The Real ‘Cancel Culture’ In Australia Started 232 Years Ago



Conservatives are quick to cry ‘cancel culture’ whenever they’re called out on bad behaviour. But in reality, it’s just history repeating, writes Dean Frenkel.

White colonial ‘cancel culture’ announced itself to Australia in 1788 when European Australians launched the genocidal process of cancelling more than 70,000 years of Aboriginal culture in Australia.

The new arrivals excluded First Australians from their land, established a colonial government, extinguished traditional laws and replaced them with British laws. They permitted European cowboys to hunt natives down, ban traditional languages and spiritual practises, force Christianity down their throats, steal huge tracts of land and impose alcohol and exotic European diseases on people with no immunity.

In Tasmania the genocide worked so fast that it took only 72 years to almost completely wipe out an entire people.

But if you think white colonial ‘cancel culture’ was confined to history, only last month Rio Tinto continued the 232-year process by legally blowing up a 46,000-year-old sacred site. In doing so, it had broken no laws.

Right-wing ‘cancel culture’ is alive and well today. It thrives in meetings at clubs like the Institute for Public Affairs and the HR Nicholls Society, where clean-cut powerbrokers drink expensive grog as they strategise their demolition plans and swear an oath of allegiance to the long haul. In fact no-one does ‘cancel culture’ better than them, and they have many tentacles too.

In 2001 they came out of the closet to gut the ABC – so began two decades of flesh wounds by a thousand cuts before they got to the guts.

Yet it is ironic that the white-wing element of the right-wing are the ones who most loudly whine about the phrase ‘cancel culture’. Their use of it is cynical, intellectually dishonest and hypocritical.

For these hypochondriacs ‘cancel culture’ is an invaluable, trendy simplification that falsifies history into a convenient but dishonest rhyme capsule. The template is: strategically mention the two power words, trigger a tribal rallying cry through the Murdoch press and round-up lesser-thinking followers to unite as one; many of them longing to stand and sing the national anthem under the 1953 portrait of The Queen.

‘Cancel Culture’ has caught-on because of the success of the previous catch-phrase ‘political correctness’. In the 21st century, conservatives learned to counter all the socially progressive movements they despise by auto-didacting simple two-word phrases that resonate with followers.

Conservatives use ‘political correctness’ to white-out the movements behind the transformation of Ayres Rock to Uluru, the banning of tourists climbing Uluru, gender equality, marriage equality, asylum seekers, arts in universities, embracing diverse cultures, stopping coal mining, promoting renewable energy, and more.

Their hypocrisy is stunning because right-wingers also have their own version of ‘political correctness’ that they pretend doesn’t exist. Yesterday they called it PC. Today they call it CC.

‘Cancel culture’ is an evolutionary extension of ‘political correctness’. It can be used to throw-off the Black Lives Movement, the black armband movement, removal of statues, renaming of monuments, towns, cities, gun control, creation of national parks, changing the dates, banning fireworks, banning hunting, the dissing of Christmas celebrations.

Try saying ‘happy season greetings’ to a redneck.

Conservatives see ‘cancel culturalists’ in two ways. Firstly as cultural terrorists who stir the sacred pot that lauds queen and country, and secondly as fun police who want to destroy traditional forms of fun like gambling, shooting, boozing and hooning.

To be intellectually frank, all culture that supersedes a previous culture is a cancel culture and right-wingers are blind to the fact that cultures are kept alive, not by tradition, but by cultural dynamism. In contrast to Mormon-looking party-animals-for-tradition, culture is organic and dynamic. It is alive and always subject to adaptation.

Why is there a need for cultural evolution? Because often it gets things wrong with terrible consequences that build-up societal tension. Cultural dynamism enables corrections for a better society.

All this runs counter to reputation because left-wingers are the traditional dominators of the intelligentsia. They used to set the agenda.

Clever reductionist wordplay is enabling the right-wing to narrate the current and historical agenda. Simplistic phrases have become the weapon of choice. They seek to shift the right-wing to the middle of the political spectrum.

So what is all this fuss about cancel culture? Intrinsically it is that the most febrile conservatives are spoilt sports. They don’t like losing and even worse they abhor it when progressives (including Malcolm Turnbull) acquire the reins of power.

‘Cancel culture’ was alive in 1975 when Malcolm Fraser chose to defy convention – something conservatives hate to do – after Labor had been in power for the first time in 23 years, to deny supply and overthrow an elected government. In 2009, Tony Abbott pursued the same objectives by waging a demolition campaign for the entire duration of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Governments.

Given the choice between truth and power, conservatives always prefer power. They have hijacked power phrases like ‘political correctness’ and ‘cancel culture’ to suit their own objectives but they don’t want to be subject to the same rules.

In the right-wing value system nothing is more sacred than the symbols of their triumphs – bronze statues, cleared landscapes, tall concrete buildings, neat gardens, unrepresentative flags, soporific anthems and military ceremonies.

For those who fear Armageddon, the movement to challenge and confront these artificial edifices is a natural and necessary process of cultural evolution, not revolution.

Activists are not trying to bring down society, they are trying to improve it.

Dean Frenkel

Dean Frenkel is a Melbourne writer and communications expert.