After Osita Nwanevu argued in The New Republic that “cancel culture” was a con, a scam being perpetrated by the right to tether bad ideas, bad words, bad comedy, to the greats like Lenny Bruce, when it was just a product of society progressing and people choosing not to waste their time on people who weren’t worth it. There was no such thing as “cancel culture,” whatever that meant, but merely people who wanted better than they were getting. How could that be wrong?
Jesse Singal took him to task line by line, not so much to argue that anybody should go see Dave Chappelle if that’s not their thing, but that the thrust of cancel culture, whatever that means, is to try to shut Chappelle down so that no one gets to see him, and by doing so, eradicate his awful humor from the society.
Nwanevu’s pre-emptive argument was that comedians like Chappelle were too big to fail, so it was absurd to complain that people were trying to cancel someone who would still be wealthy, successful and performing no matter what the little people tried to do about him. While that’s likely true for Dave Chappelle, it’s also true that he won’t be invited to many college campuses to ply his trade. But if that’s because college students don’t find him funny, is that wrong?
While “cancel culture” is a phrase given to a social phenomenon, and therefore captures a sense without a discrete definition, my understanding is that it’s demonizing a person based on his priors, his heretical thoughts, in a concerted effort to make him a pariah to the cohort of woke people and thus silence him and his ideas.
Arguably, it’s a palliative measure, intended to remove badness from society, even if that badness is a constantly moving target that could be anything at any moment, and even if its weapon is mob influence rather than persuasion that whatever the woke scolds find evil is the sort of thing that others find wrong as well. In other words, if the mob says Chappelle is a demon, and you don’t agree that there’s anything wrong with Chappelle, you are still likely to either join the mob or, at least, not challenge the mob for fear that the mob will attack you as well. That’s the nature of outrage mobs.
But Nwanevu’s rationalization fails to explain what Aaron Lee Lambert, who stars in London’s West End production of Hamilton, did to Seyi Omooba. Omooba was given the role of Celie in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, a dream role for the 25-year-old actress. Then Lambert showed up.
But the next day she received a tweet with a screenshot of her Facebook post from September 2014.
In a discussion about homosexuality, she had written: ‘It is clearly evident in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 what the Bible says on this matter. I do not believe you can be born gay and I do not believe homosexuality is right…’
It was a twit from 2014, which means someone went digging to find dirt on Omooba. Why search for a reason to hate her? She wasn’t a politician on the other team, or someone promoting a position that was anathema to the cause. She was just an actress in a role. Why go to such lengths to try to destroy her? To the extent one can discern Lambert’s motives from his words and deeds, this is why.
He particularly objected to her views because the character of Celie is seen by some readers as being gay.
He asked in his tweet: ‘Do you still stand by this post? Or are you happy to remain a hypocrite? Seeing as you’ve now been announced to be playing an LGBTQ character, I think you owe your LGBTQ peers an explanation. Immediately.’
Even if one accepts Lambert’s weaving through what “some readers” believe, what difference does it make whether she “stands by this post”? She’s not a hypocrite, but an actress. She was picked for the role for her abilities, not her religious beliefs. Even if the character Celie is gay, it’s not as if Omooba has to be gay, or a gay ally at minimum, to play the role. That’s why it’s called acting.
But Lambert’s attack was all it took for the producers to unceremoniously oust Omooba from the play.
Leicester’s Curve Theatre said it stood by an earlier joint statement with the Birmingham Hippodrome which said: ‘The comments made by Seyi have caused significant and widely expressed concerns both on social media and in the wider press. Following careful reflection, it has been decided Seyi will no longer be involved with the production.’
It takes little more than an errant twit to garner the little gnats of outrage on social media to swarm and attack. It doesn’t even need to be true, as awaiting confirmation that an outrage occurred means letting a heretic go unattacked while the passion rages. But whether there were such “significant and widely expressed concerns” really isn’t the point. It’s the fear of association, the secondary effect of not doing as the mob, whether extant or inchoate, demands that drives people to cancel.
The producers planned to cast a wonderful actress in the role. They didn’t plan to take on the woke mob as if to stand for the right of religious people to express their beliefs that would be viewed as “homophobic,” even though there was nothing phobic about it. As Omooba explained, her religious beliefs didn’t manifest in any hatefulness toward gay people.
So now she’s suing for religious discrimination.
Ms Omooba is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre.
Its chief executive Andrea Williams said: ‘This story sends a chilling message that if you express mainstream biblical views, you will be punished and lose your career if you do not immediately renounce your beliefs. This cannot go unchallenged and we are determined to fight for justice in this case.’
She may win the case. She may not. Either way, her career as an actress is effectively dead, all because Aaron Lee Lambert felt the need to dig through her twits until he found a hook to ruin her. Regardless of how Dave Chappelle will weather this storm, Seyi Omooba will still be “canceled.”