired on cable television and it should be remembered along with those giants of its era. A track record like that establishes a loyal audience.
In the first two minutes of the video, Chappelle talks about contracting Covid-19 and seems to insinuate that people staying home more, wearing masks when they go out, and following other precautions are cowards. As someone with a wife that works in a hospital and spent most of the winter coming home in tears, I wasn’t a huge fan of that, but I stuck with the video because I love listening to Dave Chappelle. It’s not just that he is incredibly funny. It’s that he is a great speaker and storyteller. I am a fan. I could look past the stuff that bothers me.
Cancel culture is really two things. It is the public saying that you have done something that it can no longer support, and it is your bosses telling you “sorry, but you aren’t worth it.” The latter is way more consequential than the former.
The broadcaster bemoaning cancel culture is the college football coach railing against the transfer portal or NIL legislation. They aren’t worth being taken seriously because their complaint boils down to not wanting to try harder.
We have seen this before in radio. Phil Zachary, WEEI’s then-market manager stood by Kirk & Callahan despite any number of objections from activists that complained something the duo did was unforgivable. As long as the show was winning ratings battles and staying profitable, the duo were worth the fight to Entercom.
Certainly you can name examples where management did not go to bat for talent, and I won’t argue with you. The fact of the matter is that “getting cancelled” isn’t something unruly mobs of people on Twitter or TikTok make happen.
Like everything else in the American business world, the act of getting cancelled is a market response. The people actually deciding who loses and keeps their jobs have just done a really really good job of rebranding getting fired as something that isn’t the work of a corporation looking out for its bottom line, but the fault of young people with a different world view from previous generations and a world wide platform thanks to social media.