It used to be possible to follow the allegations and cancellations. Remember when the cooking columnist Alison Roman lost her job at The New York Times because she criticized Chrissy Teigen? That sentence looks just as absurd now as it did then, but so could 10,000 others. And it’s hard to even remember if it happened last week or last month or last year.
It used to be possible to take in all of the apologies. But they have, in a kind of positive feedback loop, become so cringe-inducing, so self-abasing, so utterly Soviet — there is simply no other way to describe this sort of thing. (N.B.: If you find yourself accused of racism for, say, writing a piece in defense of football and a PR hack tries to convince you that a struggle session is the best available course of action, seek advice elsewhere.)
Things have gotten so ridiculous so quickly — Bon Appetit is currently going back and editing insufficiently sensitive recipes in what they call (I kid you not) an “archive repair effort” — that my baseline assumption is that 99 percent of cancellations are unwarranted. In other words, people are losing their jobs and their reputations not for violating genuine taboos but for simple mistakes, minor sins or absolute nonsense.
It’s impossible to overstate the bystander effect of these public humiliations. Normal people are functioning like we live under a new kind of McCarthyism — and for good reason. Our McCarthyism is crowd-sourced, but not necessarily less vicious or ruinous.
All of which is why, when I saw late last week that an actor named Gina Carano had been fired from a role on a Star Wars show because she doesn’t have the kind of politics required to avoid the modern Hollywood blacklist, I leapt to her defense.
Since I’m not a Star Wars fan — sorry! I know! — I had not heard of Carano before Friday. But I am sentient enough to know that The Mandalorian, the Star Wars show streaming on Disney Plus, is a hit. It is apparently five times as popular as any other show on the streamer and was the first Disney Plus show to hit Nielsen’s streaming top 10 list.
Carano, a former MMA fighter and actress, plays the bounty hunter Cara Dune on the series. Or she did until Lucasfilm announced that she was fired and UTA, her agency, dropped her shortly thereafter.
So what did Carano do? Her sin is her politics. She’s a conservative.
Among her views, expressed via social media: Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself and pronouns in bios are worthy of mockery (this fall, she briefly updated her Twitter bio to read “beep/bop/boop”). She’s the rare celebrity that has a Parler account.
You get the drift. If you’ve ever ventured beyond the bounds of MSNBC, or have a single right-of-center friend, none of this is surprising. It’s also why Carano had been under scrutiny for a while: #FireGinaCarano trended on Twitter long before last week.
The actress, like some of our aunts and uncles, can be a bit trollish online and has posted some stupid memes. The one that led to her firing was a TikTok post she shared that compared the U.S. to Nazi Germany.
Here it is:
A good rule of thumb is to avoid comparing America to 1930s Germany, your political opponents to Nazis, and yourself and your allies to Jews. What Carano wrote — or likely repeated and shared — was wrong because the Holocaust is a singular evil.
But if bad Nazi analogies were reasons for Hollywood terminations, as Robby Soave points out in this smart piece for Reason Magazine, a lot more people would have to be fired, including Carano’s co-star, Pedro Pascal, who Tweeted this:
That would be unthinkable, of course. In Hollywood, as in so many other industries, there are two sets of rules: one for leftists and one for everyone else. So Pedro Pascal, who publicizes that he goes by “he/him,” still has his job, while Gina Carano was fired, with Lucasfilm claiming that “her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.” (For what it’s worth, I see the image she shared as historically and politically uncomprehending, but I do not feel that it denigrates Jews qua Jews.)
According to the usual playbook, we’d all have forgotten about Carano by the end of the weekend, another person memory-holed by our merciless, hypocritical culture. But that’s not what happened here. Less than 48 hours after her firing, The Daily Wire, helmed by Ben Shapiro, announced that it was hiring Gino Carano to produce and star in an upcoming film.
Here I’m supposed to offer the throat-clearing about how Ben and I disagree on gay marriage and on abortion and a dozen other issues. We do. So what?
This move, it seemed to me, was the right one, and exactly what I meant when I wrote two weeks ago that now is the time to exit institutions that betray liberal values and to:
“Build original, interesting and generative things right now. This minute. Every day I hear from those with means with children at private schools who are being brainwashed; people who run companies where they are scared of their own employees; people who donate to their alma mater even though it betrays their principles. Enough. You have the ability to build new things. If you don’t have the financial capital, you have the social or political capital. Or the ability to sweat.”
So I tweeted this:
Then I logged off for Shabbat.
Twenty-five hours later, I logged back on to see that the offense archaeologists had done a little digging. They found that Carano, in December, had shared this:
The meme bears a striking resemblance to an infamous East London mural called “Freedom for Humanity” that Jeremy Corbyn defended from destruction. The faces in the original mural are different — hook-nosed, and more obviously the derogatory stereotype of Jewish faces, like Der Stürmer caricatures. Take a look:
There are different standards—or ought to be—for actors, who get paid to play other people, and politicians, who serve the public and should know the history and implications of such an image. When the then-leader of the Labour Party objected to the destruction of that mural, it was in the context of a litany of other data points.
As I wrote in The New York Times in November 2018:
“He paid respects at the memorial of the Palestinian perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. . . He participated for over a decade in the activities of a group called Deir Yassin Remembered, which was led by a Holocaust denier. He publicly defended a virulently antisemitic vicar named Stephen Sizer. He invited an Islamist preacher who believes Jews use gentile blood for religious reasons to tea at Parliament. And so on.”
