Meghan Daum Is Done with 'Cancel Culture.' But Is America?

The author of the provocative intellectual memoir The Problem with Everything takes on fourth-wave feminism and celebrates Gen X's "toughness."


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"If 2018 was the year that the concept of 'cancel culture' went mainstream," writes Meghan Daum near the beginning of The Problem with Everything: My Journey Through the New Culture Wars, "then 2019 may be the year that cancel culture cancels itself."

A journalist who has authored a novel and two well-received essay collections, the 49-year-old Daum has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Vogue, GQ, Harper's, and is featured columnist at Medium (check out her personal website). In her new book, she contends that "By framing Trumpism as a moral emergency that required an all-hands-on-deck, no-deviation-from-the narrative approach to cultural and political thought…the left has cleared the way for a kind of purity policing—enforced and amplified by social media—that is sure to backfire." She also celebrates the much-maligned Gen X for its ethos of "toughness."

The Problem with Everything is her clarion call for all of us to chill out a bit and allow people to be more complicated, contradictory, and human. She is a writer who is both intensely curious and consistently contrarian, two qualities evinced by her recent Medium column: "The Perverse Seductions of 'The Handmaid's Tale': American women have never been freer. So why are we drawn to depictions of our own repression?"

CORRECTION: Due to an editing mistake, a version of this interview that appeared in print stated that Valenti launched the #KillAllMen hashtag due to an editing error. She did not, nor is she otherwise responsible for that hashtag. (You can see Valenti's reply here on Twitter.) Reason regrets the error.

Audio production by Regan Taylor and Ian Keyser.

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  1. Meghan Daum Is Done with ‘Cancel Culture.’ But Is America?

    In my estimation, yes. Everywhere you look, people are beginning to stop apologizing, fans aren’t putting up with blue checkmark bullshit when it comes to popular culture, movies, video games etc. I get a distinct feeling that woke scolds and cancel culture have overplayed their hand and are on the retreat.

    1. I think you are right. The fact that even Obama is coming out against it is pretty solid evidence that the country has had enough. Whatever you think of Obama as President, anyone who got elected President twice is smart enough to see which way the wind is blowing.

    2. What’s happening on Universities today is always a good indicator of what the zeitgeist will be twenty years from now.
      It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

      1. Maybe. But I am inclined to think that given a choice people will not choose to be miserable woke morons and even if they do being so will get old quickly. I have a feeling there is a backlash coming and this nonsense is going to fade.

        1. I hope your right, but university cancel culture works great for party bosses and corporatist CEOs. Free speech and free markets have always been their bête noire, and they hold all the microphones.

          In addition, today’s university students are tomorrow’s leaders.
          I’m scared that this is just a last gasp before they really lean in on us.

          1. After every revolution, there is the counter-revolution, where things look like they might get back to normal. Trump is a classic counter-revolutionary.

            Unfortunately, the counter-revolution doesn’t last and the counter-counter-revolution is likely to be worse. See France, Russia, and China for examples.

        2. The problem is that miserable woke morons don’t know they’re miserable woke morons. They’ll last a lot longer than you think.

          1. Young people act like they know it all. Often they look back and realize they were wrong when they are older. Hopefully this is how it will play out.

            1. By the time the current young people are old enough to realize that they were wrong, there will be a new crop of young people getting it all wrong.

      2. Ehhhh, I dunno man. There’s a lot of stupid shit people do in college that they don’t necessarily carry over into the real world. I mean, like, how many guys are genuine believers in the cult and how many are trying to ape the motions because they want to bang one or several members of the sorority?

      3. I think that really applies to a narrow segment of the population though. For most, that crap is something they’re immersed in for the first time in college – and for most, once they leave that’s pretty much it.

      4. Of course, there are too many on that conveyor belt. We have to digest it as best we can and hope the damage is limited.

    3. Everywhere you look, people are beginning to stop apologizing

      I don’t see that. I see a handful of uniformly left targets (James Gunn, Chapelle) beginning to establish a leftist exception to cancel culture.

      1. This is what I was thinking. People aren’t getting sick of cancel culture. People on the left are just getting sick of being held to the same rules as ther people they hate. One set of rules for me, another for thee.

