2019 Year in Review

The Year in Cancel Culture

2019 is canceled, and so were these people.


2019 was the year that the term cancel culture went mainstream, as a rotating cast of characters (some famous, some not) who did unwise things (some awful, some not) faced the shame mobs.

It was not always a fate worse than death. Indeed, critics of the concept have claimed that to be canceled is merely to be criticized, often deservedly. The New Republic's Osita Nwanevu called cancel culture a "con" on the grounds that several of the better-known victims of attempted canceling have actually come out ahead (Dave Chappelle being a prominent example).

But for every Dave Chappelle, there's a Shane Gillis, who was fired as a Saturday Night Live cast member for using offensive language in some of his previous comedy. Gillis isn't dead; he isn't even unemployed, as he's performing standup again. But his chance at mainstream success is ruined for now, because a journalist thought it critically important to subject his past work to our current moment's standards for acceptable comedy.

Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, the only candidate to address cancel culture in any meaningful sense, said of Gillis: "I believe that our country has become excessively punitive and vindictive about remarks that people find offensive or racist and that we need to try and move beyond that, if we can. Particularly in a case where the person is—in this case—a comedian whose words should be taken in a slightly different light."

I'm with Yang: We would all be better off showing a little more mercy in 2020. But first, let's recall five of the most notable cancel culture moments of 2019.

1. The Carson King episode wins first prize. King, a 24-year-old security guard who parleyed a viral ESPN College Gameday moment into an impressive $1 million charity haul, gave an interview to Des Moines Register reporter Aaron Calvin. Calvin's eventual article included insensitive tweets that King had sent years ago, as a 16-year-old, which prompted Anheuser-Busch to disassociate itself from King. The paper initially doubled down on the decision to mention the tweets, but then fired Calvin after social media users discovered that the reporter had also tweeted dumb, insensitive things when he was younger. The former Register reporter nonetheless denies that he was canceled, or that he canceled King, or that cancel culture is even real.

"The specter of 'cancel culture' is a concept most often invoked to protect those in power, often straight white men such as myself, from facing consequences for their actions, but I want no part in it," wrote Calvin in a bizarre and frequently contradictory piece for the Columbia Journalism Review. "I'm not going to start a YouTube channel railing against the perceived dangers of PC culture. I believe I lost my job unfairly. At the same time, I firmly believe that people, especially those in power, should be held accountable for what they say and do."

2. Trolls from the far right and the far left worked together to publicize racist comments that Parkland survivor and conservative activist Kyle Kashuv had made in a group chat. Kashuv, a teenager, had made the rude comments long before the Parkland shooting, which he said had forced him to "mature and grow in an incredible drastic way." He apologized for the remarks he had made as a "petty, flippant kid," and he practically begged Harvard University not to de-admit him. But Harvard's admissions office, which takes racism very, very seriously (except against Asians), was not in a forgiving mood, and Kashuv lost his spot.

3. J.K. Rowling confirmed the long-held suspicions of the progressive left when she tweeted in a defense of a British think tank employee who had lost her job for criticizing ideas associated with the trans rights movement. Eagle-eyed Twitter users had previously noticed the no-longer-beloved Harry Potter author favoriting tweets from noted TERFs (that's Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists). Vox lamented that Harry Potter was now basically ruined forever: Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid would have to be canceled along with their creator, it seems.

4. Rowling was hardly the only author of young adult fiction to face the proverbial guillotine in 2019. Indeed, Y.A. online culture is one of the most toxic, cancel-prone corners of the internet. Here's Jesse Signal on the crazy controversy over one book, Blood Heir, that faced absurd allegations of racism:

Amélie Wen Zhao, a woman of Chinese descent who was born in Paris and raised in Beijing, had won herself an enviable three-book deal for an Anastasia-tinged adventure: "In the Cyrilian Empire," went the publication materials, "Affinites are reviled and enslaved. Their varied abilities to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, might be the most monstrous of them all. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls." The adventure kicks off when Ana's father is murdered and she is framed, forcing her to flee. The first book was due out in June.

At some point in January, though, there emerged a vague Twitter-centered whisper campaign against Zhao….

