Cancel Culture, I Think Not
Most people would raise their voices loudly in rage, abhorrence and revulsion over a school that was named “The Adolph Eichmann Middle School” and there would be universal demands from far and wide to change such a repugnant name to something more acceptable like the “Christopher Columbus Middle School.”
Many people cite tradition and react with righteous indignation against suggestions to rename public institutions and places, as long as they don’t reflect something as loathsome as Nazis, Communists or atheists. It’s kind of hard to rationalize keeping a school that was named after someone who orchestrated the murders of 6 million Jews. That’s a no brainer.
But what about hero worship of the explorer who actively decimated a whole native American culture and laid the seeds for the deadly contamination and genocide of millions of native Americans? That too should be a no brainer. Apparently slavery, genocide, sexism in the image of Mr. Potato Head or racism and xenophobia in the words of Dr. Seuss are not considered to be loathsome to many people.
Is it simply lack of education or is it something much worse when people don’t know the history of Christopher Columbus and how he led a genocide of native Americans? Is it something much worse when they do learn about the roots of genocide but still recoil against taking the hallowed Columbus name away from public institutions and they scream in rage against calls to demolish a monument to a Civil War general in the name of respecting southern culture even if the general fought to tear apart the country in order to maintain slavery?
If a group of people believe a name or a phrase is offensive, it is not up to others to decide it is not. If left up to the majority, we could see athletic teams like the California Custers, Honolulu Hymies, Georgia Guinnees, Kentucky Kikes, Chatanooga Coons, Nashville Negroes, Jacksonville Jim Crows, Washington Wops, Arkansas Aunt Jemimas, West Virginia Wetbacks, Charleston Chinks, Canada Crackers, Denver Dagos, Dover Dotheads, Great Lakes Gooks, Harding Honkeys, Juneau Jewboys, Joliet Junglebunnies, North Dakota Nips, Oklahoma Oven Dodgers, South Carolina Sambos, Saint Louis Schvartses, Sparta Spearchuckers or the Washington White Trash.
The far right denigrates the movement to sanitize the nation from references that glorify the country’s dark past and they ridicule such efforts as divisive and un-American when their real motivations have more to do with their own racism, sexism and xenophobia. Their warnings are loud, now they outlaw Dr. Seuss, what’s next, Santa Claus, God, war?
Another word that has become popularly derided by the right wing is the status of being “woke” or being aware of past grievances and understanding idea such as white privilege. It is not wrong and in fact, it is honorable, to learn about the past mistakes and horrors that the country did in the name of power. But this is nothing new as our history is rife with those who were persecuted or worse for uncovering and speaking out against injustice, speaking truth to power often does not end peacefully.
Just look how quickly right wing politicians weaponized the decision by the Hasbro Co. to change its age-old popular “Mr. Potato Head” to a gender, non-specific “Potato Head” to reflect the changing attitudes about gender and the decision by the publisher of the timeless Dr. Seuss children’s books to eliminate publishing six of the author’s less popular books because they contain offensive racial and cultural depictions.
I can hear the right wing roar now. What’s next? Banning Dr. Seuss and destroying Mr. Potato Head is just the latest attempt and the next thing they’ll demand is to remove the minstrel show mammie, Aunt Jemima, from the pancake box, oh, yes, I believe that has been done. And yes, the stereotyped, smiling negro has been eliminated from the Uncle Ben box and “Land O’Lakes” butter changed its branding to be farmer-focused and has removed the stereotyped, submissive, indigenous woman pictured on the products for decades and long the symbol of the company
How about including disclaimers at the start of “Gone With The Wind” to note that the film inaccurately reflects the plight of black slaves; a disclaimer that the “Charlie Chan” movies starred an English actor because the director didn’t want to hire Asians; a disclaimer that the character of Buckwheat in the “Our Gang” comedies was demeaning; and while we’re at it let’s get rid of the demeaning native American character on “Red Man” chewing tobacco.
Within hours of the shocking Potato Head and Dr. Seuss news, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., one of the great Trump apologists, compared it with the Democrats’ plan to expand voting rights, calling it just one more example of culture cancelling. The connection went right over my head.
Donald Trump Jr. and much of Fox News said the Seuss decision was another example of rampant “cancel culture” by a “radical left” that will stop at nothing to tear down our beloved, American culture.
“Let’s preserve some of the goodness and the decency from some of these great books because who knows what next? You saw Mr. Potato Head and you saw the Muppets, they’re all gone in the last 10 days,” Trump Jr. said, incorrectly as Mr. Potato Head was changed but not eliminated and some of the Seuss books have been pulled by the publisher because of offensive content.
And regarding the Muppets, they’re not going anywhere but “The Muppet Show” on Disney+ will include a declaimer warning of “offensive content.” The disclaimer shown prior to each episode warns viewers that the show features “stereotypes” and “mistreatment of people or cultures.”
“This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now,” the disclaimer states. “Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.”
Sounds pretty progressive to me.