One sentence into this article and I’ve already written too much about the cancellation of Chris Pratt. To be precise, like Kevin Hart, Pratt is not actually cancellable. That’s the only thing worth mentioning about this stupid news cycle.
A meme asking people to eliminate one of Hollywood’s four most high-profile Chris’s—Pine, Hemsworth, Evans, and Pratt—triggered an onslaught of social media posts noting and mocking Pratt’s Christian faith, assuming it signaled his support for the GOP. The meme coincided with news that Pratt would be one of the only major Marvel movie stars not participating in a Tuesday fundraiser for the Biden-Harris campaign, which fueled the viral outrage against him.
What makes this story worth discussing at all is that social media controversies do not represent broader public attitudes. Pratt, who donated $1,000 to Barack Obama, has long been suspected for the crime of being conservative, and it hasn’t affected his career one bit. For all the years of social media quibbling over his church and his politics, Pratt is a huge success.
We go through this every few months. Pratt will post something Christian, or a random user will suddenly discover his faith, or someone will compliment him, and then the rest of us have to endure a cycle of viral tweets that trigger a cycle of media coverage of those viral tweets. The audience for those tweets and articles is the sizable but clear minority of people who want to rage on the alleged bigotry of conservatives or rage against the patently bigoted attacks on conservatives. (See new survey research published in the New York Times this week.) The result is grossly disproportionate media coverage of divisive stories with minimal importance, which makes the country seem like a much darker place than it is and is at risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There is no populist ideology behind cancel culture, as some on the left have argued, believing swarms of social media critics zeroing in on any non-progressive conduct any public figure has ever committed to be a check on power that holds elites accountable. We know this because the practice has created standards that often take down Average Joes and marginalized people, and because there’s clearly little public appetite for those takedowns, even if there’s just enough curiosity to feed the click machine.
Non-public figures get “canceled,” to the extent the definition of the term involves public shaming and losses to their businesses and privacy disproportionate to their alleged wrongthink. Public figures in lower tiers of success get canceled over nothing too.
Stars like Pratt, however, are largely fine. That’s because consumers don’t mind if he’s Christian or conservative or maybe some combination of both. They like his movies more than they care about his supposedly bigoted politics, and see through the elite insistence that every public figure comply with the full leftist agenda.
It’s why the mindset behind decisions like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s recent media moves are, indeed, “very telling that being a woke media celebrity influencer is a more powerful and desirable role than being a literal hereditary monarch.” Elites trade on this kind of cultural discourse, enriching themselves financially and psychologically, by poisoning the culture with divisive nonsense that has a smaller audience than they realize.
To become truly royal in the modern Western sense Harry/Meghan had to renounce their hereditary monarchial duties https://t.co/hZNUQJVhrI
— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) October 20, 2020
The outrage economy is great for Big Tech companies, corporate media outlets, and hyper-partisan consumers. While it’s slowly conditioning the rest of us to hate anyone who dissents from our personal code of morality, enough of the public still rejects that prescription to keep hope alive.
This is why it’s worth pausing to consider Pratt’s case study. While it was nice to see the actor’s wife and colleagues rally around him, they really didn’t have to say anything at all. That’s the lesson for corporations and crisis PR firms and public figures. These controversies may seem like real threats as they unfold, but half the attention is driven by supporters and even most of the people who don’t have an interest in actively fighting back are annoyed it’s even an issue.
Treating so-called cancellation campaigns as serious threats emboldens cancellers in their efforts to make them serious threats. We don’t have to feed the beast, because nobody is forcing our hand.