What Do Conservatives Mean By ‘Cancel Culture?’

Griffin Eckstein, News Editor

If you have consumed any conservative media in the last three or so months, you’ve probably heard about how “cancel culture” is attacking Americans. Speakers like Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) at CPAC, one of the largest conservative conferences in the US, allege that decisions like changing the branding of a toy potato or installing metal detectors at the US capital following a terrorist attack are “cancel culture” in action. Rep. Jordan, a rising star in the GOP, took the stage in February to launch a full-scale attack on cancel culture. But can we call all of these different situations cancel culture?

It’s hard to get a single definition of cancel culture, but we can start to form one by looking at all the things labeled as “cancel culture” by conservatives. Mr. Potato Head was a flashpoint of outrage earlier this year over parent company Hasbro’s decision to rebrand the toy as simply ‘Potato Head’. To clarify, Hasbro will still sell gendered Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head products, according to a statement via Twitter. That is what pundits like Tucker Carlson, along with politicians like Rep. Jordan, describe as cancel culture. Private companies changing branding to catch up with the times, be more inclusive, or simply refresh their image has rarely been such a point of contention. Is a private company aligning with new values “cancel culture”?

We’ve also heard of individuals being “cancelled.” Outrage began when Chris Harrison stepped away as host of “The Bachelor” following his defense of racist social media posts by contestant Rachael Kirkconnell. Conservative pundit Dan Gainor stated in an interview with Fox News that Harrison’s voluntary departure was akin to “the kind of thing that we saw during the Chinese cultural revolution,” adding that “this is how a mob acts.” The former President was also a victim of “constitutional cancel culture”, according to his lawyer Michael Van der Veen during the proceedings of his historic second impeachment trial on the instigation of a deadly insurrection. According to their statements, cancelling, then, must be holding individuals responsible for their actions. 

But it wasn’t cancel culture when Former President Trump, in an April statement, urged fellow conservatives to “Boycott Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, Cisco, UPS, and Merck” over their decision to condemn Georgia’s new election laws, ruling out our first definition. It also, apparently, wasn’t cancel culture when Republican Governor and potential 2024 presidential candidate Kristi Noem attacked popstar Lil Nas X over his “Montero” music video and “Satan Shoes”, saying on Twitter that the shoes are a “fight for the soul of our nation.” 

So what is cancel culture? Maybe it’s just a battle against progress in America’s social values.