Still, I wondered, was I wrong to have leapt to Carano’s support? Was this meme proof of a darker worldview?
So I reached out to Carano for answers.
What, I asked, was her intention when she shared that image? Did she know that it drew on antisemitic ideas and imagery?
“I was in utter shock and confusion when certain people said it was antisemitic,” she wrote me. “Then, as I went to take it down, I noticed that the image was not the same as the one people were referencing. I was honestly confused: should I take it down, or leave it up? I still don't know the answer to that question, because taking it down only makes the mob attack you more,” Carano said.
“The image for me was a statement that people need to stand together and rise up, stop being so manipulated by the powers that believe they know what's best for you and play games with our lives,” she wrote. “My heart has only ever had ultimate respect and love for the Jewish community.”
To me, at first glance, that image looks as if it’s a visual representation of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” When old men, money, a globe and a secret meeting are in one picture, my mind screams “Jews!” But it seems that, to a lot of people, it genuinely does not, perhaps because there are no explicitly Jewish symbols.
“I know what antisemitism looks like, being one of the more prominent kippah-wearing people out there,” Ben Shapiro, who, according to the ADL, was the journalist most targeted by antisemitic hate during the 2016 election, told me. “This doesn’t chart. I don’t like the meme, especially given its origins. But antisemitism, like racism — and contrary to the NYT’s executive editor’s dictum — requires intent. Gina obviously didn’t have any such intent.”
“Gina isn’t antisemitic. Period. This meme is being ‘resurfaced’ as a post-facto justification for an unjustifiable cancellation,” he said. “Gina wasn’t aware of the origins of the original picture, and was devastated to hear about it, just as she has been devastated by the absurd and bad faith contention that she is antisemitic in any way.”
I understand why Carano feels torn about taking down the image: there’s no winning. Leave it up and you’re bad. Take it down and you’re bad, since it’s an admission of guilt. That’s what she found out when Lucasfilm tried to force her to apologize over the pronoun joke in her Twitter bio:
“Earlier on last year before The Mandalorian came out, they wanted me to use their exact wording for an apology over pronoun usage. I declined and offered a statement in my own words. I made clear I wanted nothing to do with mocking the transgender community, and was just drawing attention to the abuse of the mob in forcing people to put pronouns in their bio,” she told me.
Lucasfilm’s response was to exclude her from all press and promotion for the show, according to Carano. “That was heart-breaking, but I didn't want to take away from the hard work of everyone who worked on the project, so I said ok. That was the last time I was contacted about any type of public statement or apology from Lucasfilm. I found out through social media, like everyone else, that I had been fired.”
Gina Carano got fired. Meantime, Ice Cube tweeted out, among other troubling things, the original London mural and it doesn’t appear to have hurt his reputation beyond the Jewish community. John Cusack tweets unmistakeable antisemitic conspiracies and still gets cast.
Chelsea Handler, Jameela Jamil, and Jessica Chastain shared a Farrakhan video; P Diddy hosted the prominent antisemite for a July Fourth day address; and all of these celebrities are thriving. By the looks of it, Mel Gibson has had a very busy Covid-19, which suggests that leftist politics isn’t the only thing that grants you protection in Hollywood. Too big to cancel?
This post has been in the weeds. I’ve taken you through Twitter wars you probably ignored, and I managed to spread antisemitic content by even talking about it. I don’t do it lightly.
The bottom line here is that intent matters. It doesn’t just matter a little bit: our entire culture, our entire justice system hinges on it.
There is a difference between saying something false and lying. There is a difference between hurling the n-word and quoting “Huckleberry Finn.” There is a “difference between murder and manslaughter,” writes my former colleague Bret Stephens in a column that The New York Times publisher spiked, but which ended up running in The New York Post.
Cancel culture necessarily erases intent. It relies on taking someone’s worst moment out of context, on elevating a moment of ignorance, on exaggerating a misstep and using that error to destroy someone’s life.
We live in a time when almost everything is posted, recorded and shared — that’s the reality. It’s not changing. The forgiveness a neighborhood used to give to a kid who said something stupid at a bar now has to be granted to him by everyone with a phone. Yes, I agree, it’s terrible. But we can’t unplug the Internet.
Living in this world is going to require a deep and generous ethic of forgiveness. That isn’t possible without insisting that intent matters.
Did Gina Carano intend to share an antisemitic image? I don’t think so.
Let me share with you a little bit about my event this past week at the Commonwealth Club with Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
If you don’t know her name, you should: she is one of the great feminist heroes of our age. This is a woman who has endured female genital mutilation; who escaped an arranged marriage and Islamism; and who found her way from Somalia to the Netherlands where she became a member of Parliament and a fearless critic of the radical Islam from which she escaped.
In 2004, her collaborator Theo Van Gogh was murdered on an Amsterdam street in broad daylight, a note pinned to his body threatening Hirsi Ali. For the past decade and a half she has traveled with armed guards because of credible threats to her life.
Twitter mobs don’t really mean much to a woman like this. And yet an online rabble led by CAIR tried to get our talk cancelled. A member of the Commonwealth Club board resigned. Thankfully, the organization stood firm and it was an honor to do the interview, which you can watch here:
You can buy Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s thoughtful and provocative new book, “Prey: Immigration, Islam and the Erosion of Women’s Rights” here.
Last thing, at least for today:
If you are concerned about the spread of Critical Race Theory in our schools, you’ll be interested in this event this Thursday at 1 pm EST hosted by the Manhattan Institute. Register here.