Jeremy Clarkson has been cancelled. For those of you who hadn’t seen him on TV since the left Top Gear he has been making a series of shows for Amazon, who apparently might not be commissioning him to do any more.
This doesn’t mean that Clarkson will disappear – there is a second season of his farming how airing in February, but the row over his comments about Meghan Markle may have cost him a renewal for season 3. He still hosts Who Wants To Be a Millionaire on ITV.
Clarkson was a natural fit for Amazon. He has sold 6m books worldwide, and his best selling book “The World According To Clarkson” sold 1.4m copies alone, most of them through Amazon. Add to that endless DVDs of car crashes, and for a long time he was one of Amazons’ best sellers. His first Diddly Squat Farm book was well down on his peak, but still sneaked into the Amazon top 20 best sellers of the year.
“Spare” by contrast has sold 3m copies in its first week, and will likely sell more copies in it’s first few months in print than Clarkson will sell in his lifetime.
He may not be doing as well as he did at his peak but for someone apparently cancelled he is doing pretty well for himself.
I wish I was half as cancelled as him.
The current panic about cancel culture is a product of an imbalance between political and economic power.
In the UK and the US politics is dominated by older, socially conservative voters, who are uncomfortable with how society has changed, and would like to turn the clock back to a more hierarchical age. But while they are politically powerful they have been unable to stop society becoming more diverse and more liberal.
That is because economic power is in the hands of younger workers, more liberal and more diverse. Regardless of what older voters vote for younger liberals continue to shape a world that is less hierarchical and more tolerant. They have the spending power and companies like Amazon reflect their values.
The Likely Lads has been replaced by Man Like Mobeen, Auf Weidersehn Pet by People Do Nothing. War movies are out, super heroes are in, particularly ones who are diverse.
The cancellation of Clarkson by Amazon is a commercial decision. He is no longer selling what he once did, and there are other more profitable lines to promote. The same is true of most other old white men who complain about being cancelled -John Cleese joined GBNews to protest about being cancelled due to his views, when in reality his most recent projects – the sitcom Hold The Sunset – wasn’t renewed due to falling viewing figures and terrible reviews:
The people most angry about being cancelled are mostly white male conservatives. They grew up in a world where their opinions were privileged – society, the press, the TV all amplified their voices, while hushing women, liberals and people of colour.
So much was the privilege that there was outrage when a TV channel, or a newspaper printed something that upset the white male conservative status quo.
I will admit, that I was, and still am, a beneficiary of that. It is easier to get your views heard, whether it is in a room of investors, or in a pub, if you are articulate, well educated, white and male. The fact that I am tall as well helps too.
But we now live in a world where the privileges of white male conservatives, while still significant, are less than they were – they have to compete with other voices – female, trans, non-white, liberal. They have to actually come up with arguments that have merit rather than simply stridently asserting them.
The fear on the right of censorship or cancel culture isn’t because anyone is being silenced, but because less and less people are listening to them. In reaction they shift further and further to the right in order to get some attention.
Clarkson isn’t the first old white reactionary to court controversy in order to get attention, only to find that it wasn’t the kind of attention he was hoping for.
The War on Woke appeals to this group because it offers the tantalising promise of turning back time, returning the social order to how it was. It ridicules and tries to do down all of those groups who are moving up in the world. It connects with a fundamental set of insecurities and grievances.
TV stations like GB News and Fox commercialise those insecurities and greviances in the same way that the Daily Mail has always done. They offer angertainment – shows that are designed to make people feel angry about people who aren’t like them.
Trump and Johnson are popular among the same groups because they have found a way to articulate the views of older, white, conservative voters that make them feel listened to, even if it is pompous snobs doing the talking. They would rather listen to a reactionary idiot than an articulate woman or person of colour.
While all of this is occupying the headlines a genuinely weird bit of cancellation is heading towards law.
The Government are pushing the on-line harms bill through Parliament as we speak. Mostly this bill is a good thing, designed to protect children on the internet.
But there is an amendment, sponsored by Natalie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover that is a bit odder
Some of you might be wondering if Natalie Elphicke’s name sounds familiar. The Dover seat was previously held for the Conservatives by her husband Charlie Elphicke. He had to stand down as an MP after he was found guilty of sex offences and sentenced to 2 years in prison. She took over from him while he was in jail.
The amendment makes it illegal for social media companies to allow footage which shows people in small boats crossing the channel in a positive light. The amendment is vaguely drafted to allow maximum scope to prosecute anyone the Government would like to silence. This would include people traffickers but also stop the RNLI showing their crews rescuing people or charities working with refugees and asylum seekers.
“posting videos of people crossing the channel which show that activity in a positive light” specifically in small boats.
This is part of the Government’s panic over people crossing the channel in small boats, a crisis entirely of their own making. If they can’t stop them coming they will stop us seeing them on social media.
There is of course a massive problem with drafting an amendment that broadly. It captures all kinds of on line activity with huge fines for transgressions.
I will admit that I had a relative who crossed the channel in a small boat. His name was Fred Wheatley and he was part of the British force that landed on the Normandy beaches. A friend of his also crossed the channel in small boats twice – once leaving Dukirk, and once with cousin Fred on D-Day.
Footage of Dunkirk would become illegal to share on line, as would footage of D-Day. This may sound ridiculous, but that is a real piece of legislation being debated in Parliament right now.
This goes to the heart of the panic about cancel culture. It is not about freedom of speech, but about making some voices louder and turning the volume back down on others.
That is good news for white men like men, not so much for public debate.
The reality is of course that this is a battle that is already lost. Society has changed, and become more liberal more tolerant. People want a meritocratic society even if the Government fights hard against it. Social media has given a voice to a much wider range of people than ever before, and they can’t be shushed away
Fox and GBNews can promote angertainment to the anxious and the neurotic and the insecure all they like. But they are just old people shaking their fist at clouds.