        1. And they will never understand that in their effort to get the “right” persons in big government to make everything great, what they empower that government to do to others will be done to them.

          1. Sure.

            So you need to prepare so if the evil one wins, you have a plan to contest and delegitimize the election.

  2. much-maligned Gen X

    What is this a reference to?

    1. Gen X isn’t maligned, it’s just roundly ignored.

    2. But yeah, not sure how it’s “much maligned”. It was certainly maligned during it’s rise to youthful prominence– but every generation is for one reason or another.

      We were the ‘slacker’ generation what with all our flannel, grunge music and permanent retirement.

      1. Considering Gen X cannot get the boomer politicians to stand down and fade into history, we may deserve it.

        1. Sorry, did you just criticize us for being decent enough people to not want our life’s work to be controlling other people’s lives?

          1. Well, the best they could muster was Beto, evidently, so it seems like it’s for the best they stayed out of the game?

            1. Beto should have stayed on his skateboard.

    3. Billy Idol’s relatively lame pop-punk band

      1. It’s a nice day for a …white wedding.

  3. What bothers me is the accusation that all those in the cancer culture are opposed to freedom of of speech.

    On the contrary, people calling for the canceling of events are exercising their freedom of speech.

    It becomes a problem when the state is the entity doing the canceling rather than private entities.

    1. Freedom of speech is a bigger concept that just government. If a mob shows up and burns your house down because you expressed a view they didn’t like, your freedom of speech is violated just as much as if the police had done it.

      Those people demanding events be canceled are demanding that others be silenced. Sure, they are exercising their freedom of speech in doing so. But that doesn’t make their demands any less oppressive or counter to a free society.

    2. That’s sophistry.
      If you’re stifling free speech, you’re stifling free speech. It doesn’t matter if your the Pope, the government or Mr. John Everyman.

      If I as a private citizen successfully stopped you from being heard, that would be just as wrong as if the government did it.
      Nobody has a right to silence anyone else.

      1. Hmmm, in the abstract, sure. But a lot of what they engage in is deplatforming, which when the platform is private, is perfectly legitimate (from an NAP standpoint, at least). Like, if you’re standing on your lawn holding a sign that offends me, tough shit, it’s your lawn and you can do as you like provided you don’t have an oppressive HOA (is there any other kind?). But if I rent megaphones, and you’re using one to say some stuff that offends me, well, I’m free to refund your money and collect my property. You can get into the weeds with university campus events since they’re a weird nexus of public funding and semi-private governance, but as a blanket statement I think “nobody has the right to prevent someone else from using their own property to communicate whatever message they like” is closer to true than your formulation.

        1. “But if I rent megaphones, and you’re using one to say some stuff that offends me”

          But that’s not what’s happening, and you know that.
          Companies don’t just come up with this all on their own. Censorious shitheads are actively cajoling and threatening them to deplatform people.

          For example, if you’ve rented a megaphone, and I threaten the megaphone company with bad press unless they take it away from you, and do the same with your phone, and PayPal, and Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, I’m deliberately stifling your speech. This is what super-PACs like Media Matters and the SPLC do… and it’s vile.

          1. See Carlos whatever his name was at Vox. Or Talcum X Shaun King. They derive pleasure in destroying lives.

            1. “Talcum X”

              Absolutely brilliant, and savage.
              Rufus wins the internet

    3. Calling to cancel other people’s events is opposing free speech. It is not necessarily a First Amendment violation but the concept of free speech is greater than the FA particularly in America.

    4. Yes, we know. When we talk about freedom of speech, sometimes we talk about legislative interference into matters of the first amendment, and then sometimes we talk about the cultural trend of censoring voices you disagree with.

      This article is about the latter.

      1. And to be sure, the people who engage in the latter are not for “freedom of speech”. At all. First amendment jurisprudence aside.

    5. all those in the cancel culture are opposed to freedom of speech.

    6. There is freedom of speech as a restriction on government, then there is freedom of speech as a cultural value. We are losing the latter.

