Written By: Anton Sawyer
Between the Parent’s Music Resource Center (PMRC) in the 80s and their attempts at a “rating system” on albums with questionable material, to the attempted banning of certain rap/metal acts like Eminem, Body Count, and Marilyn Manson in the 90s, this kind of censorship is nothing new. The cycle of censorship predicated on a moral choice and forcing it on others has gone between severe ebbs and flows over the years.
With that said, it seems that the general response surrounding the recent controversies that have befallen comedian Dave Chappelle and YouTube influencer Shane Dawson are any indications of what the future holds, then I am more than pleased. It appears the tides are drifting away. Today I’m going to look at them both, the recent events I speak of, and what it all means for the future of this dreaded disease known as cancel culture.
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For a quick recap of the Dawson cancellation, here goes.
Dawson was one of the most influential YouTubers with tens of millions of subscribers across several different channels. Between 2018 and 2020, a lot of the more “problematic” videos he had done years prior began to resurface, with the cancel culture community leading the charge to have his career effectively ended. In all fairness, the videos were pretty terrible. He was called out for making inappropriate gestures at a poster of Willow Smith from when she was 11 years old. She slammed him on Twitter writing “To Shane Dawson, I’m done with the excuses.” Around this same time, a chain of his older videos that had elements of racism (including blackface) and pedophilia jokes started making the rounds.
Many of these videos were resurfacing during the same time frame he had gotten into very public arguments with other YouTube influencers/makeup gurus James Charles and Tati Westbrook. The repercussions to everything came about in spades. All his YouTube channels were demonetized, he lost many sponsorships and lost a lot of future revenue from then-upcoming films and projects. While I was watching all of this unfold, I legitimately thought Dawson would never make a comeback. The vitriol shown by the online community against him was palpable, and once his video silence hit the year mark, I truly felt CC had slain the once-mighty beast.
“Well I’ll be damned, here comes your ghost again.”
That line from the song “Diamonds and Rust” became reality when, in early October 2021, Dawson released a video titled “The Haunting Of Shane Dawson.” Though there has been a bit of a Twitter backlash to this release, the numbers don’t lie, and they also prove that what I had predicted was true; humans love redemption stories more than anything.
The Haunting of Shane Dawson had 3.5 million views in its first three days with an excellent like/dislike ratio; 300,000 likes versus 47,000 dislikes. For comparison, there are literally millions of YouTubers who will never reach that kind of success in a single video … ever. Yes, we could say that his channels are demonetized. We could look at the massive reduction in income he attained when he got canceled (including up to today), but that’s missing the point. Given the fact that as recently as a year ago he was as popular as a rubber crutch in a paraplegic ward, and still being able to draw those kinds of numbers, solidifies this notion of our species wanting to see those who've castigated rise above like the proverbial Phoenix.
When watching him confront the last year of his life in the Haunting video by claiming that he’s “so grateful” after being canceled for his past transgressions because of the clarity it allowed him, this redemption arc is exactly the angle he’s setting up. I know that plans are in motion to do a collaboration video with YouTuber/makeup guru Jeffree Star in the same month as his Haunting release, so the wheels have begun to turn. I have a distinct feeling that we’re going to be seeing a lot more of Dawson over the next 6-12 months.
Comedian Dave Chapppelle is in hot water because of a Netflix special he released in October 2021 called “The Closer.” In the special, there are some jokes which have become the ire to many due to their transphobic nature. During the special, Chappelle says "Gender is a fact. Every human being in this room, every human being on earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on earth. That is a fact." He then goes on to make explicit jokes about the bodies of trans women. The backlash was swift and thorough. The National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights advocacy group, called on Netflix to pull the special. "With 2021 on track to be the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States—the majority of whom are Black transgender people—Netflix should know better. Perpetuating transphobia perpetuates violence," David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said in a statement. "Netflix should immediately pull The Closer from its platform and directly apologize to the transgender community." LGBTQ+ activist Taylor Ashbrook tweeted her disappointment Tuesday. "As a trans woman, I have usually defended Dave Chappelle's specials because I think they're hilarious and his jokes about trans women never felt intentionally malicious," she wrote. "The Closer changed my mind on that. That special felt so lazy and disingenuous and I'm really disappointed."
