I recall reading something a while back that I couldn’t find when I went to write this, about a Christian flavor of atheism. Not the actual sorta-religion “Christian atheism“, but rather the position “I’m an atheist, but the God I don’t believe in is Jehovah.” To those of us who grew up in Europe or places colonized by Europe, this is to some extent unavoidable: to varying degrees, we’re soaked in an assumption of Christian faith and if we have to outright reject a religion we had before, it’s almost always some flavor of that one.
Similarly, there’s a lot of people who are agnostics or just secular in their daily lives to the point that even if they have a faith it doesn’t really have anything to do with them except the occasional big holiday observances or family functions. These people aren’t atheist per se atheist, but are still passively steeped in a Chritianity-saturated environment.
There are effects of this. It affects our values and our language – and with them, our marketing. It tells us what a hero is, and thereby what to do to look like one. It tells us that being the underdog looks good, that fighting an inhuman – dare I say, demonic – enemy looks good, and that the ultimate image to make people love you is to become a martyr. It tells us, in point of fact, what “cancel culture” really is.
My fellow lefties, we have been snowed, once again. Hoodwinked, bamboozled, and taken for a ride, because we engaged in good faith. That’s a horrible place to start when addressing what political commentators, be they right-wing or what passes for centrist around these parts, like to say about us, because that is almost never done in good faith. We talk and write about how ‘cancel culture’ isn’t really a thing, because it’s consequence culture, it’s people finally being held accountable and not liking it. Or, we talk about how a lot of left-leaning people – reacting to how often they’ve been hurt in the past – can react with snap judgements sometimes, especially in social media environments carefully tuned to spin anger into clicks. These happen, yes, and there’s a worthy discussion to be had about the latter especially, but these aren’t “cancel culture”.
“Cancel culture” – the “cancel” part of this having been stolen originally from Black performers and Black pop culture, as so tiringly many things are – was a term that only gained currency in the last years of the Trump presidency, because it was a useful talking point for both deliberately and accidentally right-wing pundits. It was promoted for two reasons: to delegitimize all forms of public calling to account, and to foment the reaction to that. Pushing ‘cancel culture’, just like ‘political correctness’ long before it and others, was always nothing more than a way to create a bloc of people who believe that there is a huge monolithic Left, being both pitiful and powerful, that it is heroic to stand up against and oppose. An easy job, since ‘mock the Other’ has never been a hard sell, and these are right-leaning or further audiences anyway.
And of course, the reason to create this bloc is to make the road to media stardom a short easy one for anyone willing to tread it without empathy.
To the cynical and powerful, this is nothing but an opportunity. They’re not really afraid of being “canceled” because they know damn well that for anyone with privilege, the consequences of that are little to nothing. They also know that it makes damn good press: it’s an opportunity to be a martyr, which unlike traditional martyrdom comes with the convenience of still being alive to enjoy it.
That’s worth doing because, according to our Christian traditions, you are at your holiest and most worthy of worship when there are some assholes in leather skirts nailing you to a cross.
Look at the calculations Dave Chappelle has made throughout his career, how strongly he considers what he is and isn’t willing to do and how these things will affect his bottom line… then consider what cynical calculation he must have made to deliberately foment and surf the criticism he knew would accompany ‘The Closer’, how he talks about all of this on TV. “If this is what being canceled is like, I love it,” he said. Verbatim.
Look at Richard Dawkins, who apparently is now kicking off some new media round of Victorian Science Man daddy-knows-best nonsense, and starting it with images meant to evoke himself as a crucified Jesus figure!
Look at every hate-speech advocate who posed with duct tape on their mouth, or every edgy-wedgy comedian promoting his (and it is almost always ‘his’) dull establishment-prejudice-riddled set with images of himself as a ‘public enemy’ or even literally posing like he’s on a cross.
It’s sickening. It’s immature. It’s disgusting. And it is undeniably effective.
That’s all we are to them now. It’s why there’s no point engaging in good faith: they’re not listening. We’re not an opponent, we’re a fantasy, a marketing gimmick, a convenient fake enemy they can claim affixed them to their comfortable styrofoam cross with Nerf nails in all the media tours that ignore all of our actual voices.
It’s nothing but manipulation. Bread and circuses, and we’re just the yeast.