      The Left is demanding that speech be controlled. And to the Left, government is the only tool of control. They are demanding the cessation of free speech on college campuses, 99% of whom are government institutions or receive the majority of their funding through government. And given the recent spate of congressional hearing hauling social media bigwigs before star chambers, the call to ban certain kinds of speech on private social media platforms is backed by a pretty damned big stick.

      Not to leave the Right out of this, but calls to bring back some form of the Fairness Doctrine is so only one baby step away from its own brand of cancel culture. There is stuff the Right does not want to hear and they are sniffing around the edges of cancel culture to see if it’s worth diving into.

  4. She’s done with cancel culture because she’s not an ugly nag. Cancel culture was not created for people like her.

    1. Agreed; I could look at those eyes for a while.

  5. “The Perverse Seductions of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: American women have never been freer. So why are we drawn to depictions of our own repression?”

    Sounds like someone read Douglas Murray’s new book, The Madness of Crowds.

  6. Gen X is tough? Seriously? BWAHAHAHAHAHA

  7. . . . celebrates Gen X’s “toughness.”

    I wonder if people realize how ironic this is. We used to be classified as ‘no-hope slackers’.

    But we turned out all right.

    Maybe the Millennials will too. We just have to get the last of them out of the ‘idiot ’20’s’.

    1. I think being the ‘latchkey’ generation was somewhat helpful. We were trained from an early age to be ignored, so it comes naturally to us as we get older.

    2. We were classified as cynics as well. But our critical thinking skills were sharp. We were informed; relatively speaking and definitely less indifferent to our Western social more and values than the generations who came after.

      I do think we were pretty tough given we came right after the over bearing, gigantic colossus that was the Boomers.

      And I read an article we’re also turning out to be pretty good parents because we’re not fools and have come to appreciate our values are worth defending and imparting.

      This is why I take utmost offence listening to these know-nothing Marxists somehow screech about how ‘backwards’ we are filling our kids with bull shit thoughts on toxic masculinity and cultural appropriation. That somehow we’re all ‘racists’ deep down and so on.

      Thought control and pseudo-intellectual stupidity is, well, a toxic mix.

      My highly educated and literate sister is a true, 60s bleeding heart, feminist liberal. She absolutely LOATHES the modern feminist and their anti-male and infanticide agenda.

      We’ve found common ground after all these years. She recognizes, as I do, our personal agency and freedom to express ourselves are being eroded by illiberal forces.

      Everyone (including that jerk off Richard Stengel), in sum, can go fuck themselves.

      Stop apologizing to these shitheads.

      1. And for the record, I submit we’re also the coolest generation.

    3. Must’ve been nice coming of age in the 80s and 90s, where you could roll out of bed and fall into a good paying job.
      Probably nicer than becoming a legal adult in the immediate wake of 9/11 and trying to start a career during “the great recession”

      1. That was the tail end of MAD and the S&L scandal which was preceded by another recession just a decade earlier. It was also a period of the highest unemployment of ANY recession.

        And there was the little matter of the Gulf War, and wondering if it was going to turn into another Viet Nam, and if could you manage conscientious objector status and still go to school.

        AND THEN having to go through “the great recession” and 9/11 as well.

        And even that wasn’t as bad as the broken people who came back from keeping the world safe from communism.

        But with all the hardship you’ve suffered; tell us how you mange to make it out alive?

  8. I’ll note that the US congress just took another bite at the apple with the CEO’s of the big internet social media companies. NBC was playing clips of AOC excoriating Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for allowing Republican political advertisements on his platform. NBC prefaced that clip with a pull quote from some academic who said “Freedom of speech does not require that we allow money to be used to amplify speech nationwide. This is a new threat to our democracy that our current tools are not equipped to handle.”

    So no, cancel culture is not on the wane. The first rumblings you are hearing are because, as noted by others above, some prominent lefties are getting hoist by their own petard. You’ll note all the handwringing when a democrat congresswoman resigned over her sexual exploitation of her staffers. Many on the left openly called it misogyny and decried a double standard, believe it or not! The top #MeToo folks “reserved judgement until the facts come out”. Her own people are saying that no man would be treated that way….

    So no, a corner has not been turned. Obama’s remarks are just a reminder to keep your eye on the real enemy and not get carried away by allowing the right to do the same thing.

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