Cancel culture — the throwing of stones from behind computer screens, the social media mob doubling as anonymous arbiters of justice, picking apart every action of public figures and private citizens alike — has the power to destroy careers, lives, and families. Coronavirus lockdowns seem to have only exacerbated the problem, leaving the morality police with even more time cooped up at home to parse out every word and ring the alarm bells of offense.
The celebrities caught in the crossfire have two options: bow down to the mob and repent for their sins, or take a stand. Here are five stars who chose to bow down, and five who decided to take a stand.
BOWED DOWN: Chris Harrison
When 2018 photos re-surfaced earlier this month of Bachelor contestant Rachael Kirkconnell attending an “Old South” themed fraternity party, she was instantly cancelled. Before the 24-year-old reality star had the chance to respond, Twitter and TikTok mobs had labeled her a ‘racist’ and ‘bigot’ going so far as publishing her parents’ voting histories and Republican party membership.
Former Bachelorette Rachel Lindsay pressed the show’s host, Chris Harrison, for a comment during an interview with ExtraTV. Though Harrison insisted he was “not defending Rachael [Kirkconnell],” he urged Rachel Lindsay to exercise some grace in allowing her time to respond to allegations of racism: “Until I actually hear this woman have a chance to speak, who am I to say any of this?
Harrison countered Lindsay’s harsh criticism of Kirkconnell by examining the situation through a forgiving alternative lens: “My guess? These girls got dressed up and went to a party and had a great time. They were 18-year olds.” Harrison even likened cancel culture to a “judge, jury, executioner thing,” and declared it “unbelievably alarming to watch.”
So why is Harrison on the “Bowed Down” section of this list? Because in just a matter of days, he was cancelled for speaking out against cancel culture. Social media exploded following Harrison’s interview, with many accusing him of excusing and enabling racism.
After nearly 20 years at the helm of the Bachelor franchise, Harrison took to Instagram to step down from his position as host, kowtowing to the very mob he critiqued as soon as they turned against him: “From here I can only try to evolve and be a better man, and I humble myself before all of you.”
STOOD UP: Megyn Kelly
In 2018, Megyn Kelly had an early brush with the emerging cancel culture phenomenon when she contextualized blackface on her NBC show as “okay when [she] was a kid, as long as you were dressing like a character.” Soon after, she was decried as a racist on social media.
Although she apologized on air the following day, NBC abruptly cancelled the brand new “Megyn Kelly Today” show. In the months which followed, Kelly stepped out of the public eye to concentrate on her family and personal well-being.
But she didn’t stay out of the spotlight for long. In September, she launched an independent media company and began “The Megyn Kelly Show” podcast, refusing to be erased from public view by the outrage mob. The podcast includes a feature called “You Can’t Say That,” in which she exposes the latest absurd iterations of cancel culture.
In an interview with Bill Maher in January, she urged those pursuing justice to do so not by tearing people down but with “understanding that people make mistakes and that we’re all imperfect, and we’re going to screw up, maybe more than once… we’re all only here for a limited time, and we can’t expect a perfect score of any person.”
BOWED DOWN: HBO Executives
In June, HBO made headlines when it pulled “Gone With the Wind” from its HBO Max streaming service after the 1939 film was criticized for racism and glorification of the Antebellum South. In a statement, HBO said, “These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of these depictions would be irresponsible.”
“Gone With the Wind” is the highest grossing movie of all time and won ten Oscars, making it a classic from Hollywood’s early days. The film also broke down barriers, with actress Hattie McDaniel becoming the first black actress to be nominated and win an Academy Award for her role as Mammy.
While standards for what’s acceptable in film have certainly changed in the eighty-plus years since it’s making, HBO’s move ultimately revealed their desire to rewrite history, as well as their mistrust in the audience to draw their own conclusions.
STOOD UP: Ricky Gervais
Known for his offensive humor and public critiques of Hollywood elitism, Ricky Gervais has also been a passionate opponent of the outrage mob. The perceptive Gervais noted cancel culture’s misalignment with liberal ideals in an August interview with Metro: “If you don’t agree with someone’s right to say something you don’t agree with, you don’t agree with freedom of speech.”
He has also spoken out about shifting standards and the woke mob’s tendency to apply modern values to previous situations. In a December appearance on the SmartLess Podcast, he pointed out, “You could be the most woke, the most politically correct stand-up in the world at the moment, but you don’t know what it’s gong to be like in ten years’ time. You can get cancelled for things you said ten years ago.”
Gervais succinctly summed up the un-winnable paradox of cancel culture in a July interview with talkRADIO: “Social media amplifies everything. If you’re left wing on Twitter, you’re suddenly Trotsky. If you’re mildly conservative, you’re Hitler. And if you’re centrist and you look at both arguments, you’re a coward, and they both hate you.”
BOWED DOWN: Anne Hathaway
In November, Anne Hathaway was called out by the cancel mob for her portrayal of Grand High Witch in a recent adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1983 children’s fantasy novel “The Witches.” The book describes the supernatural character as having “thin curvy claws, like a cat,” and Hathaway’s hands were portrayed accordingly.
