It is almost too much to hope for. It is almost too scary to say it out loud.
Yet the signs are all there that the dream of all sensible, freethinking, fun-loving humans is finally being realised: Cancel culture is getting cancelled.
There was a time when this seemed not just impossible but actually unthinkable — lest the thought police cancel our minds.
The swarms of activist censors who trawl social media, mainstream media, politics, art and even children’s books looking for things to get outraged about seemed just too many, too loud and to have too much time on their hands.
Those who stuck their head above the parapet to voice contrarian or unfashionable views on any number of subjects were torn to shreds — sometimes literally. Salman Rushdie got stabbed half to death, JK Rowling had her books burned and Sydney University had to cancel a Mexican-themed staff party after complaints by the campus’s Autonomous Collective Against Racism.
And no, that wasn’t a Monty Python sketch. It really happened.
But after years of public figures and institutions fearfully and mindlessly prostrating themselves to the mob, something extraordinary has happened. Both everyday people and everyman leaders have responded to all the hysteria and censure, all the culling of language and literature, with that most Australian of defences: Yeah, nah.
Fittingly it was Australia’s greatest iconoclast Barry Humphries who accidentally martyred himself to this cause. In death as in life his timing was impeccable.
Humphries was ‘cancelled’ after describing gender reassignment surgery as ‘mutilation’ in a 2018 interview. Picture: SBS
Humphries’ entire life’s work was devoted to unsettling the smug and uptight and censorious. It may be an apocryphal legend, but one of his first performances was said to be hopping on the Camberwell tram one morning in a state of undress to the shock of commuters from that staid, dry suburb.
Then at each stop a prearranged attendant would hop on and incrementally deliver him pants, shirt, toothpaste and razor until he hopped off in town the very model of a middle-class gentleman.
Little wonder his favourite character was Sir Les Patterson, whose sole purpose was torching all those comfortable social mores in a glorious bin fire, a process often lubricated with an ointment or two.
Being something of an absurdist himself, it is apt that Humphries’ death caused such absurd contortions amongst the censorious commentariat that it melted them all into an ironically illuminating pile of sludge.
The Melbourne Comedy Festival provided a level of amusement rarely now seen in its venues when, having removed Humphries’ name from its peak “Barry Award” because of some random comments he made, it said after his death the award was never named after him in the first place.
It also stood by the decision, but didn’t and wouldn’t pay tribute, but then did … And then Jane Caro got shamed on Twitter for misgendering Hannah Gadsby. There ought to be a new award for making humourlessness so hilarious.
So why on earth would we pit two amazing but very different Australian comedians against one another? There is easily enough room for Barry Humphries & Hannah Gadsby in the pantheon of brilliantly funny Aussies. One is of his time & the other is of hers. We can celebrate both.
— Jane Caro (@JaneCaro) April 23, 2023
Gadsby uses they/them pronouns. Picture: Ben King/Supplied.
But unusually for Barry, this time he was only the opening act. The closer was our very own Prime Minister.
Despite all the carry-on from the right about Anthony Albanese being from the left faction of the Labor Party, he is instinctively a sensible centrist with little tolerance for silly woke platitudes.
The PM has unfailingly shown this since his election a year ago. He’s been tough on China, strong on national security and stuck to the Stage 3 tax cuts despite immense pressure from the left. Albanese is a man firmly in the middle.
But he has now also shown he is a freedom fighter. Despite all the histrionics and hand-wringing he knew it would bring from Twitter pontificators, Albo this week sat down with anti-woke warrior Piers Morgan for an interview in which he said he liked Barry Humphries, liked Fawlty Towers, didn’t like cancel culture, would pledge allegiance to the King and a woman was a woman.
Oh, and to leave children’s books alone.
The PM sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Sky News Australia host Piers Morgan ahead of King Charles III’s coronation this Saturday. Picture: Twitter
And this came just days after he troubled the pearl-clutchers by — shock horror — attending Kyle Sandilands’ wedding.
Both the left and the right attempted to drum up outrage over these utterly banal events, and in both cases it caught fire with all the enthusiasm of wet tissue paper.
Albo holding Kyle’s son Otto during the shock jock’s wedding to Tegan Kynaston, where former gangland figure John Ibrahim and convicted drug smuggler Simon Main were groomsmen. Picture: Twitter
Australians are weary of outrage. Now that we’ve got real problems, wages are more important than words.
Indeed, it is precisely this abstract obsession with language and identity and offence that has derailed and discredited the left for so long. Anyone who truly cares about disadvantage should be obsessed with cost of living, wages growth, economic productivity and educational outcomes.
And there should in this country be an immediate focus on addressing Indigenous disadvantage instead of confected hysteria about the racial composition of discussion panels directed towards that very thing.
Albo sparks backlash with ‘woman’ definition‘Can’t be right’: Albo slammed over wedding
So let’s cancel cancel culture once and for all and replace it with real solutions to real problems. Because you can bet your bottom dollar neither of those things will be found on Twitter.
Joe Hildebrand is a freelance writer.
Read related topics:Anthony Albanese