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Basslines and Protest Signs Part 70: Cancel Culture aka Accountability

Photo via Hasbro

The concept of “cancel culture” has been in the news again over the past couple of weeks (particularly Fox News), as republicans seem to be struggling with the fact that Mr. Potato Head was rebranded as simply Potato Head, Dr. Seuss’ publishers chose to stop printing a few books, and The Muppets placed a disclaimer at the start of old episodes. It all begs the initial question:

What is cancel culture? 

Wiki describes it as:

“a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to have been ‘cancelled.’ The expression ‘cancel culture’ has mostly negative connotations and is commonly used in debates on free speech and censorship.”

So let’s break those controversies down. First off, the Potato shit is dumb. Hasbro is still selling Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head, it’s just that the overall brand name will now be “Potato Head.” Can you believe we’re talking about this? Hasbro made their own, free market decision to change the brand name. Nothing has been cancelled, nothing has been banned. Buy your damn toy potato and throw the box away if you don’t like it. Hasbro tweeted:

“Hold that Tot – your main spud, MR. POTATO HEAD isn’t going anywhere! While it was announced today that the POTATO HEAD brand name & logo are dropping the ‘MR.’ I yam proud to confirm that MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD aren’t going anywhere and will remain MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD.”

Tweeter Tommy Lindholm astutely replied: “If Hasbro hadn’t made an announcement of dropping the “Mr.” from the name and just did it, nobody would have noticed and the right wouldn’t have gotten so triggered.”

But that’s enough about freaking potatoes. Muppets are way more fun.

The Electric Mayhem (photo: John E. Barrett © 2011 Disney)

When the Disney+ streaming service was launched the package included many of the Muppet movies. Nostalgia fiends (like this writer) were also desperate to see the original Muppet Show series on there. It turns out, the delay was caused by Disney figuring out how to deal with some dated racial stereotypes. It’s worth noting that the first season of The Muppet Show aired in 1976. Segregation was only made illegal in 1964. 

So yeah, there are likely some dated stereotypes on there. Disney didn’t cancel anything, they didn’t remove anything. They simply placed a disclaimer at the start:

“This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.”

Seems smart, right? There are already a ton of credits at the start of the show — nothing is lost by adding one more. Yet the right wing lost its collective shit.

“I don’t remember The Muppets ever being offensive. Here we are again with cancel culture,” said Fox News contributor Joe Concha on Fox & Friends First

Again, and we can’t say this enough, nothing has been cancelled. Disney made their own decision to add a disclaimer at the start. Some on the left might say that’s not enough, and with good cause. After all, who sits and reads the credits? But it’s something, and it was done without losing content. We already know that many on the right don’t believe in evolution, so it probably stands to reason that they don’t think the human race can or should evolve. Slavery is still recent history. Segregation sure as hell is. 

We’re talking about shows aimed at children. It is absolutely important to show our kids how things have changed and explain to them why things were and are wrong. We don’t need to ban everything, but we do need context and education. Disney has done similar things with movies such as Dumbo (remember those racist crows?). The movies are still there — NOTHING HAS BEEN CANCELLED — but they have been taken off the children’s section. Only parents can start them playing, allowing those parents to explain the cultural stereotypes on display.

Photo via Dr. Seuss

Let’s look at something that has been rendered unavailable, six Dr. Seuss books. The titles that are no longer in print are: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer

Maybe it’s just me, but there’s no Cat in the Hat there. No Grinch, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Lorax, Green Eggs and Ham, or Yertle the Turtle. But even if there was, the images in question are damning. Horribly dated caricatures of Asian people, Black people, Middle Eastern People — just shitty stuff. 

But here’s the thing, they weren’t cancelled or banned. Dr. Seuss’ people made their own, free market decision. This is capitalism at its finest. They simply didn’t want to publish them anymore. It’s a product recall.

“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” the company said in a statement.

Megan Thee Stallion (photo: Alfred Marroquin)

So, we have one minor rebrand, and a few intelligent decisions made by companies about their own product. Nothing has been cancelled. Unlike, for example, Colin Kapaernick’s career or that of The (Dixie) Chicks. Didn’t stop perpetual douche Tucker Carlson from crying into his white sheet.

But the right will rush to false equivalencies. The Grammys just took place, with Beyoncé taking the record for the most wins ever by a woman (28). Amazing. And wonder rapper Megan Thee Stallion performed “WAP” with slightly edited lyrics (without complaint of cancel culture). Twitter was buzzing with cries of “How can the left want to ban Dr. Seuss but think this hyper-sexualized shit is ok?”

Megan Thee Stallion is a grown woman who can do whatever she wants to with her body. Cardi B too. The Grammys are screened later in the evening, when adults are in control of the remote. Dr. Seuss, the Muppets, and Potato Head are aimed directly at young children. Cut the shit.