It was open season from there: People picked over the limited information about the book to find something, anything, to justify being angry. L.L. McKinney, a Y.A. author who recently published her own debut novel and who tends to be an active participant in these pile-ons, noted that some of the publicity material described Blood Heir's world as one in which "oppression is blind to skin color." "….someone explain this to me. EXPLAIN IT RIGHT THE FUQ NOW," she tweeted, accusing the author of "internalized racism and anti-blackness." (The logic appears to be that because our world has racism, it's unacceptable to imagine a world that does not.)

Zhao decided not to publish Blood Heir, then announced it wouldbe published after all—pending a thorough review by sensitivity readers.

In true Carson King/Aaron Calvin style, one of Zhao's main critics, a writer named Kosoko Jackson, himself became a target of the cancelers after his novel foolishly included a Muslim villain. How dare he.

5. Not all of the canceled are people. A mural at George Washington High School in San Francisco depicted scenes of slavery and of violence against Native Americans. The artist, a 1930s leftist named Victor Arnautoff, wasn't celebrating those things. Quite the opposite: He didn't like the ways the U.S.'s flawed and often brutal founding had been whitewashed, and he wanted to expose America's complicity in those crimes. It's a progressive message, but it offended some progressives who thought high school students might be triggered by the truth, so the school decided to get rid of it.

The price tag for canceling the mural: $600,000, thanks to a mandatory environmental impact report.

NEXT: New York Charged Grafton Thomas With Attempted Murder for Assaulting Jews With a Machete. Why Are the Feds Prosecuting Him for the Same Attack?

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  1. Lee and Jackson remain proudly uncancelled in C-ville.

    1. good idea and nice supportnice information dude valuable information provided thank you

  2. TERFs

    Oooooooooh! You’ve done it now buddy. TERF is a slur!

  3. Oh man, that Aaron Calvin guy is the perfect representative for everything that went wrong culturally in the 2010’s.

    There’s so much good that happened this decade, but if you’re looking for something to put in the “why this decade sucked” column, all you need is a picture of Aaron Calvin.

    If you are wondering what he’s up to these days. He’s a “freelance journalist.” What a joke of a man.

    1. He’s not a freelance journolist in California come Jan 1st.

    2. I’ve never heard of Aaron Calvin.
      Barack Obama would be a fitting choice

  4. …who did unwise things (some awful, some not) faced the shame mobs.

    Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that these are subjective findings, whether you’re out to cancel someone or not.

    1. Yeah that was my thought. Plenty of victims of cancel culture did nothing that I would consider unwise.

      Particularly any comedian that told an offensive joke. Jokes should be judged solely on whether or not they’re funny.

  5. The former Register reporter nonetheless denies that he was canceled, or that he canceled King, or that cancel culture is even real.

    If you deny cancel culture is real, you’re part of the problem.

  6. 3. J.K. Rowling confirmed the long-held suspicions of the progressive left when she tweeted in a defense of British think tank employee who had lost her job for criticizing ideas associated with the trans rights movement. Eagle-eyed Twitter users had previously noticed the no-longer-beloved Harry Potter author favoriting tweets from noted TERFs (that’s Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists).

    BTW, 2019 was actually the year ‘cancel culture’ was on the way out, even though the ‘term’ went mainstream. Rowling will be fine. The most prominently canceled people are long gone– and were gone well before 2019.

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  7. Seems like poetic justice when those that crave and profit from mass mob appeal get fucked over when the mob changes its mind.

    1. A less violent French Revolution.

  8. our culture is doomed. there’s no other possible way to see it

  9. Gee, it all seems to be one side doing it. Whowuddatawt?!

    1. Didn’t the Guardians of the Galaxy director catch flak for some pedophilic tweets? It’s the only one I can think of from the other side, but ultimately hasn’t effected his career

      1. He did and it didn’t.

        Not like how they screwed Roseanne over.

        1. Or how they cheer on Roman Polanski, are already trying to get Kevin Spacey back into Hollywood, etc.

          1. The Roman Polanski one continues to baffle me. Giving a 13 year old girl Quaaludes and raping her up the poop chute is not OK in any culture that I’m aware of, but they seem to want to treat it as some form of consensual encounter.

            I could see coming to the defense of someone who said something not just offensive, but outright racist, sexist or homophobic. But you gotta draw the line at actual assaults driven by those attitudes. And the Polanski case is orders of magnitude worse than that – sodomy of a middle school girl when you are in your mid 40’s isn’t some minor transgression.

