Somebody is about to get canceled. Or so it would appear, anyway.
It’s a cheeky question, one that is destined—if not designed—to elicit livid responses such as Who died and made you the arbiters of cancellation?
It should be abundantly clear to anyone who listens to more than 10 seconds of Cancel Me, Daddy, though, that Burns and Kleine are asking this question (mostly!) ironically. In fact, it should already be obvious just from the title, and that’s before you even get to the artwork, which depicts the hosts’ Twitter accounts slashed through with one of those giant red x’s that tend to accompany images of a “silenced” person, sometimes with tape over their mouths for flair.
“We’re not actually calling for people to lose their jobs or anything,” Burns says when we connect over the phone. “We’re not saying that cancel culture is ‘good.’ We just think there’s more nuance to it than people usually assume.”
There certainly is a pronounced lack of nuance around cancel culture at present. Although the idea of “canceling” someone was originally coined by queer communities of color to describe the act of holding people accountable for problematic behavior, it has since metastasized into an umbrella term wielded by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. Just recently, actress Gina Carano was purportedly canceled by Disney, Ohio Representative Jim Jordan described Donald Trump’s second impeachment as an effort to cancel the former president, and an OANN anchor described Stalin’s penchant for canceling those who opposed his views.
How can the same term possibly be used to describe an actor getting fired for anti-Semitic social media activity, a president getting impeached for inciting an insurrection, and a brutal dictator murdering dissenters?
The lack of clarity, intentional or otherwise, is why now is an ideal time to launch a podcast that explores these kinds of questions.
Kleine, who produces podcasts such as Brave, Not Perfect With Reshma Saujani, and Burns, who recently ended a part-time stint as a politics columnist with Vox, had been discussing the idea of launching a podcast together for the better part of the past year. The two friends were trying to decide on the core of the show and kept coming back to cancel culture, that many-tentacled bogeyman of free speech that looks to be more and more relevant with each passing day. It seemed like a perfect fit for two underemployed journalists who are also close observers of establishment media.
“We’re looking at this issue that’s dominated by these very large media voices who all bring a certain perspective where every time there’s even criticism of a journalist or whatever, it’s the end of the world, the end of free speech as we know it,” Burns says. “But there are tons of people from all different kinds of backgrounds who just get completely left out of this conversation. And we thought we could bring voice to that.”
The podcast is the pair’s attempt to reframe the conversation around cancel culture—which is rather fitting since “cancel culture” is so often used as a strawman to reframe the conversation around some public figure’s misdeeds. Why bother engaging with the substance of Donald Trump’s words and deeds when you can simply dismiss the whole impeachment affair as a free-speech witch hunt?
“I think we’ve built up this mythology where if you say that somebody’s canceled, there’s automatic sympathy for that person because—’Oh my God, cancel culture is the worst!’ But what happens is it just allows bad actors to get away with stuff, and you see this pattern repeating over and over and over again,” Burns says. “Not that some people haven’t been quote unquote canceled unfairly or whatever. It’s just, this is something we keep seeing, and it’s kind of ridiculous and it should be mocked.”
Confoundingly, as Burns and Kleine discuss on their show, once certain offenders are deemed the latest victims of the dreaded cancel culture, they are incentivized for it.
Rather than shuffling off to shunned obscurity, cancel martyrs such as Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, for instance, are practically guaranteed a rising profile and fattened donation haul throughout their ordeal, as they complain about being silenced from the perch of Fox News’s entire primetime lineup. One can easily imagine Hawley hawking his book—which was ignominiously dropped by Simon & Schuster, when it eventually is released by Regnery, whose titles, it must be noted, are distributed through Simon & Schuster—by enticing would-be buyers to read the book They tried to cancel but couldn’t.
Whenever that happens, Cancel Me, Daddy will be there to pick apart the moment.
The hosts have a spicy mix of segments planned for the future, from sorting through historical context to interviewing both cancelers and the canceled to asking the bigger existential questions around what cancel culture even means. If the past several years are any indication, the topic will give them plenty of material to work with in the future—even if it undergoes a makeover.
“I think it will get to the point eventually where average, everyday people are just going to roll their eyes at the phrase ‘cancel culture,'” Burns notes. “I think what we’ll see is another rebranding, like what happened with ‘political correctness’ five or 10 years ago, where the conversation around it transformed into the cancel culture conversation. We’ll just find another fancy term for it and redo the whole panic all over again.”