The cancelled will inherit the earth, or the decade anyway, beyond which it’s highly unlikely “cancel culture” would persist as anything more than a memory of these censorious times. Being cancelled was supposed to mean social and financial isolation, and it worked for a few years—but today, you and all your friends are cancelled, half your favorite artists are cancelled, anyone you know with a spine is cancelled. We’ve crossing a schelling point where not engaging the cancelled (because you'll be cancelled for it) dooms you to a much more horrible isolation: your only peers left will be the cowardice of the mediocre¹. The post-cancelled ascend, and the never-cancelled are left behind to rot.
This plays out prominently in subcultural scenes. Cancelling was supposed to be an act of financial violence directed by the propagandized social polity against the dissident individual, ruining their livelihood for violating the strictures defined by hegemony. Yet more and more you see the cancelled shrug it off and stay standing.
Being cancelled is supposed to mean being blacklisted from working with anyone other than the also-cancelled, because anyone who worked with you would be cancelled for it. But the pool of the cancelled has widened so much that you now regularly see artists continuing healthy careers despite the desperate nagging of the cancel police; and its the camp of the uncancelled who find themselves isolated from the best and most interesting artists of their scene.
In other words, the benefits of working with the cancelled tribe outweigh the consequences, and so more and more artists happily jump ship, collab with the black marked and get themselves cancelled for it. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Perhaps it still precludes artists from mainstream success², but within subculture, it’s where the only real are found, and where else do you want to be?
I believe cancel culture jumped the shark when it evolved its ‘cancel by association’ protocol, that is: if you indulge in those black-marked as Cancelled—follow their accounts, engage their content, consumer their work—you are yourself liable for cancel. But this second-order expansion of the cancellation market³ was overzealous, specifically two factors make it unsustainable.
First, too many artists in both number and popularity are cancelled today. It’s not just difficult to keep up with the self-policing strictures demanded by consumption policers, but it’s also increasingly reaching the point where the normal person considers it simply not worth it. Where most people are inclined to avoid conflict and follow the ever-changing mores of good sense in polite society, there’s a certain threshold of reasonableness that when crossed has them taking a step back, addressing the nuisance in their life attempting to restrict access to the content they wish to consume. The conclusion is more and more that jeopardizing the relationship of their most obnoxious peers performing outrage over causes no one genuinely cares about is worth it.
We see this play out with the pop culture leaders of some of the biggest following in the world, like Kanye West and J. K. Rowling, getting cancelled after openly railing against the two biggest shibboleths of modern discourse—“racism” and “transphobia” respectively⁴. If one would believe the woke paper tiger and its media organs, their careers should be ruined, yet their work continues to break records in sales. We now see millions of normal people deciding to accept their dissident status who otherwise wouldn’t, now forced to be accept being cancelled alongside their heroes on the charge of “liking cancelled artists”—freeing them to enjoy any other cancelled artist as well.
Second, the cancelled produce better work. Any artist practicing today that isn’t cancelled is acting safely within the boundaries defined by the prevailing power structure—cancellation always descends from hegemony, it’s social policing of the strictures of the state-media complex⁵. While these well-to-do normies could also make good work, any maverick artist crossing ill with the Party’s dutiful censures is also much more likely to be one behind revolutionary, inspired work.
It’s also the case that the best in a community are going to be the most likely to be cancelled, because cancels are an effective tool for the collective to strike on the minority—the tenured but untalented grouping together to take down the fast-rising tall poppy that threatens their status is a near-universal in subcultural scenes. Anyone, of course, can be cancelled, no one can actually follow all the convoluted and ever-changing rules of the censures. The question is always only if there is a will to cancel them.
This is an inconvenient problem for any scene/subculture participant, when the most inspired and groundbreaking tastemakers are cancelled by the mass of mediocre. Again, at a certain point, it goes beyond reason, and people are collectively decide they simply don’t care any more. They’ll like what they like, hang out with who they like.⁶
It can take the tone of “Separating the artist from the work,” or “I didn’t ask and don’t care.” The most revolutionary is the rhetorical rebuttal “They didn’t do it, and if they did, it’s cool.” It’s rhetoric—what they are actually defending is artistic freedom against cultural censures.
Next era of culture will feature self-staged cancellations - the uncanceled will realize they're falling behind and start to invent their own 'revelations', selected carefully to propagate a successful cancel while maintaining a degree of self-respect.
—L.B. Dobis (@lb_dobis)
I expect the culture war of this decade to be defined by the post-cancelled.
Woke censorship had its run and made for dreadful culture through the late 2010s, but the undercurrent of revolutionary irreverence will always be cooler than normalizing counter-pressure. Consider how the first thought anyone who hears about Miya being a LITERAL NAZI ANOREXIA CULT LEADER⁷ is: “Cool.”⁸ Look at #BASEDRETARDGANG, who pre-cancel themselves with the “ableist slur” in their name before anyone even has a chance to. It’s a commitment to the punk side of the decade.
And it’s not hard to see why: would you rather be known as the collective committed to “equality, diversity and inclusion”? Between the two, which clique do you think makes better art? Whose party do you want to attend? Who’s going to be remembered?
After all, if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that God hates a coward⁹. Temporarily, collectivized mediocrity can suppress the dangerous, radical, revolutionary impulses of art and culture, but it’s unsustainable—the real will always burst to the surface soon enough, because it’s just too much fun not to be, and they’ll wash away the hollow kings of mediocrity without a second thought, forgotten almost immediately.
I mean, isn’t it crazy how we all just logged on and won forever and no one could stop us?¹⁰
: Today, anyway. I doubt the lifespan of “Wokeism” “cultural marxism” “critical race theory” however you call it as a top-down state-media complex enforced social ideology for NPC self-policing has more life in it to last past the end of decade. This is what I consider the 2020s culture war but it’s one that’s already won by the inevitability of the cultural pendulum.
: Cancels work as a form of individually directed boycott (opposed to the traditional boycott directed at corporations) with the goal of punishing the scapegoat through financial violence, the elimination of their livelihood. Get them fired from their workplace, get them expelled from school. In the case of independent “content creators”, they have to resort to reducing their audience, attempted by ‘follow policing’, calling out any of them for consuming the content of a black marked creator. One might imagine this second-order cancellation introducing a viral effect, where one may be cancelled for following accounts that follow the wrong accounts, and so on… and only at the long end of the chain do we find the original black marked bad actor who committed whatever faux pas to make him the initial subject to scapegoat. However, like how real viruses fail to spread if they’re too deadly , this evolutionary strand of cancel culture is too untenable to survive long enough to see this occur.
: When Kanye makes a media run toppling every prominent shibboleth he can find, this is the same battle he forces his fans to take a side on. The specific content of the inflammatory statements are not what’s important, but the decision to knowingly get cancelled by making them. Whereas JK Rowling having the confidence to share her honest opinions on the trans question in contradiction with the party line, or James Cameron casually injecting heavy orientalism and cultural appropriation into Avatar, with potential uproar around either not having any actual measurable effect on the phenomenon success of their IPs, I think Kanye was being intentionally controversial to make the point he’s too big to fail—and in this he was successful.
: What Curtis Yarvin refers to as “The Cathedral”. See: A Brief Explanation of the Cathedral, 2021.
: See: Cancel Miya to Me or I’ll Fucking Kill You, 2021.
: And if it isn’t, they decidedly aren’t to anyone who is.
: Revelations 21:7-8:
Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.