Op-eds

No nuance to ‘cancel culture’

  • Howard Feldman 2018
We know this: it’s much easier to stand on the extreme side of any discussion than it is to contemplate the nuances of the conversation. Which is why the trend of “cancel culture” is a particularly thorny one.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Jun 25, 2020

Following the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, there seems to be a global purge of icons that are considered offensive. These include statues, movies, books, packaging, and cereals.

In the past week, I have reported on the complaint by a British MP against Kellogg’s, which features a brown monkey on the packaging of Coco Pops, while Rice Crispies features three white kids. The film The Help has been criticised for its white-saviour narrative. Gone With the Wind has been removed from HBO, and Leon Shuster from DStv. Even Mary Poppins’ famous chimney sweep scene is said to have black-face references.

Statues of slave traders have been torn down, but so too have memorials to people like Winston Churchill, arguably one of the heroes of the past century.

Not even Fawlty Towers is safe, with the famous “German” episode having been removed by the BBC for reasons that it’s not prepared to fully explain. If at all.

American packaging is falling over itself in a quest not to offend, with products like Aunt Jemima being removed from view. The brand was represented by Nancy Green, who was in fact an emancipated slave. The rebranding is contrary to the objection of Nancy Green’s family, who argue that she represents a time. Eradicating her from history is much like removing Miriam from the Bible, given that she was a slave in Egypt. In its attempt not to offend, it would seem that all images of black people are being purged from public reference. Which is more than a little problematic.

Considering the above, it’s tempting simply to roll our eyes and suggest the immediate and irrevocable cancellation of cancel culture. Because it’s ridiculous. But before we do that, it might be worth considering how as Jews we would feel if in the centre of our town, there stood a prominent statue to Adolf Hitler? What would we do if Mein Kampf were to be sold at the local Readers Warehouse without a note or a warning as to the dangerous and offensive content?

And if we can’t accept that there is anything to cancel culture, then why did so many Jews choose not to drive a Mercedes or a BMW? Wasn’t this an attempt to in some way “cancel” these products?

The answer, much like the question that we might need to ask, is one of nuance. Eskimo Pie has recently announced that it will be rebranding a product that was launched in 1922 because the word “Eskimo” is considered by a few people to be offensive. It’s unlikely to rebrand the product “Inuit Pie”, and it’s likely that we will see a new, bland ice cream name emerge. Even though not everyone agrees that the name is problematic, mere fear and lack of courage is enough to force the name change.

The fallacy of the premise on which cancel culture is based is that today, in June 2020, we are gifted with all the answers. It’s based on the assumption that we have been appointed the judge over all generations that have lived before us. Worse still is that cancel culture, in its arrogance, often ignores the nuance and perspective of time and circumstance.

It’s clear that we don’t have the answers. There’s no golden rule as to how history should be viewed. But we owe it to future generations to at least think about it.

1 Comment

  1. 1 EDA 30 Jun
    such a good article H

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