The past couple of weeks have brought big news from the culture wars. We lost Mr. Potato Head to asexuality (not really) and Dr. Seuss's books were banned (again, not really). But even though neither was really “canceled,” many people are still hopping mad about what one of my Twitter friends calls “social engineering” by the left.
Even though Mr. Potato Head is still going to be Mr. Potato Head and there seems to have been little to no real pressure for Seuss Publishing to make its brief, nonpartisan, non-ideological statement announcing its decision to remove six of the good doctor’s books from publication, it is supposed to be a major cultural emergency that two private companies decided to make what amounts to minor changes to their product lines of their own free will.
I thought free will and freedom of choice are good things, but many only accept a company's freely-made decision if it's one that they agree with.
But then I started thinking about how many times Republicans tried to cancel things that they opposed. One of the first examples to come to mind was none other than Chick-fil-a. It was back in 2019 that the king of the chicken sandwich joints, a sandwich sometimes jokingly referred to as “God’s chicken” because of the company’s Christian roots, ran afoul of conservative cancel culture. The crime? The company stopped donating money to three groups that oppose same-sex marriage.
Per a Fox Business report at the time, Chick-fil-a suspended donations to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Salvation Army, and Paul Anderson Youth Homes sparking a backlash from conservatives. Some on the right were angry enough to try to cancel the restaurant with a boycott.
Once you start thinking about conservative cancel culture, it’s easy to come up with more examples. One of the first big examples of a cancel movement was the boycott of Martin Scorsese for his film, “the Last Temptation of Christ,” in 1988. Christian groups boycotted Disney for almost a decade. Over the past few years, we have seen Republicans boycott or threaten boycotts against Harley-Davidson, Nike, the NFL, Target, companies that cut ties with the NRA, a restaurant that refused to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders, social media companies, and Disney again for firing Gina Carano. In just the past few days, I’ve learned that many on the right are angry at Cadbury over an ad that isn’t even shown in the US which depicts two men sharing one of the company’s candy eggs in a quasi-kiss. And that’s just off the top of my head. I could go on.
Now, I’m not defending everything (or anything) that the targets of these boycotts did, but the irony is that people who loudly decry “cancel culture” have been pretty busy trying to cancel things that they don’t like. If the “social engineering” label applies to one side then it applies to both.
And if we are to be honest, the problem that most people have with “cancel culture” isn’t the tactic, but the targets. Republicans and conservatives are quite happy to cancel people and companies that don’t align with their values.
And that’s fine. They have a right to do business with whoever they want and to not do business with whoever they want. But in the end, the right becomes exactly what they accuse the left of being: A group of people with an ideological purity test for every product from chicken sandwiches to pillows to television shows.
To me, it seems that it would be exhausting to be so outraged and angry with some individual or company every day for some microaggression, real or imagined, against a treasured principle or a favorite political figure. I don’t want to have to stop and think about which company I’m supposed to like today or which one that I’m supposed to respond to like Gollum, saying, “We hates it forever.” That’s not me.
There was a time that I would have felt differently, but these days I’m more of a live-and-let-live kind of guy. My friend on Twitter used the phrase, “radical neutralness.” I kind of like that and consider it a compliment even though it kind of reminds me of the Neutral Planet on “Futurama” (“It’s a beige alert.” “If I don’t survive, tell my wife, ‘hello.’”)
In reality, being neutral often means that you’re in the middle of the battle and you draw fire from both sides. There’s a reason that Switzerland has a strong military. Being neutral is not the same as being weak and strength is often required to maintain neutrality. It’s much easier to go along with the crowd.
For years now, I’ve admired August Landmesser. You may not recognize the name, but you have probably seen his picture. Landmesser is the man standing with his arms crossed in a picture of a crowd of Germans giving the Nazi salute. The picture is often captioned, “Be this guy.” (You can read the story behind the picture here.)
I think that’s good advice. Don’t blindly follow the crowd. Think for yourself. Seek the truth and stand on principle.
And, circling back (to use my son’s favorite pet peeve about Jen Psaki), that applies as much in the culture war as it does anywhere else. The Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head controversies are good examples of what I like to call the “Outrage du Jour.”
In these cases, as in many others, there is a grain of truth at the core of the story, but it is inflated, twisted, and blown out of proportion until it scarcely resembles the truth. Armies of bloggers, pundits, and radio hosts pore over the news to find something, anything, that will generate clicks and calls. To keep the readers and viewers engaged, the outrage has to be stoked and fed, even if what people are outraged about isn’t technically what happened.
And it works. I don’t have to tell you that some people have made heaping gobs of money off of daily outrages. Some have gotten elected off the tactic. You know who they are.
One of my favorite talk-show hosts, Michael Medved, often said that conservatives should be strong on principle and moderate in behavior. Today, too many on the right reverse those attributes.
Is there a market for moderation, neutrality, and living-and-letting-live? I think there is, and you, dear reader, are the key. If you can help us to grow the Racket, an outlet that is focused on objective truth and compromise, not stoking outrage, then maybe we can find a better way.
If there’s not, then it’s hard to be optimistic for America’s future. How can a nation be unified when its two main opposing factions are increasingly angry and separated from each other? If we can’t buy the same pillow or eat the same chicken sandwich, how can we live together as a nation?
In our Wednesday Bible study, one of the verses that came up was Ecclesiastes 7:21:
Do not pay attention to every word people say,
or you may hear your servant cursing you—
for you know in your heart
that many times you yourself have cursed others.
This originally made me think of “selective hearing,” and that true to some extent, but what it’s really about is picking your battles, and that’s good advice for the culture war.
We shouldn’t be looking for things to be offended about. We should be trying to get along with our fellow Americans rather than picking fights. Save the outrage for things that are really outrageous.
If you don’t like a company, don’t buy their product, but also don’t make a federal case out of it. Especially if the reason that you’re outraged is fake to begin with.