Wide praise for Obama crit­i­ciz­ing can­cel cul­ture

His ad­vice to see world as ‘messy’ a bi­par­ti­san hit

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Allyson Chiu

WASHINGTON — For­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama re­cently of­fered some ad­vice to young peo­ple hop­ing to change so­ci­ety: Par­tic­i­pat­ing in can­cel cul­ture isn’t the way to do it.

“This idea of pu­rity and you’re never com­pro­mised and you’re al­ways po­lit­i­cally woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly,” the 58-year-old said Tues­day while speak­ing at the Obama Foun­da­tion Sum­mit in Chicago. “The world is messy. There are am­bi­gu­i­ties. Peo­ple who do re­ally good stuff have flaws.”

Obama’s pointed warn­ing that so­cial me­dia en­ables “woke” peo­ple to be “as judg­men­tal as pos­si­ble” soon went vi­ral, with clips of Obama shared on Twit­ter be­ing viewed mil­lions of times.

“He is right on all counts,” 2020 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date An­drew Yang tweeted, while his op­po­nent Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard, D-Hawaii, wrote, “We all need a lit­tle more aloha spirit: be­ing re­spect­ful & car­ing for one an­other.”

“Good for Obama,” wrote con­ser­va­tive pun­dit Ann Coul­ter, adding in paren­the­ses that her com­ment was “Not sar­cas­tic!”

On Tues­day, Obama was 50 min­utes into a dis­cus­sion with young lead­ers about their ac­tivism when he men­tioned that he had started to no­tice a wor­ri­some trend “among young peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly on col­lege cam­puses.”

“There is this sense some­times of, ‘The way of me mak­ing change is to be as judg­men­tal as pos­si­ble about other peo­ple,’ and that’s enough,” he said, not­ing that the mind­set was only “ac­cel­er­ated by so­cial me­dia.”

Obama went on to de­scribe an ex­am­ple of the be­hav­ior he was cau­tion­ing against.

“If I tweet or hash­tag about how you didn’t do some­thing right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about my­self, be­cause man you see how woke I was?” he said, draw­ing laugh­ter from the au­di­ence. “I called you out.”

But the act of pub­lic sham­ing on so­cial me­dia, Obama said, is “not ac­tivism.”

“That’s not bring­ing about change,” he said. “If all you’re do­ing is cast­ing stones, you’re prob­a­bly not go­ing to get that far. That’s easy to do.”

With that, Obama ef­fec­tively in­serted him­self into the on­go­ing de­bate that sur­rounds can­cel cul­ture, a term that refers to a mass ef­fort, usu­ally car­ried out on so­cial me­dia, to call out prom­i­nent peo­ple for any al­leged wrong­do­ing and de­mand that they lose ac­cess to their pub­lic plat­forms. The strat­egy has proved vi­tal to hold­ing pow­er­ful fig­ures ac­count­able, spark­ing in­ter­na­tional move­ments such as #MeToo.

But “can­cel­ing” has also been crit­i­cized for en­cour­ag­ing mob be­hav­ior that of­ten re­sults in ma­jor con­se­quences to peo­ple’s lives and ca­reers over mis­steps such as old in­ap­pro­pri­ate tweets.

Boy­cotts have long been con­sid­ered an ef­fi­cient method of mo­ti­vat­ing change, but the in­tense cen­sor­ing of peo­ple or groups on so­cial me­dia is a newer tac­tic that has gained pop­u­lar­ity among the left, ac­cord­ing to CNN’s Chris Cil­lizza, who de­scribed it as “one of the defin­ing hall­marks of our cul­ture in the post-Obama pres­i­dency.”

It is not es­pe­cially sur­pris­ing then that Obama, known for pro­mot­ing com­pro­mise, would take is­sue with an ap­proach that hinges on the premise that every­thing is black and white, and Tues­day wasn’t the first time that he’s pub­licly raised con­cerns.

In his first in­ter­view af­ter leav­ing of­fice, Obama crit­i­cized un­named lead­ers for us­ing so­cial me­dia to sow di­vi­sion, The Post’s Wil­liam Booth re­ported.

“One of the dan­gers of the in­ter­net is that peo­ple can have en­tirely dif­fer­ent re­al­i­ties. They can be co­cooned in in­for­ma­tion that re­in­forces their cur­rent bi­ases,” Obama said in De­cem­ber 2017. “The truth is, on the in­ter­net every­thing is sim­pli­fied and when you meet peo­ple face to face, it turns out they’re com­pli­cated.”

Still, Obama’s most re­cent com­ments on the is­sue sparked a fresh wave of re­ac­tion.

“I love this,” CBS latenight host James Cor­den tweeted.

Cor­den’s praise was echoed by other celebri­ties, such as co­me­di­ans Billy Eich­ner and Sarah Sil­ver­man, and ac­tor John Cleese.

“An ac­tual adult with ex­pe­ri­ence and per­spec­tive has en­tered the build­ing,” Eich­ner wrote on Twit­ter.

Even con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor Tomi Lahren had pos­i­tive com­ments about Obama, re­mark­ing on “Fox & Friends” that the for­mer pres­i­dent is “look­ing like the voice of rea­son.”

But Obama’s words did not sit well with ev­ery­one.

“Oli­garch Ir­ri­tated by Ag­o­nized Youth,” one Twit­ter user cap­tioned a video of Obama speak­ing at the Chicago event.


For­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said, “If all you’re do­ing is cast­ing stones, you’re prob­a­bly not go­ing to get that far. That’s easy to do.”

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