The problem with ‘cancel culture’

By Ben Olson
Reader Staff

Conservative media outlets have been obsessed in recent months with talking about their latest buzzword for the ruin of America: cancel culture.

The outrage machine revved up another few notches last week when Major League Baseball officials announced their organization will move the All-Star game from Atlanta, Ga. to Colorado after Georgia passed legislation critics have labeled as destructive to voting rights.

The truth about so-called cancel culture is not that a “woke mob” is forcing “radical” change on the American people. Cancel culture is a nefarious term that is simply a byproduct of the free market at work — a free market, by the way, that for decades Republican lawmakers have fallen over themselves defending. American consumers are the ones who ultimately decide where they want to spend their money. If a product uses environmentally damaging packaging, a consumer can choose to support a competitor’s more eco-friendly product instead. If a customer has a sub-standard experience at a local business, they might choose not to patronize that establishment anymore. If a consumer is unhappy about the political statements shared by a CEO of a corporation, they can choose to take their business elsewhere. That is the essence of the free market.

Recently I walked into a business and noticed an employee wearing a Confederate battle flag emblem. This is a symbol of racism, and I chose to take my business elsewhere. I won’t support a business run by someone who is either proud of treason and racism or ignorant that this flag is a symbol of both. That is my choice as a consumer, just as it’s MLB’s choice, or Coca-Cola’s choice to express dismay over a voting law that inordinately targets people of color, making it more difficult to vote. One provision of the new law even outlaws providing food or water to people waiting in voting lines. Remember before the 2020 election that people were standing in line as long as 11 hours to cast their ballots.

What’s not discussed on these same conservative news outlets is that the biggest proponent of cancel culture is none other than former-President Donald Trump. Both before he took office, during and after he left, Trump has advocated loudly to his millions of followers for boycotts of dozens of businesses. 

An incomplete list of these businesses includes; Apple, Macy’s, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, NASCAR, Oreo, Scotland, Mexico, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, Goodyear Tires, Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, UPS, Merck, Amazon, Geico and so many others. The reasons for boycotting run the gamut from petty to downright childish. One of the most ridiculous is when he called to boycott Glenfiddich Scotch whisky after the company awarded its annual Top Scot to a man named Michael Forbes, who was a staunch critic of Trump’s golf course in Scotland.

Trump released a statement after the MLB decision to move the All-Star game where he said in order to fight “woke cancel culture,” it was necessary to… boycott companies he didn’t agree with. 

The hypocrisy went even further when the former president was photographed at Mar-a-Lago with a bottle of Diet Coke unsuccessfully hidden behind a phone. It is reported that Trump drinks upward of 12 Diet Cokes a day.

What does all this mean? Outrage is a commodity. When channeling outrage to his supporters, the former president is able to promote the divisive rhetoric that defined his presidency, but the truth is he is not willing to take his own advice and switch to Diet Pepsi.

The problem with “cancel culture” is the perspective through which it is practiced. In our free market economy, it is everyone’s right to choose where to spend their money. Cancel culture is simply not real — at least not in the way people believe it is. It has been turned into a catch-all term for when people in power face consequences for their actions.

Because of the prevalence of social media, people who have not traditionally been able to express their dismay with racist, sexist and bigoted behavior — i.e. people of color and marginalized communities — have been able to share with a wider audience their choice not to support a person or a company that crossed a line. Instead of looking at what caused a company to end a relationship, the “cancel culture” warriors delegitimize the criticism by focusing only on the backlash, not the problem that caused it. And the outrage machine keeps chugging along.

Calling those who profess a desire not to support a company for questionable practices or statements is not the work of a “woke mob,” but a savvy consumer who chooses to spend their money with a company that aligns with their values. 

Finally, let us not forget the actual mob that was egged on by then-President Trump to storm the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to cancel an entire election because its favored candidate did not win.

Rife with hypocrisy, the term “cancel culture” itself is the thing that really needs to be canceled.

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