I wrote about #CancelCulture in my last post. I want to expand on the idea today with its use to blackmail people. To be clear, canceling someone doesn’t blackmail them. The threat of canceling them is the way it has become weaponized.
We’ve all heard of or known someone who was blackmailed because of some secret indiscretion in their past. These indiscretions don’t even have to rise to the level of something illicit or morally reprehensible. Frequently, they are relatively innocent and naive choices from our youth that come back to bite us.
To me, the distinction between naïveté and ignorance is essential here. Some of the behaviors we exhibit in our younger years are, indeed, laced with ignorance. In my mind, ignorance implies an action where we should have known better. On the other hand, naïveté suggests that we lacked the experience to know better. As we age, we gain more experiences which we hope leads to more wisdom. It gives us discretion that can only be learned the hard way.
I’d like to share two examples with you. Both are something I wouldn’t do again. At the same time, I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of either.
The first example came when I was a sophomore in college. We were broke, like most college students. It was Halloween, and we didn’t have any money for costumes. The truth is that we probably spent our money on beer, and that’s why we didn’t have money for costumes. Anyway, we went to the local thrift shop and got the idea to dress in drag for Halloween. It was an innocent, humorous, light-hearted idea. We had the girls in the dorms do makeup for us. (I looked hideous.) I was wearing high heels, fishnet stockings, a miniskirt, halter top, and had my head shaved. The night came and went. The party was fun, from what I can remember, almost twenty-five years later.
Like I said above, I’m not ashamed to think back on this episode. It happened. It was something nineteen-year-olds did in the 1990s in small-town Kansas. I wouldn’t do it now. I can appreciate that some people might find the behavior offensive. You may even think we intended to make fun of gender preferences. I have to tell you that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Even in cosmopolitan Manhattan, Kansas, there were only two genders in the 1990s. I understand we have a more fluid definition of that today. Were someone to try and blackmail me for having dressed in drag all those years ago, I still don’t think I would apologize. It was the action of a nineteen-year-old kid.
The second example came a few years later. I had an important test for a job interview the next day and decided to go out and blow off steam by drinking the night away before the big day. For the record, this particular job—which I did end up getting—was the type where you interview for it over a series of months through a series of different steps designed to weed out unqualified applicants.
So, I’m walking home from a night out on the town, and I suddenly felt the need to relieve my bladder. It was well after midnight, and the local businesses were closed. I stopped next to a building and let loose. Out of nowhere, I hear a sharp voice behind me and a flashlight click on.
You’ve probably guessed that I was discovered by a police officer in a compromising position. Naturally, he asked me what I was doing. I zipped my pants and explained myself. I was as respectful and polite (not to mention frightened) as could be while intoxicated at the wise old age of twenty-two.
The officer checked my ID and asked why I didn’t try to go somewhere else. Again, I explained myself and told the officer I was sorry for the circumstance. I am not too proud to say I begged him to let me go on my way, even going so far as to tell him about my test coming up the next day. The officer gave me a frown, as would be expected, and lectured me on my choice. He ended up letting me go with a warning.
I will tell you that I grew up outside a city. My parents’ home is now in the city limits, though that’s in name only. It is still a drive of at least four miles to the closest string of businesses. Having grown up in the country, we relieved ourselves when we had to go. There wasn’t any thought as to it being indecent. As long as a lady wasn’t around, it was just what the men and boys did.
I still struggle with why this particular behavior is considered inappropriate if it happens in as much privacy as a person can find. Regardless, it is frowned upon in civil society. It’s even considered a sex offense in some places now. I happen to think that’s absurd, but I don’t make the rules.
Each of the two examples I shared is the sort of thing a person might be blackmailed for in 2021. The threat of canceling a person by outing them is often enough to quiet dissent. I find it a sad commentary of what passes for normal or socially acceptable.
Of course, we should have social boundaries. We also need to be mindful of the context of behaviors that might otherwise be eye-raising. I will state that I don’t think, nor have I ever thought, it’s acceptable to dress up as a person of another race or ethnicity. I think it’s poor taste under the best of circumstances.
I believe there is a critical difference between dressing in drag and dressing in _____ face of an identity that clearly doesn’t belong to me. The distinction comes from a conversation around a physical trait a person is born with and a choice someone makes. We can disagree about this level of nuance. I stand by my position that our mode of attire is a personal choice. Still, I wouldn’t dress in drag anymore out of an appreciation that some people choose to identify as dressing in clothes that weren’t designed for their biological gender.
At the same time, the behaviors of my youth made me who I am today. If there are consequences for those actions, I’ll live with it. I wouldn’t choose to give someone a consequence for a naive choice from twenty-five years ago, but that’s me.
If someone tries to blackmail me for my naive choices or for mistakes I’ve made, so be it. They will be sorely disappointed because I’d probably beat them to the punch and air my own laundry. After all, I have a couple of unspeakable tattoos in unspeakable places. I get to see daily reminders of the naïveté of my youthful choices.
Nobody was harmed through my actions. Why do we feel the need to cancel people when they make a choice that didn’t harm anyone else? Isn’t that God’s job to judge them?
Maybe the availability of information in the Internet Age has shifted our thinking to believe we are somehow entitled to know everything about a person. Maybe we think we are self-righteous enough to pass judgment on others. Maybe it’s just my Libertarian values. While I think of myself as a generally conservative person who lives a quiet, conservative life, I cannot tell anyone else what they can or cannot do. But, that’s just me.
I’m just trying to make sense of this new reality where we cancel one another or threaten to do so if people say something we don’t like. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
As always, this has been the World According to Chris. Please hit the like button or leave a reply.