ContraPoints Gave a Masterclass on Cancel Culture
In a career-defining moment, Natalie Wynn impeccably articulated what the real problem of ‘cancel culture’ is.
Like the polarized state of our modern politics, the preexisting analysis on what has become commonly known as “cancel culture” skews towards overstating its impact, or otherwise denying its existence depending on where one sits on the political spectrum. Conservatives deem it loathsome because it’s used to silence their perspectives, while progressives see in it rightful retribution for sins past. So far, no take worth its cultural stock saw fit to defy the conventional wisdom–that is only until Natalie ‘ContraPoints’ Wynn threw her hat in the ring, setting the record straight about her past gaffes, while taking aim at dispelling the many myths harassment mobs delude themselves into believing to justify their ill-considered retaliatory behavior.
The argument often floated against the existence of any semblance of cancel culture by the left is that it doesn’t seem to be all that consequential for a public figure’s livelihood–the theory here is that Wynn was above all reproach, and so her persistent critics were justified in continuing to pursue her due to the massive delta of public influence separating the two. The problem as Wynn’s video goes to articulate, is that what is often conceived of as the mere domain of hypothesis can be the very lived reality a targeted public figure is dreading. For Wynn, the most demoralizing aspect of her ‘cancellation’ phase, was the strong case of social media illiteracy many of her detractors seemed to exhibit–not illiteracy as in “not knowing how to use social media”, but as in not understanding how its dynamics function as a certain threshold of daily interactions is reached, wherein the intake of information far exceeds normal human capacity, and the work of curating what is useful or not becomes the top priority.
John Scalzi @scalzi1. Recent events have prompted some folks to ask me to assure them that I will never be problematic, so they can continue to read my work with a clear conscience. Folks, I have some real bad news for you: I can't promise that, and here's a thread on why. Ready? Let's begin.
The above, is a fundamentally different case from what leftist activists circles usually advocate for, which is employing cancel culture as means of speaking truth to power when the efficacy of all other options is close to null. If the goal was to keep the “problematic” aspects of ContraPoints or whomever else at bay, then that mission failed its foundational pragmatic principle–after Wynn put a heavy emphasis on the financial shed she and her colleagues endured in the aftermath of recent controversy, many pitched in a show of solidarity that saw all creators involved enjoy a hefty spike in Patreon contributions. What was used as means of social exile, now became the main mechanism through which Wynn drummed up a significant amount of support in a matter of 24 hours, further highlighting the vapidness of seeking to ratify a harassment campaign in the first place.
If all this ordeal was put up with essentially in vain, it begs the question of what truly motivated it aside from the purported facade of exacting justice.
Social media’s inherent confrontational design is one of the main culprits here–it subjects interactions to market dynamics so heavily, such as the pursuit of likes and reposts supersedes the genuine inquiry of truth. For a sizeable portion of the anti-Wynn crowd, this is as at odds with their professed economic views, which fly in the face of capitalism despite endorsing a blatant form of it–only in this case, the main currency of profit-maximization isn’t money, but social capital.
Another less aborded, but yet overwhelmingly present aspect of cancel culture are the dynamics of group identity. Wynn used the specific language of ‘dualism’ to describe it, but the interpretation can be further expanded by including all that encompasses group synergy by promoting a view of what constitutes the “us” versus the characteristics of “them”, whose binarity is only comparable to the struggle between good and evil in the context of Abrahamic religions, and heaven and hell as ultimate destinations for those representative of each. To the anti-Wynn crowd, her actions were so bad that they warranted an ever-eternal placement in a proverbial hellfire, shielded from the sympathy of others, bathing in a whiskey-scented pool of tears, depleted the will to perform, but perhaps most crucially, the will to live.
There’s a distinct difference between wanting to deplatform someone like Ricky Gervais or Dave Chappelle who made it their entire grift to capitalize on the hurt of minorities, and someone like Natalie Wynn who seems at best to have a knack for ruffling the wrong feathers, often at the expense of her own personal health. For the aforementioned comedians, the target audience is already at odds with cancel culture, but for Wynn, that is ostensibly not the case–the bulk of her audience is well-aware of the good cancel culture can serve when used properly, but not all are completely attuned to its adverse effects when improperly invoked.
Instead of squabbling over the specifics of whether cancel culture exists or not, the better conversation we should all be having is whether what we traditionally characterize as such is indeed that, or is it yet another flavor of social exile that should be examined independently of its culture war dimensions, where it seems the position for or against it is merely taken out of spite rather than true genuine belief in the veracity of either theses.
If appealing to the good nature of her dissenters was ultimately the point of Wynn’s latest video, it is perhaps better understood as a gesture of unconditional support for her colleagues who’ve endured their fair share of harassment as demands to excommunicate Wynn from BreadTube grew louder. Lindsay Ellis — prolific film essayist on YouTube — talked about the phenomenon at length in her talk at the XOXO Festival last year — she pointed out that isolation was the worst part of enduring a harassment mob, later repaying Wynn the favor. Now, all those who were hit the hardest from the ContraPoints controversy seem to not only have recovered, but also accrued additional support as a show of solidarity against custodians of the anti-Wynn backlash.
As hard as it seems to muster in the era of outrage, efforts that seek to dehumanize anyone — regardless of ill will — must be fought and resisted. If ardent leftists have managed to instill greater fear in the hearts of their patrons than right-wingers did, there’s maybe a lesson there to be learned about effective organizing, and why most efforts to turn the tide on the march of conservatism seem to be met with failure despite their undeniable saliency.