This sparked outrage on social media, where users pointed out Hathaway’s character resembled some handicapped individuals and therefore could cause offense to the “differently-limbed community.” Although the film was meant to portray fantastical non-human creatures and Hathaway was not even the person who created the character, she didn’t hesitate to bow down to cancel culture almost immediately.
Hathaway promptly took to Instagram to beg for forgiveness: “I did not connect limb difference with the GHW [Grand High Witch] when the look of the character was brought to me; If I had, I assure you this never would have happened.” She concluded, “I promise I’ll do better.”
STOOD UP: Bill Maher
Another avid opponent of “snowflake” culture is late night host Bill Maher. In a January interview with Megyn Kelly, Maher tore apart the Twitter mob interested only in “getting a scalp on the wall,” rhetorically asking, “Who are these perfect people who have never made any mistake?”
Maher, who identifies as a classical liberal and Democrat, placed blame on the loud Leftist minority: “When they do polls, they find, like, 80 to 90 percent of the people in this country hate this sh*t. Even liberals hate this sh*t.” He continued, “This is one reason why Trump got elected, because people hate political correctness so much that they’ll even take it in the mouth of a werewolf.”
In August, when national discourse was preoccupied with erasing the legacies of historical heroes like Washington and Jefferson, Maher challenged the mob to quit cancelling our forebears and direct that attention towards shaping a better world for our descendants: “Here’s a crazy idea: Let’s live in the present and make the future better.”
BOWED DOWN: Jimmy Fallon
This May, a 2000 clip from Jimmy Fallon’s days on Saturday Night Live resurfaced in which The Tonight Show host impersonated Chris Rock using blackface. The 20 year old video was recirculated on social media, and soon, #jimmyfalonisoverparty was trending on Twitter.
Almost immediately, Fallon took to Twitter to apologize: “There is no excuse for this. I am very sorry for making this unquestionably offensive decision and thank all of you for holding me accountable.” He then opened his next show in June promising a personal reformation: “I had to really examine myself, really examine myself in the mirror this week… I realized I need to get educated.”
STOOD UP: Chris Rock
On the flip side of the Jimmy Fallon controversy is Chris Rock’s response to the issue. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in September, he admitted the skit was “bad comedy” but also said Fallon called him personally to apologize after his May tweet. “He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” Rock said.
In an interview with the New York Times the same month, Rock asked for some understanding for Fallon: “Hey, man, I’m friends with Jimmy. Jimmy’s a great guy. And he didn’t mean anything. A lot of people want to say intention doesn’t matter, but it does. And I don’t think Jimmy Fallon intended to hurt me. And he didn’t.”
Later that month, he appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show. As the very individual being portrayed in an offensive light, Rock’s willingness to forgive and Twitter’s unwillingness to do the same reveals the underlying mentality of the cancel culture mob.
BOWED DOWN: Nike Executives
Nike planned to launch a special edition of the Air Max 1 Quick Strike sneaker featuring a thirteen star American flag in celebration of Independence Day in 2019. After they were distributed to retailers for sale, NFL player Colin Kaepernick — who signed a $126 million contract with Nike just a few years earlier — demanded they be yanked from shelves.
Kaepernick insisted the Betsy Ross flag was offensive for its link to an era of slavery. Almost immediately, Nike released a statement announcing they were halting distribution “based on concerns that [the flag] could unintentionally offend and detract from the nation’s patriotic holiday.” In short, Nike executives erased a symbol of the Revolutionary War and a central piece of American Independence on Independence Day so as not to cause supposed offense.
STOOD UP: Gina Carano
Earlier this month, actress Gina Carano was fired from Disney’s “The Mandalorian” over a controversial social media post, which likened persecution of conservatives to the Holocaust: “The government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?”
Although she deleted the post, #FireGinaCarano almost immediately trended on Twitter. She soon found out that her contract was terminated when news broke on social media, as Disney chose not to contact her directly. But Carano did not allow cancel culture to end her career. Less than 24 hours later, she announced a new movie project with the Daily Wire, proudly reclaiming her destiny, saying, “They can’t cancel us if we don’t let them.”
Whether or not these public figures made mistakes is up to you to decide — certainly some of these offenses are more grave than others. But what cancel culture enables many to forget is that people are imperfect. Human beings make mistakes, and celebrities who live in the public eye are vulnerable to any misstep being permanently archived and scrutinized, even decades after the fact.
The mob must learn that ruining lives as sport can never achieve any end other than the propagation of misery. As University of Southern California professor Karen North put it, “We all know the phrase ‘misery loves company,’ but when researchers have looked at that, what they find is that when people are miserable, they don’t just want company, they want people to share in the misery. So, misery loves miserable company.”
Insincere atonement serves only to gratify the mob, not to redeem the offender. These five stars who stood up to cancel culture in favor of compassion, however, prove that the mob can only prevail if we surrender to it. We must, instead, reclaim our right to make mistakes and to learn from them without living forever in their shadow. We must demand forgiveness and grace.
Follow Rikki Schlott on Twitter.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.