One of the biggest impacts of this retaliation effort came from Jaclyn Moore, writer, and showrunner on the Netflix original series "Dear White People" and the upcoming reboot of "Queer as Folk." She is dramatically hitting the company by pulling the aforementioned Dear White People. Having recently concluded its run, Moore tweeted that she "will not work with [Netflix] as long as they continue to put out and profit from blatantly and dangerously homophobic content."
In days gone by, these kinds of statements would immediately throw the company that does PR for Chappelle into a frenzy. Apologies (at the bare minimum), or some kind of acknowledgment would be doled out rapidly. In the case of Chappelle, nothing.
Well, that’s a lie. The controversy has benefited him immensely.
Shortly after the press machine latched on to what was happening in his special, Chapelle performed to a sold-out crowd at the Hollywood Bowl in front of superstars like Brad Pitt, Tiffany Haddish, and Stevie Wonder. One of the statements Chapelle made specifically did rouse the crowd to their feet when it came to him being canceled. “If this is what being canceled is like, I love it.”
Looking at history, this was to be expected. In all the cases I mentioned in the first paragraph, every one of those morality groups who tried to stop the evil scourges of rap and heavy metal saw their plans backfire to one degree or another. When it comes to art of any kind, forbidden fruits taste the sweetest. The acts that were targeted by these organizations all ended up being greatly benefited from the publicity, and the censorship leagues all shuttered. When it comes to CC though, I think there are two main reasons why the train is stopping at the station.
The first is in the fact that the public has gotten sick of hearing about CC. It’s become the norm to where anyone who uses social media will see something about someone with fame saying or doing something (it doesn’t really matter when it occurred) that has caused outrage from the SJWs. This in turn allows for a new weaponized talking point against the SJWs from the GOP about censorship. It gets repeated over and over again. Even die-hard liberals who support the social causes have even been experiencing burnout over this never-ending sea of controversy.
The second reason has a bit more nuance. I believe it comes down to the perception of CC and how it’s been forced into the limelight. I agree that racism, sexism, bigotry of any kind are some of the greatest mental cancers that can permeate the mind and emotions. So, I think it needs to be made clear that when it comes to stopping these kinds of societal ills, I don’t think you should kick rocks and bury your morals or ideals in the name of trying to change perceptions to what's right if you are confronted. What I am saying is that time and time again throughout human history, trying to ban, stomp, or kill whatever it is you don't like may work. But at best, it will only work for a short period of time. Overall, it isn't going to change the views of man to allow its organic, continued success and the removal of the systemic thought processes.
During the Chapelle Hollywood Bowl performance, Stevie Wonder made some comments that I think pertain to this situation of perception perfectly. “What we need to cancel is hate. What we need to cancel is fear because we have to have love, and we should never cancel that. I want us to cancel the idea of feeling that we don’t want anyone to laugh because if we don’t laugh, we cry. And I don’t believe that was God’s intention—ever.” And this is coming from a man whose career has spanned everything from segregated water fountains in certain southern locations to seeing us elect the first black president. If anyone knows the inherent problems with cancel culture and the societal ills it's trying to eliminate, it would be him. He knows.
I think the best example of how love can generate results more effectively than destruction would be with LGBTQ+ marriage rights. In the early 2000s, former President Bush was doing everything he could to stop anyone from being married to anyone other than a person of the opposite gender. Rallies, stump speeches, all of it had gay rights in the crosshairs. The LGBTQ+ community took the argument and shifted it to be about love and inclusion. Not through force of acceptance, but something every human can understand: love itself. Every adult has fallen in love, had their heart broken, etc. It is a key component of the human experience. It's relatable and was a message that most citizens could agree with—even if they didn't support the lifestyle specifically. I can promise you that if their argument was framed with more contention (i.e. them saying that the general population WILL accept their lifestyle and any adversaries towards this notion will be decimated), then gay marriage, and LGBTQ rights in general, may have taken a lot longer to get to where they are currently at ... if at all.
Sadly, when deeply examining 2021, these reasons don’t actually matter much anymore. Companies are now proactively taking care of these “problem children” as soon as possible, preventing the possibility of offending. Earlier in 2021, we saw the Dr. Seuss trust (Seuss Enterprises) pull six of their books voluntarily because of how deep-rooted the CC tendrils have become in corporations that want to keep a very specific image. Keep in mind these books are considered classics and have sold millions of copies worldwide—titles like “And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street.” When a movement has been able to rattle enough of the world of corporations to where those corporations are proactively losing money all while doing your work without being asked (forced); mission accomplished.
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