Takeaways from Natalie Wynn on Cancel Culture

WNYC’s On The Media sat down with the “Contrapoints” host to discuss cancel culture — and being cancelled.

Contrapoints’s Natalie Wynn

I discovered Natalie Wynn through WNYC’s On the Media podcast in an episode titled “Making Sense of Cancel Culture.” Wynn, who is a trans woman, hosts the website/YouTube vlog Contrapoints. She’s a popular social commentator who has found herself cancelled more than a few times for infractions that, to an outsider, appear benign.

Source: Transcript of “Canceling” — ContraPoints

The seven tropes of cancel culture

Wynn breaks “cancellation” into seven tropes:

  1. Presumption of Guilt: “Believe victims” translates into feelings of certainty about the guilt of the accused.
  2. Abstraction: People turn specific and concrete details into a more generic claim. In the absence of specifics, the generic claim takes on a new, often more iniquitous life.
  3. Essentialism: A move from criticizing actions to criticizing the person; a person no longer does bad things. They’re a bad person.
  4. Pseudo-Moralism: A situation in which moralism or intellectualism provide a phony pretext for the call-out. People may pretend to want an apology or pretend to be a person concerned for society when in fact they want to attack another person’s career and reputation out of spite, envy, revenge, or to accrue social credibilty.
  5. Absence of Grace (No Forgiveness): “Cancelers will often dismiss an apology as insincere, no matter how convincingly written or delivered. And of course, an insincere apology is further proof of what a Machiavellian psychopath you really are. Sometimes, a good apology will calm things down for a while. But the next time there’s a scandal, the original accusation will be raised again as if you never apologized.”
  6. Transitivity: If you associate with a cancelled person, you are enabling them and their toxic views, and their cancellation tarnishes you.
  7. Dualism: People are good or evil, light or dark. There is no spectrum or middle ground; only a line in the sand.

Two other interesting takeaways

Less emphasized in Natalie Wynn’s Contrapoints speech, and more in the WNYC interview, were three other points that stuck with me:

  • Punching up: Most people who attack a person on social media feel it’s fair because they’re “punching up” — that they’re the little person attacking the powerful person who has the microphone/publishing contract/platform. The reality is more nuanced: Attacking Ricky Gervais, for example, differs from attacking an author with 500 followers and a debut novel people don’t like.
  • The role of community: Marginalized people often have only small, tight-knit communities. For Wynn, it’s the trans community. For some authors it’s “lit Twitter.” The bigger a person’s network, the less meaningful a person finds cancellation. For example, a prominent businessman who writes on the side suffers less from the barbs of literary Twitter than a person who depends on their connections for survival. Cancellation hurts marginalized people and people with less privilege far worse than people with privilege.
  • Academic debate vs. casual, pseudo-intellectual debate: Wynn holds a PhD in philosophy from Northwestern, so she’s no stranger to criticism and defense of philosophical viewpoints. Rigorous academic debate differs from social media debate, and we should not hold the two in equal weight or regard.

I won’t make any firm conclusions on cancel culture, but I find Natalie Wynn’s thinking and framing to be helpful and well-reasoned. I get why people hate her and her YouTube channel.

World traveler & foreign affairs enthusiast. GenX. Lawful neutral. I write gags and titles . Smoke if you got ’em. www.ctliotta.com

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