C.S. Lewis and the Modern Cancel Culture Landscape

14 August 2020

4.5 MINS

The 21st century is rife with a rash mentality of judgment. It calls for political correctness, an inefficient substitute to respectful politeness. Yet, simultaneously, it stirs up an outcry against any form of ridicule it deems as misplaced.

The cancel culture climate is part of this common public movement, but as it turns out, many people initially have difficulty defining just what it is.

Ben Wizner, the director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, states cancel culture “means different things to different people.” A recent Associated Press article quoted him on this and went on to cite a poll in which 44% of the American population frowns upon this, 32% accept and applaud it, and the other 24% of Americans are indifferent or unaware of it.

This data is simply another exemplar of the strenuous polarization among our country’s ideologies and morals. Letty Cottin Pogrebin, another interviewee quoted in the AP piece, explains the objective of cancel culture is to “disable the ability of a person with whom you disagree to ever again be taken seriously…” or even the ability “to be hired or employed in their field of work.”

How has the cancel culture manifested itself in modern times?

It has really grown into two different branches of thought and action. One is the obvious which Pogrebin notes above. There are numerous examples of this maneuver in recent years.

Former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, due to the controversy over refusing to stand for the National Anthem, has been blackballed from the NFL. Because of his stance on an issue, he hasn’t played the NFL in three years.

Disney “cancelled” Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn — even if only for a time — on account of some tasteless tweets poking fun at the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Holocaust. The company eventually reneged on their apparent moral concerns and rehired Gunn for the Guardians film series.

But these are clearly both examples regarding employment. It can be responsible for something apart from ruining people’s livelihoods and resulting in social media libel. The second method of cancel culture is the mentality of tearing down or “canceling” statues and monuments of historical figures.

In a sense, any one of us can contribute to this so-called “cancel culture.” Through our own vocalized convictions and through our payment to venues of personal choice (or, just as likely, lack thereof), we have the opportunity to play a part in this rather edgy activity.

From what I’ve noticed, the secular world actually claims, more often than not, that cancel culture is unjust. However, these same individuals don’t necessarily count statue-toppling and dissing historic figures to be acts of this cancel culture.

The problem is that they do, in fact, belong to one and the same mentality. In this article, however, the focus shall be primarily on cancel culture as it’s applicable to individuals who are alive and are concerned with employment and as it’s applicable to their work — not to monuments.

Now, if we’re really going to be fair, it might be said that there is a just cause behind the cancel culture — in certain specific instances. Namely, when this activity is done out of moral concern, not just when something is personally distasteful. Cancel culture is employed to circumstances in which the objectionable scenario is inherently sinful or potentially damaging to the souls of others.

In this sense, those Christians who do not buy a Netflix subscription, with the intention that none of their money funds anti-Christian entertainment, may be justified in this mindset.

On this note, the revered Christian author and lay theologian C.S. Lewis, writer of fact and fiction alike, states the following in his Reflections on the Psalms:

“We hear it said again and again that the editor of some newspaper is a rascal, that some politician is a liar, that some official person is a tyrannical Jack-in-office and even dishonest, that someone has treated his wife abominably, that some celebrity (film-star, author, or what not) leads a most vile and mischievous life. And the general rule in modern society is that no one refuses to meet any of these people and to behave towards them in the friendliest and most cordial manner. People will even go out of their way to meet them. They will not even stop buying the rascally newspaper, thus paying the owner for the lies, the detestable intrusions upon private life and private tragedy, the blasphemies and the pornography, which they profess to condemn.”

After you take a breather, you can see how spot-on Lewis’s observation was. The commentary is a superbly accurate outline of the modern media landscape, let alone the flashy craze of events like Comic-Con.

Lewis describes the scenario as hypocrisy: essentially funding activities which one also considers immoral. Following, I’d like to make a personal analysis of Lewis’s cancel conviction.

I believe that along one avenue of thought he is right, while the other is more dangerous terrain. It’s true that Hollywood actors frequently have character flaws and lead immoral lifestyles, and the tabloids are always there to cover it.

But it seems unreasonable to have a cancel culture mentality toward people who simply live immorally. For the truth is we are all sinners. And, the way things seem to be going, Hollywood is full of immoral people who seek any and all gratification that tickles their passing fancy.

It becomes an unreasonable and fruitless effort to try to vocally attack and deliberately refuse to buy the product of every immoral person out there. (However, this by no means implies that abusers like Harvey Weinstein should not be removed and prosecuted.)

The more pressing matter to which we can have an effect is the media: the tabloids, the anti-Christian entertainment, the pornography. And this is a matter that is equally important in Lewis’s mind.

We live amid a media-saturated society. The digital media that comes into our homes, that we subject our eyes (the windows of the soul) and ears to, is something that we can and should directly censor.

But we can also do that, while additionally making a point to those who create immoral content, by refusing to pay for content which is explicitly objectionable (even if only partially) such as graphic sensuality and the promotion of ideologies wholly contrary to the Faith.

It was a priority for Lewis, and I don’t think he’d be surprised to know his words would continue to be so relevant and prick the consciences of Christians six decades on.

The cancel culture has many applications, not all of them good. Christians need to remember that it can be used to silence our voice just as well as it could silence the intentions of others. It has the potentiality to ruin lives.

At the same time, one of its most just applications is to the arena of modern entertainment and journalism. People should not be “cancelled”; they should be converted. Media, when it is false or lewd or morally misleading, is a rightful target for cancel culture.


Originally published at Ignitum Today.
Photo by Jeffrey Czum from Pexels.

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