Words That Kill

How is “cancel culture” different from a boycott?

It’s a question asked by leftists who think the whole “cancel culture” thing is rightist bunk.

After all, in the 1980s and ’90s didn’t conservative Christians pioneer the concept of advertiser boycotts? Yes they did, and my first L.A. Times op-ed (1995) was about just that, as I slammed the religious right for initiating boycotts based on the perceived moral failings of TV shows.

I criticized that kind of thing back when some of you were still riding your tricycles. So when I explain the difference between old-timey advertiser boycotts and present-day cancel culture, know that this has been my beat for a while.

Late-’80s/early-’90s advertiser boycotts, and the battles against “satanic” rock music and Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ, were rooted in the notion that “evil” content corrupts souls and insults saviors. Real abstract stuff, unlikely to resonate with nonbelievers. A boycott based on the claim that Satan can ooga-booga the soul from a teen’s body with a heavy metal tune is going to remain ghettoized among the faithful. Herb Humanist, Andy Agnostic, and Jerry Jew will not be swayed by Pete Pentecost’s impassioned outrage, because if they don’t buy the premise they don’t buy the bit.

The 1980s/90s boycotts failed because there was no potential for crossover. If your campaign has a narrow focus (“I raised my boy to go ‘praise Jesus’ but now because of Metallica he goes ‘attaboy Beelzebub’”), and if you can’t widen your appeal, your movement will stall.

The boycotts of old tanked because there was no “hook” with which to involve those who didn’t share the belief system of the boycotters.

“Cancel culture” is different in that regard. Cancel culture revolves around the concept of “killing words.”

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s travel back to 2006.

Gene Shalit was the wacky-haired Groucho-glasses movie reviewer for the Today show. He was also the proud father of an openly gay son, an MD who’d written books about gay health and AIDS. Shalit Jr. always spoke glowingly of his dad (who became a single father after his wife died from cancer in 1978). According to the son, Shalit was a doting, supportive, loving dad who couldn’t have been more accepting of his son’s homosexuality.

In January 2006, two things happened in the same week: There was a government-sponsored antigay pogrom in Iran, and Gene Shalit gave a negative review to Brokeback Mountain. Guess which one the bullies of GLAAD used for an outrage crusade? The Iran killings went unmentioned, but Shalit was viciously attacked as a “homophobe” and “defamatory bigot.”

Just because he reviewed a movie (which was his job).

Shalit’s son shot back, writing an open letter to the leaders of GLAAD basically saying, “Why are you doing this? You know my dad’s the exact opposite of a ‘homophobe.’”

But for Gene Shalit, the psychological distress of being targeted as a gay-hater was too much. He caved, issuing a tearful apology and promising to improve as a human being.

That the bullies broke a good man is clear, but the important question is, why did they target a good man? Well duh, because they knew he’d break. The Iranian mullahs wouldn’t have caved. When it comes to gays, they have no conscience or empathy. You can’t crack them, so you don’t try. Instead, you go after the good folks, because good folks don’t want to be tarred as haters.

Or murderers.

“Okay, you say words kill? I say silence kills.”

Which brings us to Shalit 2.0: Dave Weigel, reporter for The Washington Post. Weigel’s a smart fella, and a serious journalist. His beat is to cover and analyze U.S. political campaigns, and it’s a job he does exceptionally well. He’s fair and ethical.

Exactly the kind of guy bullies love to target.

Last week, Weigel got Shalited by the tranny mob.

The melee began when Weigel foolishly thought he could analyze politics (that this is his job is no more protection for him than it was for Shalit).

Slate reporter Jordan Weissmann tweeted:

If we’re really on the verge of total abyss, maybe Democrats need to offer some serious concessions on culture war issues that are fueling these conflicts in return for institutional reforms?

Weigel replied with a link to a Gallup poll showing that a clear majority of Americans (regardless of gender or age) believe that “transgender” athletes should play on the team of their birth gender, not their “chosen” gender. Weigel wrote:

One issue that would poll well, but it’s very hard to see Democrats doing, is adopting the Kristi Noem position on trans Title IX athletes.

Weigel was analyzing political strategies (again, that’s his job). But the damage was done. The tweet went viral, with every hate-filled shemale on Twitter slamming Weigel for “transphobia.”

The initial onslaught consisted mainly of “victimized” trans folk telling Weigel to “fuck off” and kill himself (lots of “go kill yourself” tweets). But soon the angle switched to “you’re killing people,” because Weigel’s words were either getting trans kids killed or compelling them to kill themselves:

“It would be good to apologize to trans ppl for putting a tweet before their actual well-being. Because they are having a really shit go of it right now. They really don’t need cis people with big platforms being glib about their lives. You hurt people.”