  10. Cancel culture is all about overgrown babies whining and crying until they get their way. How about we cancel them? They don’t belong in polite society with other adults.

  11. Happy New Year Everyone!!! 🙂

  12. Now do Kathy Griffin.

    I personally feel that we should err on the side of free expression, especially for a comedian/satirist.

    I’m interested in what the libertarians here feel about that situation.

    1. The fact that she was never funny is what canceled her. It also didn’t happen in 2019.

    2. I personally feel that we should err on the side of free expression, especially for a comedian/satirist.
      Entertainers shouldn’t get special treatment of any kind.

    3. I had to watch Andy Fucking Cohen because of these SJWs, Tony. It was terrible!

    4. That’s an interesting topic.

      She was a mostly failed comedian at that point, looking to shock her way back into relevance.

      The reaction was “Hey, you guys are always on about how people need to be publicly excommunicated for using mildly offensive language that you call “violence”. How about you apply a similar standard here?”

      And the reaction to that was a ton of hand-wringing about how the right is taking to cancel culture and how they shouldn’t start with that sort of thing (a take that was offered up by the editors of this fine establishment).

      I don’t remember a ton of think pieces about how maybe the left was wrong for the way they’d been acting and how we all should start fighting back against that attitude.

      Griffin’s picture was so far over the line, even the far left begrudgingly said it was in poor taste. And her biggest problem was the same problem her career was having…. it wasn’t funny. If you are gonna do political satire, you gotta be funny. It is something most of the left has forgotten.

    5. Even satirists who, say, draw pictures of Mohammad or make jokes critical of the Obama administration?

      Didn’t think so.

  13. Reason has tacitly supported cancel culture in their undying support of the various social media corporations. Their undying belief that taking away favored legal protections from entities who engage in cancel culture rules and regulations only enables cancel culture to go on.

  14. Does Colin Kaepernick have a job now or is he just too toxic for snowflakes in the NFL? Geesch, you don’t stand up for some bullshit ritual celebrating bombs bursting in the aire and some corporate dick in marketing decides to can your arse. Let’s #cancel cancel culture.

    1. I think he has been paid more than he would have made as a QB, even if he hadn’t already lost his starting job before any of this happened.

      There are 30 or 40 QB’s who are every bit as good as Kaepernick who don’t manage to make the roster in the NFL every year. Making it there is nearly impossible. Look at all the Heisman winners who never make it.

      Heck, just to underscore how tough it is, look at Ryan Tannehill. He was drummed out of town in Miami, having endured years of criticism and calls for a replacement. He gets shipped off to Tennessee where he instantly becomes the NFL’s top rated passer (by passer rating).

    2. Kaepernick who was given a unique, personal showcase and decided at the last minute to change the venue and the terms. Who also didn’t look as ready as he bragged he was. Gee, I wonder why he is not signed with anyone, especially as the regular season is over and few playoff teams are looking for a QB at this point.

    3. Better to just be a racist, hypocritical asshole who engages in a blatant and obvious publicity stunt because you know you’re a mediocre player who can’t hack it.

  15. Great Article, Thank you for sharing information about Year in Cancel Culture

  16. Once upon a time if someone said something offensive you were told the rhyme, “Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” We got over it and went on with our life.

    Now, you need to pass a law to make such things illegal to say, have the person that said it fired, blacklisted and unemployable and then send the offended person to a safe space with a coloring book for therapy at government expense.

    1. Now it goes:

      Sticks and stones may be dodged when thrown,
      But words cut all the way through me

  17. This article could alternatively be titled “Reason Magazine freaking out about people using their Freedom of Speech in ways we don’t like”

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  19. “It’s a progressive message, but it offended some progressives…who …are triggered by the truth”

    And this is at the heart of the issue; it is not about being “triggered” or made to feel “unsafe” outside of some emotionally labile and speciously “useful” idiots: it is about controlling the narrative and what gets to be communicated at all.

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  21. To Whom is May Concern:

    I hate Thus-and-Such! What they said on So-and-So’s TV show yesterday reveals them to be a lying, bigoted, counter-revolutionary somethingist! Therefore, I demand that their life be permanently ruined, and that their existence be forever stricken from the historical record, and I will turn this world into a living hell until justice is served!

    The Voice of Reason.

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