Cancel culture claimed another victim this week. This time it was The Hunt, a Universal Studios thriller in which a group of — presumably liberal — elites go around hunting and killing ‘deplorables’ for sport. The premise is awful, and it does nothing to encourage the kind of spiritual healing Marianne Williamson correctly believes our nation so badly needs.
But consider some other cinematographic successes. ABC’s Designated Survivor tells the story of a terror attack that wiped out the entire American government, leaving a lowly Secretary of Housing with the job of Commander in Chief. The Handmaid’s Tale is a futurist dystopia in which fertile women are enslaved, raped, and horribly oppressed by a pseudo-Christian cult that has overthrown the US government. The 100 showcases a human race that is fighting to survive on a planet called Sanctum, after first destroying Earth. None of these plotlines are particularly pleasant.
We used to call this genre ‘fiction.’ Films, in the days of yore, were reviewed on the quality of the camera-work, the talent of the actors, and whether or not we, the watchers, were drawn into and captivated by the story. In the era of politically correct art and entertainment, that rating system is no more.
Cancel culture has long thrived on the left, with new stories of de-platforming, shaming, and silencing an almost daily occurrence. It’s good fodder for op-ed writers, but ultimately calamitous for our discourse. And yet, while the left has been the frequent villain in this never-ending saga, those who believe that a culture of censorship and cancelation hasn’t also been blossoming on the right are either deluding themselves or are purposely blind. There are few heroes in this narrative.
The Hunt’s demise is the result of a few factors, but the blame certainly does not fall on the illiberal left. Indeed, President Trump was among the first to criticize the film on Twitter, saying that the ‘movie coming out is made in order to inflame and cause chaos’, and that liberal Hollywood ‘are the true racists’. Whether or not the president realized that the film’s plot line actually makes the true-believing MAGA folk out to be victims, not villains, is entertaining to ponder, but ultimately immaterial.
It’s inarguable that the planned timing of the film’s release was inauspicious. With the Dayton shootings so fresh in our minds, it was quite reasonable for Universal to assume that some Americans might not be interested in watching a film about a shooting rampage. And yet, the reality of the news cycle — even one filled with unspeakable tragedies — is that people move on and focus on the quotidian rituals of daily life. Those rituals include entertainment, to distract us from reality and its challenges. Had Universal gone ahead with the film as scheduled, or had they simply delayed its release by a month or two, Americans would not have been compelled to purchase a ticket the same way they are not compelled to change the channel to a show they have no interest in watching. We can vote with our wallets as well as our remote controls. The choice, however, of what to watch, and when, should not be made for us by a few outraged voices on Twitter, even if one of those voices belongs to the president of the United States.
New reporting actually claims that the decision to cancel the film was made before Trump’s tweet on the matter but, either way, the timing is only one part of the story. To postpone the film because the studio worried Americans might not show up in the immediate aftermath of the shootings is practical, and in the end, probably somewhat economically savvy. To cancel it indefinitely because the right proved it can also assemble in mob fashion would be to further enshrine a terrible precedent the left has already set. That’s not the kind of bipartisan cooperation I was hoping for.
Daniella Greenbaum Davis is a Spectator columnist and senior contributor to the Federalist.