Did you catch the Hamilton movie on Disney+ over the 4th of July weekend? Maybe you’ve seen the live musical? If you’re a fan, you were probably dismayed to hear reports that the hashtag #CancelHamilton was trending. Critics claim the show glorifies founders who supported slavery.
A groundbreaking and wildly popular Broadway show when it premiered in 2015, Hamilton may no longer be acceptable in 2020 – at least not in the current atmosphere.
What does it mean to be “canceled”?
In late 2019, The New York Times posted a spoof of the witch burning trial from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The video, “Here’s What Cancel Culture Looked Like in 1283,” is pretty funny (see link below), but the real-life consequences of canceling are no joke. If a public figure is canceled, he or she loses “reputation and financial opportunity,” according to Fast Company reporter Joe Berkowitz. But can a private person or a monument—or history?—be canceled?
Is criticism an act of canceling? If it is, maybe we want to avoid criticism, but we’ll probably be worse off because no one will tell us when we’re wrong. Is losing your job because you hold an unpopular opinion being canceled? If so, there’s reason to be concerned that cancel culture will have a chilling effect on free speech.
We should also remember, however, that private businesses already exercise some restrictions on the speech and behavior of their employees. Recently, a number of individuals have been caught on video expressing opinions that are abhorrent to their employers or behaving in a manner that does not represent the company’s values. Should a business be precluded from terminating the employment of those individuals in order to protect free speech?
Back to Hamilton
If you’re a fan of Hamilton and worried about the effects of canceling, it’s worth noting that criticism of the show is not new. Concerns were raised by critics shortly after its premiere in 2015: although the cast was mostly non-white, audiences were overwhelmingly white; there are historical inaccuracies; and—the criticism that has resurfaced—the musical downplays the founders’ involvement in slavery. The past week may be the first time you’ve heard criticisms, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been around for years.
And, as you’ll see in our final link below, to say that #CancelHamilton was “trending” appears to be an overstatement. Being surfeited 24/7 with news and opinion pieces does not, unfortunately, absolve us of the responsibility to check multiple sources before assuming what we’ve seen or heard is the final word (or, for that matter, is even accurate).
Most importantly, here is how Hamilton’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, responded: on July 6th, following the coverage of #CancelHamilton, he tweeted, “I took 6 years and fit as much as I could in a 2.5 hour musical. Did my best. It’s all fair game.”
We might have good reason to worry about cancel culture, but perhaps calls for cancelation also offer an opportunity to have important discussions. Instead of vilifying our critics, having the intellectual humility to respond, “I could be wrong. Let’s discuss it,” promises a different kind of conversation than those we often see on social media.
5 more links worth your time
- Video: Here’s What Cancel Culture Looked Like in 1283, New York Times – This humorous opinion video from the New York Times reminds us “The internet didn’t invent the angry mob.” It also suggests that, while we’re focused on canceling one another, government authorities can exploit our distraction and take the opportunity to increase their own power.
- “What it really means to be ‘canceled’ in 2020, Fast Company – Joe Berkowitz, “whose job involves spending all day on Twitter—the Coliseum of Cancelation,” takes us through his view of what it does and doesn’t mean to be canceled.
- WTH do we do about cancel culture? Debating Confederate statues, law and the new mob rules, “WTH is Going On?” podcast (American Enterprise Institute) – Danielle Pletka and Marc Thiessen consider recent events and worry that cancel culture is not just aimed at celebrities and musicals, but also at history itself.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda Responds to the “Hamilton is Canceled” Controversy, The Oprah Magazine – Following the July 3rd premiere of the Hamilton movie on Disney+, calls for canceling the successful Broadway musical appeared on social media as critics believed it glorified founders who were slave owners. Since the musical has long been praised for its casting of non-white actors, the debate on canceling the musical is complicated.
- Approximately Two People Want to #CancelHamilton, Reason – Billy Binion takes a detailed look at the hashtag #CancelHamilton and whether it really illustrates trending calls to cancel the musical.