The actual headline of this Newsweek piece is “Conservatives Weaponize Cancel Culture to Tame Anti-Trump Celebrities.” This is so absurd on its face that I’m not sure where to begin. But let’s start with this point from Ramesh Ponnuru:
The use of "weaponize" here is priceless. https://t.co/F43NRxaSyW
— Ramesh Ponnuru (@RameshPonnuru) June 25, 2020
Saying the right is weaponizing cancel culture suggests they’ve taken something innocent and perverted it. That conveniently overlooks the fact that cancel culture was already weaponized. In fact, its whole point has always been to turn cultural hot-button issues into a partisan weapons against people. Saying the right is weaponizing cancel culture is like saying the U.S. Army is weaponizing grenades. It misses the whole nature of the thing.
Reading the story it’s clear that what has this Newsweek author upset is that conservatives seem to expect people on the left to live by the same rules they apply to others. If talking insensitively about blackface is enough to end Megyn Kelly’s career why doesn’t it end the careers of people who actually used blackface?
In recent weeks in the wake of the George Floyd protests and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the spotlight has shone on the likes of late-night hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon for past use of blackface for comedy sketches. And among the multitude of voices calling for these celebrities to face consequences for their past actions are a number of conservative figures and media outlets…
This week, Fox News published an exclusive alleging that Kimmel, who is famously anti-Trump, used the N-word, imitating rapper Snoop Dogg song in 1996 for a comedy Christmas album…
While the majority of the discourse around the controversy comes from people predominantly concerned with calling out racism and dismantling systemic racism in the media, some of the criticism comes from notable right-wing figures who are weaponizing the current discourse to point out what they say is the hypocrisy of some anti-Trump celebrities.
Part of the gimmick here is blaming this on Fox News, the left’s favorite boogeyman. But it should be irrelevant who dug up the old tweets or video clips, just as it should be irrelevant who gets caught in the bad behavior. Either something is wrong and deserves social censure or it doesn’t. In fact, one of the Hollywood progressives mentioned in the Newsweek article brought the issue to public attention herself:
Fey publicly asked NBCU to pull from streaming services four episodes of “30 Rock” that include blackface, apologizing for “pain they have caused.”
“As we strive to do the work and do better in regards to race in America, we believe that these episodes featuring actors in race-changing makeup are best taken out of circulation,” Fey wrote in a letter obtained by Variety.
So the question now is whether these folks get a special pass from the kind of cancel culture imperative that would come down on any conservative who did something like this.
Kimmel is taking a curiously timed summer break that he says has been long-planned and Fey conveniently forgot about her Netflix show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” which features white actress Jane Krakowski playing a Native American woman pretending to be white.
They also both have major hosting gigs coming up, Kimmel at the Emmys in September and Fey at the Golden Globes with Amy Poehler in late February, putting them in an even bigger spotlight and with a bigger audience than usual.
Back in 2018, Kevin Hart had to step down from hosting the Oscars after someone dug up some old, anti-gay tweets. Do the same rules apply to white hosts Kimmel and Fey? It’s worth noting that the not-conservative Washington Post published an opinion piece after he withdrew suggesting losing one gig wasn’t enough punishment for his wrongs.
The concept of penance may be out of fashion, but that should change, especially at a moment of national reckoning over homophobia, sexual violence and racism. Stepping down from the Oscars may be punishment for Hart, but that censure doesn’t do very much to help people who have, for example, been beaten by relatives because of their perceived sexual orientation.
I think, generally speaking, conservatives are against this kind of penance and punishment for things that happened years ago. That should especially be the case for jokes and humor.
But it’s unquestionably the left that has weaponized this idea of cancel culture first on college campuses and now in newsrooms. The right doesn’t support that but it does want to see some sort of neutral application of the rules by media outlets that purport to be neutral. If people on the right are going to be hounded and canceled for a joke or a tweet from 5-10 years ago, then people on the left must get the same treatment or the media should just admit this is just partisanship dressed up as principle.