Perhaps a Wave Has Crested
You know I was looking for online reactions to John Mulaney’s new Netflix special (which I thought was just OK) and saw a bunch of miserable people being miserable about it. It seems he brought Dave Chappelle onstage with him, some time ago, and by the transitive property of offense is now guilty of Chapelle’s identity sins. However you feel about Chappelle, this seems to me to be a good example of setting a moral standard that we simply cannot expect to communally meet. What’s striking is not just how futile and low-energy the backlash appears to be, from the outside, but how the people engaging in it seem to feel that way too - there’s not just the usual adolescent morality, but an adolescent sense of resentment, the resentment of people who are used to being paid attention to and are gradually realizing that they aren’t anymore. I see that more and more all over.
I certainly would not say that the age of canceling is over. There will be public scandals to come; people will suffer major career and social consequences because of public anger. Sometimes they’ll deserve it. And maybe this is just a lull and the same old songs will get sung again and again.
But at this stage I find it hard to deny that the sense of palpable fear so many operated under, the feeling that the prosecutors held all the cards, appears to be in terminal decline. People just aren’t afraid in the same way anymore. The mob doesn’t have the momentum. The big bad wolf has lost his teeth. I suspect this is for a few key reasons - the fact that all of that endless raging did precisely nothing to make the world more just, for one. The growing understanding that the human species is flawed by nature and that no one can match those standards, for another. But mostly, I think it’s the dynamic I’ve been predicting for a long time: you can only bang the gong so many times. Everybody’s receptors all got blown out. Outrage is a finite resource. People can’t maintain permanent offense forever. Most of us can’t, anyway. You can only tense a muscle for so long.
Could be wrong. Could come back. And ultimately it’s natural for people to have bad feelings about people doing bad things; it’s just that if you expand the category of “bad things” for too long, well, this is what you get. May we achieve public accountability that is proportional, forgiving, and just. For the worst type of people behind all the yelling, the ones who were always in it for the clout and the fleeting feeling of importance, let me be the first to tell you: no one cares.