Cancel Culture

Leftist YouTuber ContraPoints Explains Why Cancel Culture Mobs Should Drop the Pitchforks

"I have no faith left in call-out vigilante justice."

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Natalie Wynn, the YouTube personality known as ContraPoints, has just posted her first video of the year: a two-hour rumination on "cancel culture" that criticizes fellow members of the left who rely on the tactic to stifle dissent.

"We do have a teensy bit of a reign-of-terror situation on our hands," says Wynn, likening cancel culture to a milder, digital version of the show trials and public executions led by Maximilien Robespierre during the French Revolution.

It's a fantastic video, and well worth the considerable time it takes to watch it. Wynn is particularly successful at defining how canceling someone is different from merely criticizing them. The latter is directed at a person's actions or views, whereas the former is directed at the person itself.

Wynn, a transwoman who has herself been "canceled" by some social media zealots in the trans activist community because she made comments they interpreted as heretical, spends the second half of the video patiently explaining the emotional harm she suffered as a result of being barraged by unfair attacks. These attacks largely centered around her perceived friendship with Buck Angel, a transgender man who is seen by some in the trans community as being dismissive of non-binary trans-ness. In the video, Wynn notes that a Twitter mob expected her to denounce Angel; when she failed to do so, the mob branded Wynn transphobic and urged all other leftist trans YouTubers to disassociate from her. Some lost followers and subscribers for failing to take an anti-Wynn position.

If this sounds overly dramatic, watch the video. (Wynn has receipts, as the kids say.) I dare anyone to watch it and come away unconvinced that Wynn and her friends were put through hell for no reason.

"I have no faith left in call-out vigilante justice," Wynn says, noting that she will not participate in call-out culture in the future, even if she thinks the target is in the wrong.

It's the first part of the video, though, that may prove more useful to anyone trying to gain a yeoman's understanding of the problems with cancel culture (without going into the very specific controversy at which Wynn was the center). Wynn chooses to revisit the canceling of James Charles, the young social media makeup star who lost millions of followers after mentor-turned-rival Tati Westbrook accused him of endorsing a competitor's product and trying to "trick a straight man into thinking he's gay."

Wynn explains how this bizarre accusation was made crueler by three aspects of cancel culture: the presumption of guilt, abstraction, and essentialism. First, those who joined the pile-on recited the accusation over and over again as if there was no doubt that it was true, a cardinal rule of believe-the-victims, #MeToo activism. Then the specificity of the allegation became lost, as those who attacked Charles began to accuse him of toxic and manipulative behavior in general. Finally, Charles was no longer being accused of toxic behavior, but of being toxic himself. An odd, unproven accusation of non-ideal behavior morphed into a statement about Charles as a person.

"This seems like a nasty and dishonest twisting of the story, and it happened instantaneously on Twitter," Wynn says.

Like many other celebrities who get canceled, Charles has ultimately rebounded. But Wynn notes that less powerful people—especially those in marginalized communities—are far less able to cope with social media shaming and stigmatization. She advises everyone who is serious about moving public opinion in their direction to eschew these tactics, though she hilariously predicts that many of them won't bother engaging the video.

For more on cancel culture, read my 2019 year-end review.