Flat White

Lauren Southern: keep the theatre of cancel culture off the Australian political stage

17 July 2020

5:00 AM

17 July 2020

5:00 AM

Earlier last year I stepped away from politics in a bid to focus on family. What most people didn’t know was I had married a man from the land downunder, and subsequently moved here. I’ve been rather quiet about my time in Australia for more reasons than just my pregnancy and family though. The truth is despite Australians reasonably laid back and libertarian social culture, sadly they’ve been taking cues from North America as of late and are diving headfirst into the pool of cancel culture. 

As I learn more and more by the day about the news and media cycle here, I hear about the reporters and celebrities who have been targeted by the mob. Last year, veteran commentator Alan Jones said that the PM should “shove a sock down the throat” of New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern. This was clearly meant as a call for her to simply shut up, yet he was immediately jumped upon by the outrage mob for promoting violence against women. People petitioned his station, advertisers pulled out from his show, and even the Australian Communications and Media Authority came for him.  

Australian comedian Chris Lilley has also fallen victim to cancellation, with four of his six shows removed from Netflix for allegedly offensive content, including black and brown face. This was part of a wider push by Netflix to remove various offensive shows and films from their back catalogue. 

So I really can’t imagine what people are going to say when this article goes live and they discover to their horror that I’ve been peacefully existing in their country all this time without any consequences. 

I’ve made incredibly inflammatory statements, held opinions often deemed as “wrong-think”, nearly caused a riot or two and haven’t even taken a minute to apologise for any of it. As a result, I’ve been cancelled so many times in my life I can’t even count anymore. I’ve even been denied entry to a country or two for my behaviour.  

There are things I’ve done that make me cringe, and there are things I’ve done that I would defend. If you asked me if I have regrets the answer would be yes, however my regrets are between me and my God, they are not fruits for the colosseum of twitter. Perhaps apologies would be warranted if our culture had any interest in apologies at all, but it’s quite clear they don’t. What the crowd wants is for me and others to bend a knee to their power, to not just submit to their performative wokeness but to start singing from the same hymnal out of fear rather than from genuine agreement.  

There is nothing wrong with the concept of calling people out for wrongdoing. If there has been an injustice committed, people should not be afraid to stay silent, worried that if they do speak out against powerful figures in society for genuine misdeeds, then they will lose their job, their reputation, or worse. Whistleblowers and the like have always been crucial to keeping society in check. 

See, for example, the earliest part of #MeToo movement, when Harvey Weinstein, a producer with great power over many people in the realm of filmmaking, finally got his comeuppance when women told their stories of their sexual assaults by him. This was unequivocally a good thing, and now he is serving a 23-year jail sentence for his crimes. 

The point still stands for less serious actions. If a journalist fabricated a story for clicks and views, or if a celebrity spat on a waitress at a restaurant, then they should not get a free pass for their bad behaviour. However, this is not, in my mind, equivalent to “cancel culture” as it stands.  

What we see with cancel culture is a return to mob justice. Social media has allowed the creation of crowds, not of the size of a town square, but consisting of millions of people, all baying for the blood of someone in one go. Their behaviour is not measured or considered, and, most importantly, they don’t wait to find out the truth. 

Last year, the beauty vlogger James Charles was cancelled for allegedly being a sexual predator. He had swarms of people online attacking him for his supposed crimes, with the mob immediately assuming the worst. However, no solid evidence was ever produced on the side of the accusers, and he eventually responded with some rather convincing points to the contrary. Soon enough, the crowd switched sides, now going after anybody who dared to question his sainthood, as if they hadn’t been doing the same only minutes before.  

Justice is not mob justice, for true justice punishes only the guilty to a degree which they deserve, allows reconciliation, and for people to grow and learn from their mistakes. No justice system on earth allows accusers to take out unlimited punishment on those they deem to have wronged them. But none of this makes sense to the baying mob. You are either good, or evil, full stop. And since you cannot be good, given your obvious crimes, you must be sent to the metaphorical guillotine. They will not stop until you are on your knees, and they can feel this sense of power over you.  

Worse yet, this fear they inflict on society has created a standard in which we all uphold certain opinions based on the threat of coercion. We observe society upholding many progressive opinions, but they only hold them at an inch deep. Is it not somewhat entertaining to see Hugo Boss tweet out Black Lives Matter slogans? Does no one question why Bethesda’s American branch change their logo for pride month, but their Turkish one does not? In this coercive system, you have no idea who is honest or not. You have no idea who is looking to save their career and bottom line or who genuinely cares about intersectional injustice.  

To be clear, criticism is not coercion, but threatening people’s livelihood is, and that’s what is happening here. 

If you want your public figures to do better, how can this be the system you use to hold them to account? Cancel culture is often portrayed by progressives as a “purging of toxicity from society” and an attempt to create a better future. One where we are kinder, more decent and respectful of one another. It’s supposed to be a time of growth. But you can’t grow any more if your head is chopped off.  

The guillotine is a rather apt comparison. For just like in the Terror, the blade may come for you. If you look at any one of the Twitter feeds calling for heads on platters, you’ll find a myriad of off-colour offensive content if you scroll years back. Because guess what? We’re all humans, and we all make mistakes. But when the mob mentality continues for too long, and they’ve gotten rid of all the “bad guys,” they need more targets, which inevitably includes some of their own members. Let’s not forget, Robespierre was “cancelled” too. 

Yet the most important aspect of cancel culture today is that all of it is merely theatrical progress. Does anyone really believe young black people living in poor neighbourhoods in the US feel some sense of relief because some old blackface comedy special on Netflix was removed? Do they really feel any sort of justice or progress has been served by changing the voice actors on the Simpsons to be a more diverse cast of wealthy celebrities? 

Scott Morrison addressed this in one of the most magnificent responses I have heard yet when asked about Chris Lilley’s Netflix shows being removed. “I’m not interested in what they’re showing on streaming services,” Morrison said. “I’m interested in getting Australians back into work. I’m not interested in the debate of what people want to tear down, I’m interested in what people want to build up.” 

Too often companies and people are willing to take symbolic action for causes, things that cost them nothing like firing and replacing an actor or anchor. Censoring an old episode of a show or putting up a post of a black square to show solidarity.  

Perhaps if black lives matter to you, corporation, why don’t you give a raise to your workers? I can assure you there’s plenty of impoverished minority employees in the United States at McDonald’s or Nike who would love to get paid a living wage rather than see you change your Twitter banners.   

In summation, I have some questions for those who participate in today’s cancel culture. Can growth be met in the discarding and dehumanisation of individuals by summing them up to mere minutes of their existence? Do your targets even deserve to be cancelled in the first place? And what difference are your actions truly making on the world, other than potentially ruining the lives of innocents? 

Think on that. 

I certainly have been, and will be discussing this subject and more on Outsiders on Sky News Australia this Sunday at 10.oo am.  

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments