Is it just me or are the "cancel culture" and "debate" takes getting even lazier?
There are interesting paths these stories could take, but don't.
Hello and happy Monday, all!
Last week, The New York Times published a “guest essay” (what they started calling op-eds last year) by University of Virginia senior Emma Camp. Camp’s piece, titled, “I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead,” was the latest in a long line of “campus free speech” pieces.
I could go through point by point and say why I thought this piece was goofy, but to be totally honest, I just don’t care enough to do it.1 It’s the same story the Times has published a hundred times before, and it’s the same story the Times will publish a hundred times more.2
“Cancel culture,” “campus speech,” “wokeness,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m tired of reading the same stories over and over. Out of curiosity, I decided to search the Times website for “cancel culture” pieces from the past year published in the opinion section. It brought back 70 results. 70! That means that once every five days or so, an editor at NYT hits publish on another addition to this played-out genre.3
It’s not just NYT. It’s mainstream media, generally. Stories about “cancel culture” and “self-censorship” are all over the place.
The other day, The Atlantic had one of these pieces. Sarah Hepola’s “The Things I’m Afraid to Write About” is a great example. The premise of the piece is familiar. A writer — in this case, Hepola — finds herself afraid to take chances because she doesn’t want to jeopardize her career. Okay, then. I understand that feeling quite well, especially as someone whose income and ability to pay my bills is dependent on keeping readers engaged with my work.
I occasionally get emails from people telling me they’re unsubscribing because I write too much about one topic or not enough about another, because they just didn’t agree with my views, or because they just simply don’t like my writing. These are all perfectly valid reasons for unsubscribing. After all, I’m not entitled to anyone’s $6 per month. The same goes for my criticism of mainstream outlets. I can’t imagine the Times, Washington Post, or The Atlantic running out and commissioning a piece from me given my frequent criticism of all three over the past several years. The things we write and say do affect our career trajectories, both good and bad. So yes, I do understand the central idea behind what Hepola is getting at.
That said, I feel like her piece suffered from a common problem with these sorts of “The Things I’m Afraid to Write About” pieces: it’s so vague that it’s hard to pin down what the author is actually trying to say.
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I reached out to Hepola to try to clarify a couple of the points in her piece.
After all, if you’re going to write a piece titled, “The Things I’m Afraid to Write About,” it’s probably pretty important that readers actually understand what you’re talking about.4
From her piece:
From 2015 to 2021, my private conversations were some of the best I’ve ever had. Taboo subjects have always been delectable, but suddenly we were living in a time when so much that was once considered fair game for discussion (education, biological differences, the benefits of policing) had become dangerous.
Now, given that the Republican Party (and conservatives around the world) have decided to focus all of their culture war rage on trans people in recent years (and the press’ obsession with publishing every half-informed take about trans kids and trans athletes), I thought it was likely that “biological differences” was a wink at something about trans people. That was not the case, apparently. Here’s what she told me: