This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
If you’re a person in this world, there is a high probability that something you like was canceled this week.
Maybe it was the creator of a beloved series of young adult books who cemented her bigoted views about the transgender community.
Maybe it was quaint cooking videos on YouTube with institutional blind spots toward race that were plain to see, but you ignored because learning how to make gourmet Twinkies was delightful.
Maybe it was a reality series you used to watch with your childhood friends, not really registering how it glorified excessive police force and the breach of personal rights and safety—or a live version you watched precisely because it did so.
Maybe it’s an interminable classic movie whose lore has superseded its worth and, let’s be honest, you were never going to watch anyway.
Maybe it was vapid reality stars who once sought praise and validation for putting a rival, a black woman, in the crosshairs of the police under false pretenses.
Maybe it was a singing ingenue who turned out to be a raging bitch.
Maybe it was just a flat-out racist.
Some of these “cancellations” are of the trigger-word proverbial kind, when a person’s objectionable public views and actions are no longer reconcilable for those who support or hire them. Some are literal: so long, Cops, after a 32-year run, as well as Live P.D., following the admission that the series had filmed a cop killing—and then destroyed the footage.
Others might be looming just ahead: at this moment, how do we reconcile the wall-to-wall cop dramas on broadcast TV schedules? Yet others are more complicated. After firing Vanderpump Rules stars Stassi Schroeder and Kristen Doute for past racist behavior, what kind of reckoning is Bravo going to have with its too-many-to-justify other stars who have exhibited the same?
Reckoning is the right word here, and it doesn’t apply just to the people and projects in question and to the parent companies holding them accountable. It’s a reckoning for fans, too.
It’s for fans who are glad to be a part of the right side of history. It’s for fans who are angry that the things they like are being taken away. It’s for fans who want even more accountability. It’s for fans who insist that personal views and behavior shouldn’t matter when it comes to the content they enjoy. It’s for fans cheering on these decisions, and fans furiously decrying the cultural gestapo.
As the famously passionate fans of the Harry Potter franchise rise up to express raging disappointment at the bigotry espoused by its creator, and the surprisingly passionate fans of Live P.D.—who launched vicious attack campaigns on journalists and critics calling for its cancellation—just rage, there’s another question beyond the right and wrong of all this. It’s the question of what, exactly, fans are owed from the culture they support—and what are they willing to accept in order to keep enjoying it?
Because of this emotional investment, or maybe because they’re just easy pawns, the micro news cycles that surround these “cancellations” become politicized.
Who knew so many people were clamoring to queue up all four hours of Gone With the Wind until HBO Max temporarily pulled it, soon reinstituting it with an attached discussion of historical context and a denouncement of its racist depictions?
The decision sparked a false cry of censorship from conservatives—Newsflash: There is no constitutional right to access Gone With the Wind on a paid streaming platform—revealing how these decisions become props for bad-faith actors. Are these “fans” who are so attached to the notorious film that they not only overlook its racism, but can’t bear the thought of seeking it out on another streaming service? Or are they political opportunists?
Even if and when the outrage is genuine, it’s complicated.
Are there those who have a point when they say that Vanderpump Rules is an escapist reality series and it shouldn’t matter what its stars do off-screen? There’s an argument there, sure.
Does a reality show and the network on which it airs owe its audience the trust that it’s not employing and amplifying racist voices? There’s definitely an argument there.
And are there those who argue that firing four of the stars isn’t enough, when there are reportedly more compromised cast members still on the show, and across the entire network? Yep.
So then where do we land? What’s the right answer? It’s not easy, and that’s the point.
If this moment is about not just reaction—outrage, disgust, empathy—but action, then that means confronting the problems and doing the work. That work isn’t easy, and it isn’t always popular. It’s also emotional. But that’s not reason enough not to do it.
It’s not as easy for most people to say “screw J.K. Rowling and those damn kids’ books she wrote” as it is for the Twitter mob, enlightened and rigorously intelligent they may be. Everything J.K. Rowling said is unconscionable. Any platform she has must be taken away. It may now be impossible not to associate the stories she brought into the world with the vile, unforgivable views she is sharing.
Still, it’s a crisis of conscience for people for whom the work is not just linked to the creator, but to profound formative memories and experiences. A fictional universe might have tied together family bonds and friendships formed over decades of shared connection to this world.
It’s why these things are disheartening. You can stand for the right thing and still be disheartened by the action that must be taken.
Things that shatter when thrown off the pedestal aren’t always greeted by cheers when they crash. There’s sometimes a mourning period, unattached to any justification or forgiveness for the actions that warranted the toppling in the first place. It’s a layer of the outrage we’re all feeling right now.
How are there people who do and say these things? How could they be so disappointing? How did we not see it? What part did we have in it? And maybe the question we should focus on most: Why has it taken this long to change?
The reaction to the Rowling controversy is just one example, but it could be applied, at various scales, to so many of these cancellations and how fans are reacting. In any case, may we all have the grace of Daniel Radcliffe to articulate these complicated feelings, taking a stand for what’s right while also being disappointed in something you once loved:
To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you. I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you. If these books taught you that love is the strongest force in the universe, capable of overcoming anything; if they taught you that strength is found in diversity, and that dogmatic ideas of pureness lead to the oppression of vulnerable groups; if you believe that a particular character is trans, nonbinary, or gender fluid, or that they are gay or bisexual; if you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. And in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.