Consider yourselves lucky, as I have resisted the temptation of doing this entire piece in a Dr. Seuss rhyming scheme to talk about the latest casualties in the cancellation wars.
Now feel free to consider yourselves unlucky, as I am throwing my 2 cents in with regard to this new social phenomenon that is building more momentum than a Wile E. Coyote Acme rocket product. I haven’t heard if Roadrunner cartoons have been canceled, but I’m not through typing.
In the interest of truth in packaging, I come from a television writing background where the mere mention of the word “cancel” would render me a jittery mess.
Every year, working on various TV series productions, it didn’t matter how ensconced I may have become, if the powers that be decided that a show was no longer commercially viable, the “cancel” word was stamped across it and the whole operation vanished like Brigadoon, only these shows wouldn’t reappear in 100 years.
Once they were canceled, with a few exceptions, they stayed canceled, and no one considered how such actions were commercially viable to my own bank account.
The very word “cancel” has a whole new meaning now, but it still has the same effect, making people afraid and robbing a lot of people of a lot of sleep. The question remains to be seen how long many of the targets of the cancel culture will have to remain in the penalty box. My guess is that for some, it may be forever.
Maybe the the Cat in the Hat can go to a reeducation camp, or Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head can be enrolled in some kind of counterprogramming publicly-sponsored symposium so they can adequately deal with and apologize for their tuber privilege.
Huckleberry Finn has already gone through this process. Leave it to Mark Twain to still be trailblazing even into the 21st century. Sadly, it is for a lousy reason, as his works have been removed from the shelves of many public libraries. Back in 2018, a Minnesota school district banned both “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Donald Duck is probably long overdue from at least a stern warning from Disney’s HR department, as he has been showing up for work without pants for decades. The fat shaming found in every old Laurel and Hardy movie is certainly cause for alarm among those looking for their next cancel target, and I would not want to be in Batman’s cape for all the overtly gender-specific violations found there.
I wish this was all a lark, but I have had to go back to this article this very day because Pepe Le Pew and Speedy Gonzalez — two of the most arcane pop culture references I can think of — have found themselves in the crosshairs of the cancel culture. At least somebody is paying attention to these two cartoon characters, for the first time in about 35 years.
For now, the cancel wars, as one-sided as they may appear, remain a bloodless exercise in social engineering. But it hasn’t always been that way, and even though this may have the touch and feel of a postmodern First World problem, it actually is not new. As a Christian, it is easy to trace it back a lot farther.
Jesus was one of the first historical persons who was officially canceled — the hard way. Makes sense that we’re talking about this in the midst of Lent. Jesus was canceled by the prevailing winds precisely because he said a lot of “theologically incorrect” things. He made enemies in high places, both among the religious power structure, which did not want to hear about a Messiah, and the pagan power structure, which didn’t want to deal with the temporal ramifications of a Messiah, true or not.
But Jesus just wasn’t “canceled” on the hill of Golgotha. He was canceled in the Garden of Gethsemane when the apostles fell asleep; he was canceled when Peter denied him three times; he was semi-canceled when Thomas insisted he would not believe unless he put his own fingers into the wounds that were created on that first Good Friday.
The Romans tried to cancel the entire superstructure Jesus had left behind in the immediate aftermath of his ascension. And civilizations great and small have been trying to eradicate him ever since, sometimes not as bloodlessly as the current manifestation of cancel culture.
It may be an “11” on the ridiculous scale, but cartoon characters and barefoot river urchins aside, the new form of leveraging social and even economic pressure is coming to a Catholic school room and Church sanctuary near you. And it may not be so amusing.