Cancel culture is more often than not a tool to drag good people’s names through the dirt on ultimately meaningless and trivial matters and claims. The cancel culture phenomenon has gripped the social forefront of our society for what feels like forever. It feels like every other week some celebrity or politician is being outed for something that they have said or done that has been buried deep in the past.
While this de-skeletoning of people’s closets seems like a positive thing to do to remove toxic people from the social hierarchy, the things these people are being called out on are more often than not mistakes made long ago that were either less offensive at the time or were missteps in humor and taste.
The two most recent victims of cancel culture speak to this: Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, and Shane Gillis, a standup comedian recently fired from “Saturday Night Live.”
Let’s start with Trudeau, who in the past 20 years from the late ’80s to the early 2000s has worn blackface on not one, not two, but three separate occasions. During his high school years, Trudeau performed in a talent show by singing “Day O,” a popular Jamaican folk song, and decided it would be a good idea to dress in blackface and an afro.
Then, sometime in the ’90s, a video was recorded of Trudeau dressed in blackface again for an unspecified reason. The reason these photos were found in the first place was the emergence of a picture taken at a 2001 gala themed after the Arabian nights. Trudeau went as Aladdin, skin tone and all.
What makes Trudeau’s slip up so damning, and in a way excusable, is his entire platform and public appearance is built on multiculturalism, tolerance and respect for people of color. It is disheartening to see such a man dressed as a racial caricature.
It is important to remember that people can change. All these images were found before Trudeau had turned 30, and the last of which is 18 years old. A lot can happen to a man in 18 years that changes the way he views his actions, and Trudeau said as much in a speech. As a government official, the leader of the Canadian government no less, Trudeau should be held to a higher standard of scrutiny. That being said, Trudeau’s policies are a testament to his ideals and beliefs today. The Trudeau of today definitely stands against his past behavior.
Shane Gillis is nowhere near as cut and dry. During an episode of his podcast, he and co-host Matt McCusker were discussing Chinatown and its many flaws. The mainline from this segment that people are up in arms about is him saying “Let the f*****g [slur] live there.”
Most reports have taken this moment out of context and used it to discuss him being a racist, but in the context of their discussion, Gillis is not the one calling Chinese people slurs, it’s the city planners who decided to put the Chinese in the “f****d up buildings.” That being said, Gillis does go on to make fun of the way that Chinese people cannot properly pronounce L’s and R’s, such as “nooders” instead of “noodles”, as well as his frustrations with the language barrier.
On top of this, a later episode had Gillis using several instances of homophobic slurs towards comedians he didn’t find funny or entertaining. Now, while these jokes are unabashedly offensive and in extremely poor taste, the quality of the joke does not detract from the fact that the source is just that: a joke.
Gillis said during several statements that “If you go through my ten years of comedy… you’re going to find a lot of bad misses… I’d be happy to apologize to anyone offended by anything I’ve said.” If one would look back at the transcript from the episode, McCusker is the one saying most of the racist comments. While Gillis deserved some kind of backlash from that episode, he doesn’t deserve to have his livelihood threatened by a few risky jokes. Gillis said all that stuff on the podcast he and his friend made and owned. It is sincerely doubtful that the same attitudes would have held up under “SNL’s” far more scrutinous modern script standards.
Cancel culture ironically exists to expose and cut out the toxic people in our society, but really only succeeds in showing us that, just like the rest of us, celebrities are only human. People are not perfect. We mess up, make mistakes and say and do things we know we shouldn’t. The most important part of the human experience is taking those risks, failing miserably learning for the next time. Punishing people for those mistakes will only stunt our growth as a society.