On Wednesday Louis C.K. announced a tour that starts in New York City a week from tonight. The first two shows are at a 5600-seat theater connected to Madison Square Garden, and between then and the second week of December he’ll be doing 48 shows in 30 different cities. Not bad for somebody who’s been “cancelled.”
The concept of “cancel culture,” of course, is total bullshit, as this tour reminds us. It’s a trumped-up bit of nonsense used by bad faith ideologues to dismiss criticism, avoid responsibility, preserve existing imbalanced power structures, and stoke the professional grievance machine that keeps money rolling into the coffers of right-wing media, politicians, and culture warriors. Nobody is ever really cancelled; people might miss out on some professional opportunities, but careers are rarely ended except in the most egregious of incidents, and other opportunities usually open up in response. Louis C.K., who admitted to sexually harassing multiple comedians over a period of years, might have lost his open-ended TV contract with FX, and lost distribution for his movie that intentionally played on the alleged sexual abuse committed by another rich and successful filmmaker who has supposedly been “cancelled,” but he has continued to tour regularly and release new comedy specials direct to viewers. He has continued to make a comfortable living off of his comedy. Louis C.K., one of the first and most notable “victims” of the so-called current wave of “cancel culture,” was never actually cancelled.
I’m not saying anything new or unknown here. It’s been blazingly obvious for years that the people who crow the loudest about “cancel culture” emphasize it for their own enrichment. Even when voiced by comedians instead of pundits or activists, it’s the same grift you see every night on far right cable news channels or in a constant stream on conservative social media feeds. Making “cancel culture” sound like an actual threat creates an us vs. them mindset that suddenly turns an insignificant decision over what to watch or spend money on into an important stand in the culture war. Listening to an AM talk show or some stand-up hack’s podcast is no longer a way to kill some time, but a crucial step in defending freedom of speech and the American way of life. You want to stick it to all these leftists and their woke cancel culture, don’t you? The ones who want to tell you what you can and can’t say or think? Then subscribe to some depressing website to watch the same dozen comedy club lifers say exactly what they want while complaining about how nobody can say anything any more without getting cancelled. Then keep watching right-wing non-news that will say anything to maintain and consolidate Republican power and that’s funded by weird multibillionaires you’ve barely ever heard of.
This is an era awash with shamelessness and selfishness and an utter lack of empathy for anybody else. Too many people don’t care at all about what their actions (or inaction) do to the well-being of others—up to and including the well-being of the entire damn planet we’re stuck on. In that light the right’s fake outrage over “cancel culture” is not one of the more pressing issues in the world today. It is emblematic of the mentality that has led us to all the various catastrophes we’re currently facing, though, from the pandemic, to the utter breakdown of our political system, to the climate disasters that now occur in a constant, unending cycle. All of this has been exacerbated by the utter dishonesty of one wing of our society, who are focused solely on their own power and security. People who think anything is fair game as long as they benefit from it. People who have no problem lying about a pandemic, or about humankind’s destructive impact upon the environment, or about how a “mob” of “woke” activists have the ability to instantly “cancel” somebody for saying or doing something they don’t like. And yes, people who think it’s totally fine to take their penis out in front of unsuspecting women and start masturbating. There is no cancel culture, but as long as people like this can profit through lying about it, as long as they can preserve their own power and fortune by dividing the country and manipulating a big enough portion of the population into a constant state of outrage, the idea of “cancel culture” is here to stay.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.