“Have you looked at the suicide rates among trans kids? Placing them under attack to score some supposed political points is fundamentally evil.”

“How many trans people are you personally willing to kill to appease the Republicans? Or are you just a coward who wants others to do the murder so you can pretend later that you had clean hands?”

“So, you’re really just sacrificing LGBTQ people, because you’re a bigot, then.”

“You are writing devil’s advocate tweets on an issue that is affecting REAL PEOPLE’S LIVES. this isn’t a thought experiment David, trans people’s lives are actually at stake.”

“This is a life or death issue for trans kids. They are literally being dehumanized to the point of suicide because they don’t believe their lives have value.”

“Word on the street is that Dave Weigel thinks this is fine. Says why shouldn’t dems get on board and also genocide trans people?”

Wow…not just murder but genocide? Sieg Weigel!

See the difference between 1980s/90s boycotts and today’s cancel culture? Thirty years ago, the boycotts were about spirits, souls, and saviors. Nonbelievers had no reason to play along. Today’s cancelers don’t ask you to accept their ideology; they’re telling you that your words are murdering those who do. You don’t have to accept the premise that men who think they’re women are women in order to believe that men who live by that pseudoscience might commit suicide if you question their dogma.

I find Hinduism laughable. Now, if you tell me “mock Hinduism and Ganesha will weep,” I’ll joke away. But tell me “mock Hinduism and a child will immolate himself,” I might refrain.

When Dave Chappelle was mobbed by protesters at his alma mater last year, the cancelers chanted, “Your comedy kills.”

Once you popularize the notion that words—from a comedy routine to simple political analysis—“literally murder,” the debate moves beyond free speech. Think of it like this: If you ask the average gun owner, “Do you believe in the right to bear arms?” they’ll say yes. But if you ask, “Do you believe in the right to shoot a child?” of course they’ll say no.

That’s how the American left regards speech. They’re all for the First Amendment, sure. You have a right to speak. But you have no right to murder with your words.

The popularization of the notion of “killing words” has changed the game, because even those who, on principle, reject censorship will almost always cave when faced with a “murder by words” charge.

Like Weigel, who apologized to the mob, deleted his tweet, and expressed regret for dealing “very superficially with people’s lives.”

Dave Weigel’s a good guy and a solid journalist, but I wish he hadn’t bought into the narrative that what he wrote harmed anyone’s life in any way.

After all, the young biological (a.k.a. actual) women robbed of their athletic careers by men in wigs have lives too. Weigel simply acknowledged a political reality: Many Americans worry that those girls’ lives are not being respected as much as the lives of the trans athletes.

To shut down that debate is to say that the lives of those young women are unworthy of discussion. They don’t matter.

Over the past 15 years there’s been a correlation between a dramatic rise in teen girl suicide (the male/female teen suicide gap is almost closed for the first time ever) and schools forcing “trans acceptance” on kids (telling young girls “there are no ‘girls,’ just people who think they are, and that includes Johnny McLipstick over there; you’re no more a woman than he is”). Now, correlation ain’t causation, we all know that. But journalists with reputations and jobs to preserve are unlikely to study the question objectively; unbiased examination of any issue can’t occur if one potential conclusion will lead to firing, unhirability, social media bans, and death threats.

But in a way, that’s beside the point in Weigel’s case. Because Weigel wasn’t advocating anything. He merely gave a perfectly defensible hypothetical regarding ways in which Democrats could theoretically extend their reach in states like Texas.

He was analyzing. Once again, it’s his job.

Now, I fancy myself a rational gentleman. I’m also a man with an exceptionally poor temperament. So my first response to the “killing words” narrative is to say “Words don’t kill, you dumbass.” But that’s me. Less disagreeable, more sociable folks like Weigel probably need a better response. So I do think it’s valid to point out that there are two sides to the “killing words” coin. After #MeToo became a thing, dozens of studies published in medical and mental health journals detailed the psychological trauma experienced by young women who felt pressured into staying silent regarding things men did that made them feel uncomfortable (I covered this “silence trauma” in 2017). That includes having a man flash his genitals at them (exactly what that UPenn swim-team tranny routinely does). The feeling of being forcibly silenced—of not even being able to say “I’m uncomfortable with this”—can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.

Okay, you say words kill? I say silence kills. You say Dave Weigel’s tweet caused a tranny to slit his wrists. Can you prove it? If I were to say that a teen girl committed suicide because she was told to shut up and stay silent after a tranny flashed his junk at her in the locker room, my claim would have as much validity as yours.

Stalemate. It’s all theoretical. Murderous speech, or murderous silence.

Which is true?

Well, only one side doesn’t want to talk about it.

Make of that what you will.



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