Cancelling Cancel Culture


Dave Chapelle performing The Closer on Netflix (Photo from Netflix)

One of my books came out in 2006. It was called ‘Muzzled.’ I just saw that the paperback edition is available on Amazon for a whopping $2.80.  


The book was about political correctness. I was ahead of the curve in identifying the political resonance of these types of issues. The Amazon summary calls it, quote:  

“The antidote to today’s poison of political correctness… Smerconish takes on today’s oversensitive culture with a collection of entertaining, outlandish anecdotes about PC gone wild stories that are hilarious, horrifying, and unbelievably true.” 


Each chapter was a self-contained story. Some stand test of time, others do not. The guy who tried to stop ‘ladies nights’ at bars because he said they discriminate against men. The volunteer military honor guardsman who was told to stop saying ‘God bless You’ to families as he presented an American flag graveside. Wonderful guy, but maybe it was a church/state issue? 

When conservatives began rallying to the PC cause, I backed off. It made all these stories partisan, which was never my motivation. 

What was then PC morphed into ‘cancel culture’, and conservatives own this ground. These sorts of stories get lots of play on Fox. They make for good TV and fire people up. 

But I think it’s important all audiences pay attention to them because I think they have political ramifications. No single story on its own. But collectively, all these attempts to correct and cancel can add up to an overreach. The sort of issues that piss people off and are easy to remember when they close the voting booth curtain. 


Last week, I had the Native American second-year Yale Law School student who was brow-beaten by administrators after he invited classmates to a party at a “trap house” featuring Popeye’s chicken.  


The online reaction was nearly 100 percent against him, and me, for putting him on the air. “Racist dog whistles.” “Played me like a violin.” I “bit”. 

In other words, shame on me for not canceling him, too!  


Here’s another of these stories which popped this week. The uproar over the Art Institute of Chicago letting go of all 82 volunteer docents seeking to diversify the ranks?  


The docents, who were predominantly white, female, and wealthy, and had an average of 15 years of service, received an email from the museum’s Executive Director of Learning and Engagement, Veronica Stein, that explained, quote:  

“As a civic institution, we acknowledge our responsibility to rebuild the volunteer educator program in a way that allows community members of all income levels to participate, responds to issues of class and income equity, and does not require financial flexibility to participate.” 


The Wall Street Journal pounced, declaring:  

“The museum appears to be in the grips of a self-defeating overcorrection. It has adopted the language of diversity, inclusion, and equity so completely that it was willing to fire the same upper-middle-class volunteers it relies on for charitable donations.” 

In other words, the blue hairs are out as tour guides notwithstanding that they spend 18 months training and don’t even get paid! 


The diversity issue also, somewhat bizarrely, led to the resignation of the head of the UC Berkeley atmospheric center. Physicist David Romps, who was unhappy when a colleague from another university, Dorian Abbot, was not invited to give a lecture about climate change because he has voiced his opposition to diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Abbot had been canceled by the Twitter mob from speaking at MIT. 


Of course, the biggest recent story in the cancel culture war is the blow-up over Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special, The Closer. Chappelle provocatively wrestles with his attitudes about the trans community – and others – and with people’s reactions to him.  


Is it PC? No, purposely not. His brand is being anti-woke. He clearly is trying to get a reaction.  


But also, for those who stick around to the end, he surprises us with a tender story about a trans friend, who died – the way he presents it, the Twitter PC mob was partly to blame.  


Does that absolve him for every phobic joke? No.  

Does it make you think? I hope so.

Should his show be withdrawn? No.  


To me, that demand speaks to the death of nuance. America needs to have difficult conversations, not extinguish them altogether.  


Of Chappelle, Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal wrote:


“In truth, some people are probably too big to cancel—Mr. Chappelle is one, J.K. Rowling another. But standing firm helps those who aren’t too big—who know, for instance, that they’d be sacrificed by their employer in a nanosecond if trouble starts and the Twitter mobs come.” 


Don’t misunderstand me, I am not with the haters on either side. I think there should be a middle ground for people somewhere between the extremes. That space keeps getting uncomfortably more narrow – and don’t overlook the political cost to the censors.   

The next time the left is going to browbeat Yale over a party invite, or cancel a speech at MIT, or get rid of the pearl-wearing volunteers at a museum, or take down a statue of Thomas Jefferson, they might want to think twice.  


Because the accumulated weight of all these stories becomes a great political motivator for the right.  

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