Swing Voters Just Aren’t That Into The GOP’s Cancel Culture War
Cancel culture is, according to Republicans, the most disgusting, atrocious thing ever to happen in America. They believe it's the key issue that'll help them reclaim the House and Senate in 2022. The only problem is Republicans need to win over swing voters not subscribers to Bari Weiss's substack, and those voters don't know what the fuck “cancel culture" is. The GOP has failed to clearly define their enemy, which should be easy since it doesn't really exist.
Rich Thau at the Bulwark discussed cancel culture with 13 people who voted for the one-term loser in 2016 but supported Joe Biden, as well as democracy, in 2020. What he learned was both interesting and obvious. For one, none of these people had any personal experience with cancel culture — unlike, say, the global pandemic that's ravaged the nation for the past year. They'd never been “cancelled," and no one Thau interviewed could agree on a consistent definition of this threat.
"Cancel culture is where people go through whatever methods they need to, to get rid of something that other people enjoy: TV shows, talk shows, radio shows," said Jamie, a 43-year-old woman from Hoffman, North Carolina. "People are like, 'Oh, I'm offended by that. So I'm going to cancel it for everybody.'"
I'm also in my 40s, and Jamie neatly sums up how conservatives reacted back in the day (the day is the past; the day is also "today") to so-called offensive content, such as Madonna dancing in front of burning crosses after kissing Black Jesus. Republican President George H.W. Bush lost re-election in 1992, but it wasn't because Vice President Dan Quayle tried to “cancel" "Murphy Brown." It was the economy, stupid. President Joe Biden sent struggling Americans $1,400 checks, and where was the GOP? At home, whining about cancel culture.
Luis, a 41-year-old from Orlando, described cancel culture as "something that was accepted before, and now it's not politically correct," but he didn't seem angry about it. He accepts the reality of a changing culture, as does 32-year-old Brendan from Aldan, Pennsylvania. Here's how he defined cancel culture:
[It is] more like a mindset: 'Oh, hey, we were doing certain things wrong—Pepe Le Pew, certain characterizations like Dr. Seuss and stuff, depicting people in such a horrible way. That is an old mindset, and we need to be more progressive as a people.'
A 2016 MAGA voter used “progressive" non-pejoratively. That's not good news for Republicans or even the late John McCain. Neither is this:
Daniel, 34, from Las Vegas, lamented the lost educational value of removing things that should be remembered as warnings to the future: "I see cancel culture as [this]: If something is offensive, if it's something that someone doesn't agree with, they want to take it away instead of keeping it there as a reminder that it's not something that we should do."
Conservative cancel culture warriors don't want Gone With the Wind or That Movie You Didn't Realize Had A Blackface Scene shown as reminders of what we shouldn't do. They don't want anyone pausing Disney's Peter Pan to explain that while catchy, "What Makes the Red Man Red" is actually hella racist. They want everyone else to agree that those images are still OK.
Thau probed further with specific instances of cancel culture and OMG, it's hilarious how silly they all are. He's asking people with bills to pay about Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, Gina Carano, Mike Lindell, Goya Foods, and the white power primetime lineup on Fox News.
The swing voters were concerned about the San Francisco school board removing the names of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln from public schools, but that's a non-issue because the school board later revoked the decision. Now, American children won't forget these men existed.
"I think with presidents that owned slaves, I think you can't change history and it worries me erasing history," said Susan, 47, from Roswell, Georgia. "I think that's important to know, that that's part of our American history. And it worries me taking statues down, and re-naming things, and erasing what's made our country what it is. It doesn't mean that you condone those things."
No one's erasing history! And yes, a statue commemorating a public figure means you condone their actions in life. It's not like everyone gets a statue. There's obviously room for debate over historical figures whose contributions to society extend beyond their flaws. But we can remove the statue honoring Confederate General Negro Asskicker.
Melissa, 40, from Irving, Texas, wondered aloud about those doing the canceling: "Is it really necessary for them to do that? I guess that's my thing that bothers me. Like if it's been in history for all these years, and it's never been a problem, now all of a sudden it's like all these things are pushed to the forefront that were never really even brought up as a problem are just now like this major problem."
This is the same cut-and-paste argument supporting slavery and segregation. Marginalized groups haven't been silent all these years, but now more people are actually listening. That's progress.
Still, there's no indication that even Susan or Melissa are more likely to swing GOP in 2022 because there are content warnings on certain episodes of "The Muppet Show." Ultimately, only five out of the 13 interview subjects believed cancel culture represents an insidious liberal assault on freedom. That's hardly fuel for a red wave.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."