Across the past several days there has been significant pushback against the conceit that the cultural hysteria over things Russian is an expression of “cancel culture.” The line — promulgated this morning by no less than Bari Weiss, although not just her — is that you cannot label direct consequences of a war of aggression as “cancellation.” The reasoning, such as it is, seems to be along the lines that “cancel culture” is bad, and opposing Russia’s horrific attack on Ukraine is good, therefore reactions to the latter definitionally cannot be the former. This is interesting, and as argument it has the virtue of entirely eliding methodological analysis. It is also exactly the same approach taken by actual defenders of cancel culture.
Matters are not helped in this vein when Kremlin spymaster Sergei Naryshkin invokes the term in his own critique of Western reactions to the Russian invasion.
Can there be any more direct affirmation of the power of even the most lunatic elements of American popular culture, right here? Naryshkin is being cynical, of course — the state he serves is entirely willing to “cancel” people, often by having them trip and fall on a bunch of bullets — but the question remains as to whether he’s right. There is a lot of defensible reason to do many of the things that have been done to Russia: for example crash the ruble, sever it from global finance, and arm its enemies. The Russian state has earned its odious repute in full.