Cancel Me Culture
Posted April 09, 2021
Ryan Holiday, author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, was canceling people long before it was cool.
Consider what he did to Tucker Max.
It was 2009, during the run-up to a movie based on Tucker’s (intentionally) sophomoric book, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.
First, Holiday designed “anti-Tucker Max” stickers. He had his girlfriend drive him around L.A. in the middle of the night so he could use them to deface the movie’s billboards and signs.
Under the pseudonym Evan Meyer, he emailed the photos of the defaced signs to popular L.A. bloggers, writing: “Good to know Los Angeles hates Tucker Max, too.”
(One of the bloggers wrote back: “You’re not messing with me, are you?” Holiday, still posing as Meyer, replied: “Trust me, I’m not lying.” This tidbit will become important in a moment.)
Holiday also posted photos of his vandalism on activist blogs, claiming it was part of a growing protest movement against Tucker’s sexism. He sent anonymous outraged emails to various local websites and women’s rights groups in areas the film was being screened.
The pictures of the defaced billboards spread far and wide throughout the interwebs… the rally call against Tucker Max grew.
This led to real-life protests at movie theaters and more billboard defacing across the country. It also led to articles against the movie’s release published in The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune.
And then more protests. More defaced billboards.
Ryan sat back with smug satisfaction.
But, here’s the thing.
Ryan was working for Max Tucker. Tucker had hired him to promote the film. And, that’s what he did.
Ryan purchased the billboards he defaced. Ryan anonymously helped to plan the protests in towns where the movie was released. Ryan manufactured the outrage.
The result? The movie got so much attention, people were lining around the block to see what the fuss was all about.
(Plus, Tucker’s book sales went through the roof.)
Yes, Holiday was trying to get Tucker canceled. Because Holiday knew the oldest trick in the marketing book:
The people who love you will make you happy. The people who hate you will make you famous. (And rich.)
With that in mind, I suspect we’re beginning to witness a strange worm turning in the so-called “culture of canceling.”
The unintended consequences of “cancel culture” have been clear from the beginning.
Now, it seems, the opportunists are catching on.
The Cancel Capitalists
Savvy attention-seekers understand full well the gambit: Censorship has unintended consequences.
Most of us have heard of the Streisand Effect. Wikipedia’s definition will suffice: “a social phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove, or censor information has the unintended consequence of further publicizing that information, often via the Internet.”
Similarly, so-called “cancel culture,” despite the name, doesn’t actually usually cancel.
Sure, it might disrupt someone’s life for a bit…
More than anything, however, it calls for attention.
For that reason, cancel culture doesn’t always (or even usually) succeed at its intended aim.
In the week ending March 8, 2021, Dr. Seuss book sales shot up 34%. The “canceled” author commanded four of the top five bestselling books, according to NPD Bookscan.
And consider the monumental rise of the Canadian professor Jordan Peterson. It’s probably true that millions of people wouldn’t know who he is if it weren’t for a relentless group of university students claiming he was a “Nazi.”
Fast forward a few years, his book 12 Rules For Life sold more than 5 million copies. And his latest book Beyond Order is on track to do the same.
The same goes for those in the so-called “Intellectual Deep Web” -- an amorphous non-partisan group of individuals who garnered massive attention from being “canceled.”
Instead of shrinking and disappearing, they leveraged the attention they were gaining and turned it into a career.
Precisely zero of them wanted the mob to disrupt their lives. But I doubt any of them regret the newfound fame that followed.
Consider another recent example of cancel capitalism…
Lil Nas and his “Satan Shoes,” which include a drop of human blood in each rubber sole. No, “Lil Nas” isn’t looking for recruits into a satanic cult. He’s looking for your reaction. He’s looking for repulsion. He’s looking for attention.
In a society addicted to outrage, the opportunists understand one thing…
The people who love you will make you happy. The people who hate you will make you famous.
On the Offense
Alex Ebert, a member of a different type of “Intellectual Deep Web” (a private message board of hyper-intellectuals arguing about other hyper-intellectuals), was the first to draw my attention to this trend.
Getting canceled, he says, is becoming cool.
While haunting the exclusive invite-only social media app Clubhouse, Ebert came across a small group of “Cancel Me” conspirators:
“Last night,” he wrote, “within one of the attentional battlefields of heroics, I stumbled directly into a virtual room entitled How To Destroy The Media. How rebellious! By the time I entered, an erstwhile New-York-Times-sucks fest had turned into three calls to action:
1.] Celebrate the “canceled” person as a hero to shift the narrative.
2.] Establish “canceled funds” for canceled talent to give the designation an economic advantage.
3.] Fund “non-cancellable” social media platforms.
Perhaps Ebert is missing the mark and this is just a limp-wristed idea against an overwhelming force.
Or perhaps it points to a larger trend…
When the “In” Crowd is Out
Every action causes a reaction. And the pendulum always swings.
There’s an inherent danger in trying to shut “bad” people up. And not only because it tends to have the opposite intended effect.
It also drives people underground into echo chambers, and onto different platforms away from the larger marketplace of ideas.
Their ideas, whatever they may be, are no longer challenged, but emboldened. They feel even more righteous in their cause, whatever it might be.
And it also leads to opportunists leveraging the current hair-trigger for outrage.
After all, though our technology changes, human nature doesn’t.
1,000 years ago, Beowulf wasn’t shy about admitting what he wanted: legacy.
“Do not grieve, wise warrior!” Beowulf told Hrothgar. “Each of us must accept the end of life here in this world—so we must work while we can to earn fame before death.”
As Ryan Holiday knew over a decade ago, the quickest route to fame isn’t through your fans… it’s through the people who throw rocks at you.
And maybe Ebert’s right.
Soon enough, perhaps only the cool will be canceled.
If you’re not canceled…
You’re not in.
[Ed. note: Got an idea that might ruffle some feathers? You might be sitting on a goldmine. Click here to learn how to turn it into cold, hard cash.]
Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today
P.S. Got something to say? Say it!