Thank goodness this controversy is (mostly) behind us but today the Spectator published a piece by Jesse Singal about why the effort to cancel Dave Chappelle failed. Simply put, the activists behind it overpromised and underdelivered:
Chappelle’s special was met with instant outrage from activist groups and some Netflix employees. On Twitter, a trans woman Netflix worker directly connected Chappelle’s jokes to the murders of trans women, listing the victims by name. Soon, there was talk of a protest. “At least one thousand Netflix employees are expected to participate in a virtual walkout,” J. Clara Chan asserted in the Hollywood Reporter, citing a current staffer. It wasn’t clear whether that figure described the number expected for a virtual protest or a physical protest outside Netflix’s Los Angeles headquarters, but many outlets, including NPR and Gizmodo, ran with the idea of a stirring in-person gathering. Some outlets speculated that this dustup would severely damage Netflix. PBS Newshour, the Platonic ideal of the old-school, down-the-middle news show, tweeted out a teaser for its coverage in which an activist said “Netflix may become a stigma brand… if that’s the case, they will lose employees to their competitors.”
When October 20 rolled around, hardly anyone showed up. According to the Times, only “dozens” of employees were there, alongside various allies and counter-protesters. Netflix has something like 10,000 employees worldwide, and more than 3,000 at its LA headquarters. Despite the blanket cheerleading poorly disguised as news from just about every mainstream outlet, and despite Netflix bosses having explicitly approved of the protest, this turnout was tiny. It suggests that only a fringe group within Netflix were upset enough to do anything tangible about Chappelle’s alleged sins. But you wouldn’t know that from the reporting.
Activists are prone to exaggerating their own numbers and importance. Still, after all the coverage of this controversy the activists could only manage a few dozen people. That ought to tell us something about how popular this sort of activism really is.
Frankly, the same is true of the most recent Women’s March which took place last month. Did you hear about it? It got plenty of media coverage in advance but it seemed to fizzle pretty quickly, perhaps because video showed the number of attendees was disappointing. The flagship DC march was originally intended to host 10,000 people but organizers later dropped expectations to 5,000. Actual video of the event shows less than half that amount. Turnouts were so disappointing that in some locations people posted photos of the 2017 march and claimed they were of the 2021 march.
In any case, Singal argues that media outlets had a choice with the Chappelle/Netflix story. They could go for accuracy or they could do their best to signal they were on the “right side” of the issue. It’s pretty clear what they decided. As I noted at the time, the NY Times claimed that Netflix had lost its “glow” because of the controversy. Is there any evidence of that now?
Several outlets also botched coverage of the protest itself where a protesters named Vito Gesualdi showed up with a sign that read “Jokes are funny.” The AP had to correct a false photo caption that claimed Gesualdi had been shouting profanity at people but video of the event doesn’t show that.
In the end, Singal writes that ” Netflix received only a thousand or so complaints about a special watched by millions.” That’s the real reason this effort didn’t go anywhere. The woke have a lot of sway with the media but not nearly as much with the public. That doesn’t mean cancel culture isn’t real. It is real. It just means that, at this point, the proponents of cancel culture are still outnumbered by more sensible people who think jokes are funny.