Not-So-Cancelled (or, Hey, We’re Still Talking About the Wrong Things)

shaunduke
6 min readFeb 13, 2022

In a semi-recent piece for The Nation, David Klion discussed what is by now no longer the “latest” bit of Internet “free speech” theater in response to the cancellation of a collection of Norman Mailer’s essays. I shouldn’t say “cancelled,” really. The publisher passed on publishing the book, which means it could very well be published somewhere else (even by Mailer’s estate), thereby making the meaning of a “cancellation” rather dubious at best. Can you really be “cancelled” in the lofty meaning that term has now taken (undeserved, really) when you’re both very much dead and your work is otherwise still available? I mean, the presumed offending work, “The White Negro,” is literally right there on the Internet. Google it if you must.[1]

What stands out about this latest bout of the same conversation we’ve been having for the last decade is how utterly banal it has become. It’s essentially the same handful of voices saying the same handful of things while critically missing both reality and actual issues happening over there that deserve a nuanced and stern response. I’m talking about the use of Internet mobs to destroy people’s lives, both by literally trying to ruin them over what are often extremely small offenses by blasting them for months or years on end in social media spaces (thereby making being there innately masochistic) or, worse, real world harassment (doxxing, sending threatening mail, showing up at houses, or, in rarer cases, much worse). Just a couple months ago, a friend of mine got blasted for what was actually a correctly nuanced tweet, and this became a kind of “rallying call” for those looking for a regular punching bag (and who, in some cases, had already been punching this friend for over a year in response to something else).[2]

What we’re witnessing happening around us is a kind of insidious sea change to which the so-called defenders of free speech have both failed to adapt and ironically brought about. What “cancel culture” used to mean in its political grift lexicon never had much to do with “cancelling” within the black community. It has always been a farce propped up by mountains of fake controversies, misunderstandings, and political posturing. The Norman Mailer incident is just another line in the “cancel culture” debate which fails miserably at…

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shaunduke

SFF fan, professor, editor, podcaster on @skiffyandfanty. Caribbean SFF, postcolonialism, Digital Rhetoric. Opinions my own. He/Him patreon.com/thejoyfactory