Whenever Donald Glover tweets, people pay attention. After all, he’s cultivated a sense of scarcity around his posts—he deleted the contents of his Twitter in 2018, after making a similar move in 2014. The desire to clear out the noise makes sense; Glover, a comedian, rapper, erstwhile singer, and creator of the TV show Atlanta, is a busy guy.
So when Glover revived his dormant feed on Tuesday, the internet listened—particularly because of what Glover had to say. “[S]aw people on here havin a discussion about how tired they were of reviewing boring stuff (tv & film),” he wrote, without pointing toward that specific discussion. “[W]e’re getting boring stuff and not even experimental mistakes(?) because people are afraid of getting cancelled… [S] o they feel like they can only experiment w/ aesthetic. (also because some of em know theyre not that good)”
Glover isn’t wrong to point out how much uninspiring work is out there. My colleague Sonia Saraiya wrote about this last fall, offering a different theory for why such a conundrum exists. But the internet seems less focused on the idea of lackluster entertainment, and more generally confused about what Glover meant by the word “canceled.” Is he saying that creators are worried about having their TV series canceled by a network? Or did he mean “canceled” as in “cancel culture,” a slippery term usually taken to mean a lot of people being vocally upset with you online? Perhaps the latter sort of cancellation also means enduring critics who write searing takes about your work and/or actions. Maybe close friends will stop answering your texts. For the record, I think Glover is talking about that sort of cancel culture, since he also mentions movies—which obviously cannot (literally) be canceled by studios once they’ve been released to the public.
The trouble with this take, of course, is that at least in Hollywood, very rarely has “getting canceled” meant that the person in question becomes destitute or unable to work ever again. Mel Gibson had an Oscar run after his 2006 anti-Semitic rant, and Roman Polanski won best director at the César Awards in 2020. Even Woody Allen will continue to have his work produced and celebrated in Europe, despite having a damning documentary released about him.
True, a few stars accused of abuse or misconduct have recently “parted ways” with or been altogether dropped by their agencies, like Shia LaBeouf and Armie Hammer. But both have denied the full extent of the allegations against them, and it’s not unreasonable to believe that each will eventually stage returns. “Canceled” men with less serious marks against them, like Aziz Ansari, have returned to the spotlight—more out of an ability to read the room, it appears, than some outer mandate. (Master of None is about to premiere its third season on Netflix.) As for people whose work itself has offended, the sort of folks Glover seems to be chiefly concerned about: Dave Chappelle, to name a recent example, is still beloved and highly sought after. In fact, Chappelle canceled himself (in the functional, television sense) back in the day, and staged his own long-awaited return in the thick of what he would himself surely deem “cancel culture” with a flourish of transphobic jokes.
Whatever you think about the tenability of cancel culture as a concept, the oddest part about Glover’s apparent theory is who it goes easiest on: the corporations that are increasingly monopolizing the film and television industries. The concept of “cancelation” implies a mob of mostly non-celebrities whose takes are hot enough to tear down a career. It doesn’t account at all for how the industry has, since the dawn of big studios, tanked careers for petty, close-minded, censorious, or simply capitalistic reasons. It seems clear as day that innovative, experimental films and television series aren’t coming out left and right because the filmmakers and showrunners with the talent and vision to create those sorts of projects often don’t get the time of day from the likes of Warner Bros, Universal, and Disneys. Nor are Netflix or Amazon adept at positioning and marketing the work of emerging and independent directors who take risks. (See, for instance, the Cuties controversy).
Most people didn’t even realize that brilliant films like Kajillionaire, First Cow, or Never Rarely Sometimes Always came out last year, or Atlantics the year before it. Even though Michaela Coel’s series I May Destroy You received plenty of media attention, it was snubbed at the Golden Globes; many more people seemed to be aware of Promising Young Woman, a much less daring (and, now, Oscar-winning) piece of work about a similar subject.
None of this is the fault of people online participating in “cancel culture.” Instead, it’s the entertainment industry’s major institutions, increasingly at the beck and call of big money—while simultaneously violating worker rights by protecting abusive bosses—that may have something to answer for. Perhaps it’s not surprising, though, that Glover, who once released an album called “Because the Internet,” might be more focused on the terminally online.
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