Communist Party USA
The phrase “cancel culture” is what linguists call an “empty signifier.” It implies a lot but means nothing. People who use the term without irony do so to inject irrational fear into discussions of culture, politics, and ethical behavior. This tactic provides a right-wing ideological cover for maintaining racist oppression, imperialism and war, class exploitation, and heteronormative patriarchy. People who fret anxiously about “cancel culture” fear that criticisms of oppressive systems, abusive language, and hate-filled violence are really targeting them personally. These anxieties are manipulated by millionaire- and billionaire-controlled right-wing media, blog sites, and conspiracy-based organizations that stimulate panic and hatred. Their goal is to stir up as much animosity and anger in a base of right-wing supporters to either build momentum at election time or, barring electoral success, mobilize violence and threats of violence like the Jan. 6th terrorist attack or other such mob uprisings to push a tax-cutting, anti-worker, anti-woman, racist, white supremacist agenda. “Cancel culture” is an empty signifier because it refers to nothing in reality. People who seek justice don’t want to cancel people. They do not desire to harm white people or cause all men the same pain and suffering many men have historically leveled against women. Vengeance against straight or cisgender people isn’t on anyone’s agenda. Countries targeted by U.S. imperialism don’t want war with the U.S., they want freedom to develop and determine their own futures without intervention. The fear that the “social justice warriors” are out to get us is a hoax, and a little paranoid. It is irrational and reflects a disturbing fragility within dominant cultural values. Scholar Robin DiAngelo has observed and documented this purely emotional phenomenon in White Fragility. Indeed, palpable forms of this fragility could be perceived when tiki-torch-bearing neo-fascists marched infamously in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 brandishing Nazi salutes and chanting anti-Semitic and racist slogans that expressed a fear of being cancelled. This fragility points to the urgency of changing dominant culture, not of lashing out at those who demand justice. Take one example of a major system of oppression, whiteness as a racial category. As a cultural-legal-economic system, it tries to hide class exploitation by creating a facade of white racial unity. Whiteness came into existence only when European imperialists invented racial slavery rooted in anti-Black hatred. If we can admit this happened and has been perpetuated in various forms historically and in the present, we may be able to craft a basis for a new way of imagining the world. If we acknowledge that this complex of racist animosities lies at the heart of the dominant definitions of U.S. citizenship, meanings of freedom, liberty, and democracy, and even some of our ideas about political progress, we might be able to move forward together. We need a working-class culture, one that recognizes the nature of capitalist society and fights to humanize exploited people as empowered humans — the majority of people — who should in fact lead our country. Dave Chappelle’s problems On what basis might we transform dominant cultural values? Comedian Dave Chappelle, as much as he might resist the idea, may have something to teach us. First, it is important to remember that taking a comedian too seriously, and one who deliberately stirs up controversy to generate buzz about his shows, is doing the whole comedy thing wrong. Still, when a comedian deliberately jokes about political issues (like racism or capitalism), it is nearly impossible to avoid thinking about their statements as simply jokes. More often than not, the claim “I am just telling jokes” is hogwash. Second, I am no expert…
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“Cancel culture” or liberation culture?