2020: The Year Cancel Culture Took Over
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Actor Mark Wahlberg backstage during the Oscars held at the Dolby Theatre on February 24, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Free speech warriors had reason for hope at the end of 2019.

Comic superstars like Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr and Sebastian Maniscalco delivered upper cuts to the scourge known as Cancel Culture and its enforcers, the woke mob.

Chappelle’s Netflix special “Sticks and Stones,” in particular, suggested a cultural sea change given his status as comedy’s elder statesman. Plus, while only 35 percent of professional critics liked it at, 99 percent of audience members praised its politically incorrect jabs.

Was the tide turning at long last? It sure seemed that way until the spring of 2020. On May 25, a Minneapolis police officer held George Floyd, a black man, down by his neck for nearly eight excruciating minutes.

Floyd later died. Protesters torched the Twin Cities. Any hope that 2020 would see Cancel Culture’s demise similarly went up in flames as Americans scrambled in an attempt to right historical wrongs, sometimes going to absurd lengths.

Now? Cancel Culture’s control over western culture shows little sign of abating.

America dramatically changed following Floyd’s death. Black Lives Matter found new life, permeating sports, Hollywood and the mainstream media. Corporations doubled and tripled down on BLM support while the media actively suppressed news that painted the movement in an unflattering light. “Mostly peaceful” protests turned major metropolitan centers into war zones. 

And, bit by bit, pop culture moments went down the memory hole.

Shows featuring blackface moments were canceled, including episodes from “The Golden Girls,” “Scrubs,” “Community,” “30 Rock” and more.

Jimmy Fallon, the formerly apolitical “Tonight Show” host, got bullied into apologizing on-air for his own blackface moment 20 years ago. It’s important to note that fellow late night host Jimmy Kimmel apologized via a statement for his serial blackface offenses weeks later, striking a far more combative tone.

The creative team behind the police comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” threw out scripts for its upcoming season, vowing to rework the material to better reflect the BLM moment.

Classic movies were slapped with warnings or outright cancellations. “Gone With the Wind,” one of the most beloved films of all time, got yanked from HBO Max for insufficiently capturing the horrors of slavery. The film later returned to the fledgling service, but with a warning label attached.

Similar labels showed up across streaming platforms. Disney proved to be the most aggressive, slapping labels on everything from “Dumbo” to an episode of “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.”

An Oregon screening celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Kindergarten Cop” was nixed in August after a single critic said it made light of “cops traumatizing kids” and reflected the “school-to-prison” pipeline.

More recently, the 1980 camp classic “Flash Gordon” earned a warning label for casting Max von Sydow, who is white, as an Asian character – Ming the Merciless. The decades-old casting decision was “potentially offensive.”

The list of academia-related cancellations would take up an entire article all on its own. Here’s just one to set the scene:

Leslie Neal-Boylan, Dean of Nursing at UMass-Lowell, lost her job after sharing this “racist” email with students and faculty:

“I am writing to express my concern and condemnation of the recent (and past) acts of violence against people of color… I despair for our future as a nation if we do not stand up against violence against anyone. BLACK LIVES MATTER, but also, EVERYONE’S LIFE MATTERS.”

The world of sports wasn’t immune to cultural cancellations.

A sports broadcaster also lost his gig for saying, “All Lives Matter.” Famed quarterback Drew Brees got punished for defending the American flag.

Yet we also saw Cancel Culture’s limits in 2020.

The woke mob tried to cancel Mark Wahlberg for heinous acts he committed as a much younger man. The “Transformers” star, who previously apologized for the ignorance of his youth, didn’t respond to the attacks. The mob subsequently moved on to other targets.

More importantly, Cancel Culture ignored a crush of hateful comments, showing its true, political nature.

Singer Noah Cyrus called Daily Wire contributor Candace Owens a racial slur and faced zero consequences, even though a similar slur all but ended radio superstar Don Imus’ career back in 2007. Owens is one of the most prominent black conservatives, and isn’t afforded Cancel Culture protection.

Stars routinely wished physical harm, or worse, on President Donald Trump while the woke mob shrugged because of his GOP bona fides.

Howard Stern’s history of wildly inappropriate racial humor surfaced mid-year, but the shock jock’s quasi-apology was deemed sufficient. Stern had previously turned on former chum President Trump, granting him limited mob immunity.

Nick Cannon’s very bad year also revealed Cancel Culture’s curious standards.

The versatile star shared anti-Semitic views and suggested white people are inferior to blacks in a grotesque podcast episode. Either one could have cost him his livelihood.

Instead, he lost a business connection with Viacom but retained his hosting gig on FOX’s “The Masked Singer.” His still-alive talk show project got pushed to 2021.

It’s worth noting that ABC essentially erased Roseanne Barr’s career and signature sitcom in 2017 for one ugly, racially-charged Tweet.

Those looking for hopeful signs on the Cancel Culture front can cling to a few recent developments. The BBC nominated J.K. Rowling’s essay on “sex and gender” for its Russell Prize honors. Rowling’s contrarian views on trans culture made her Cancel Culture’s number one target in 2020.

Joe Rogan survived a massive Cancel Culture assault during his switch to Spotify, giving the audio platform its biggest podcast numbers for 2020.

Ricky Gervais refuses to back down in his personal fight against Cancel Culture, most recently comparing it to “road rage.”

Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey savaged the Cancel Culture mindset earlier this month:

“Where the waterline is going to land on this freedom of speech and what we allow and what we don’t and where this cancel culture goes, where that waterline lands is a very interesting place that we are engaged in right now as a society that we’re trying to figure out because we haven’t found the right spot,” he said.

He’s right, but he’s putting it mildly.

The fight to defend free speech continues in 2021, but the momentum is squarely on the mob’s side.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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