Short Week: My "Cancellation" Was Quite Effective, As a Matter of Fact
it "works" against the least powerful, not the most powerful
This is the third post in (the first annual?) Short Week at freddiedeboer.substack.com. Since people constantly complain that my stuff is too long, this week all posts will be 500 words or less. We will return to our usual longwinded ways next week.
Update: The Short Week gimmick kind of worked against me here, and there some fair complaints. First, I agree that what happened to me was maybe not a cancellation in the traditional sense, although I think some people are using a stringent definition of that term that doesn’t really exist in social use. “Cancellation” just happens to be a convenient term for widespread communal disapproval that has negative consequences. Second, I have never claimed to be a victim in all of this. My situation was made more complex by my mental illness, but I have said over and over again that I bear responsibility and have accepted many of the consequences for what happened, even as I continue to insist that my psychotic disorder is an obviously relevant part of the moral equation. The point of this piece is simply that, if you don’t already have money or power, the impact of internet-enabled social shunning can be severe, and can hurt basic financial security. That’s all.
It’s common for liberals to argue that the canceled don’t actually suffer much. I find it bizarre to defend a political tactic by saying it doesn’t work, but that’s their line. I’ve been nominated as an example of that, but that simply isn’t correct. My cancellation was remarkably effective.
Most of you will be familiar with what happened; I wrote about it here and here. (Twitter has a selective memory about it, but I accept this as a consequence of my behavior.) I had much bigger problems immediately after, given that I was psychotic and rabidly insistent on never being involuntarily committed again, but eventually I emerged medicated, in therapy, and with a lot of wreckage to clean up. My freelancing career was over; I didn’t bother to pitch, as it was clear from talking to people that freelancing seriously simply wasn’t in the cards anymore. As a result my income immediately dropped by more than a third. There are many places that previously published me that never will again. I have been asked to pitch occasionally in the past four years but I consistently declined those invitations out of a commitment to going away, which I had to abandon due to losing my job.
I was union and a potential ADA case, but the brass at Brooklyn College never looked at me the same way after I came back. When they finally were able to fire me I was unemployed for a year, living off of my book’s dwindling advance money and unable to get a job in any field. (More than a hundred applications.) I would get a few bites and things would seem to be going well, a couple times even having the employer discuss salary and benefits, only for them to ghost me. A Google search killed any potential opportunities very quickly. The only time someone said anything explicit was in a cryptic email, something like “I’m sorry, we can’t take the risk,” after being told what a great fit I’d be. 2020 was a bleak, bleak year. I was broke, had serious medical expenses, and felt desperate. I’m not asking for sympathy. But I was truly canceled.
As I’ve shared in this space before, the very week Substack approached me I had just accepted a $15/hour job at a junk removal company. Had this all happened a few years earlier the crowdfunding economy wouldn’t exist the way it does today and I’d probably still be hauling junk. (I’m not above that, at all, but there was no way I could afford to live in Brooklyn on $15/hour.) I just got lucky, that’s all. Canceling often works; it just doesn’t work remotely consistently, and doesn’t work at all against the rich and powerful, making it regressive, fickle, and cruel. Besides, you only notice the ones who stick around, not the successfully canceled. Either way you should probably get your story straight about whether canceling doesn’t work or is a righteous tool for liberating the oppressed.
Suppose I should say that my theory of cancelation is simply that a lot of people have both legitimate political grievances and a pent up anger and frustration that they want to take out on others, so they look for any pretext to say that expressing the latter is really an expression of the former.
The weak are the ones we can reach, so the weak are the ones we will hurt.