‘Cancel culture’ started out as a movement to hold celebrities and public figures to account; now, it has spiralled into a divisive issue across generations.
Over the past few years, in the wake of #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, those in the public eye have been held account for their past transgressions. It started out with the revelation of serious criminal offences, as in the case of Harvey Weinstein, R. Kelly, and many others in positions of power. In response to this, the public turned its attention to those in power who have got away with their racism, sexism and other outward prejudices that they have held while in power.
We have watched as celebrities all over the world get ‘cancelled’ for past or current actions. Old interviews, performances and writings have been pulled up from the depths of social media to hold such celebrities to account. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is the most recent to face such a severe backlash in response to her comments on the trans community.
But has ‘cancel culture’ gone too far? That is what over 150 public figures are now arguing in an open letter.
Celebrated American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky has signed his name in the open letter, to many of his fans’ dismay. But what has Noam Chomsky said about ‘cancel culture’ in the past?
Noam Chomsky signs the open letter
On Tuesday, July 7th, over 150 writers, scholars and public figures published a letter in Harper’s Magazine. This letter decried the current climate of ‘cancel culture’, claiming it “intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments” that tend to stifle public debate and tolerating differences.
Noam Chomsky was among those who signed their name.
He was joined on the letter by the likes of J.K. Rowling, Gloria Steinem, Bari Weiss, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, and Jeffrey Eugenides.
Noam Chomsky on ‘cancel culture’
Noam Chomsky, 91, is distanced from the Gen-Z world of ‘cancel culture’, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t previously spoken on the same issue to some effect. Chomsky is a staunch defender in the rights of free speech.
This has previous got Chomsky in trouble, as this defence has resulted in some pretty questionable statements.
Noam Chomsky has been quoted to have said:
“If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favor of free speech, then you’re in favor of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favor of free speech.”
Chomsky gets ‘cancelled’
The publication of the letter ended with the irony of ‘cancelling’ Noam Chomsky.
Many are now calling for the linguist to be ‘cancelled’ for signing the letter, some of whom were not aware of Chomsky before. This point has not been lost on many of Chomsky’s remaining supporters.
One fan tweeted: “Apparently he is cancelled now for signing a letter pro open dialogue which is forbidden on the internet apparently and oh, 17 year olds now think they’re better Chomskys than Chomsky. It’s a rabbit hole, enter at your own risk.”
Another added: “Noam Chomsky having his entire life cancelled over signing a letter. This is why I have to take frequent breaks from this hellsite.”