If anyone thought cancel culture was going to lose steam in the post-Trump era, think again.
Rarely a day seems to go by in recent weeks without a celebrity seeing their career threatened by the social-media uproar attending either their own poorly chosen words or allegations about appalling behavior.
From Morgan Wallen to Gina Carano to Armie Hammer, Hollywood executives are getting frequent reminders lately about the considerable risk that comes with associating their investments with unpredictable talent. And while this is the farthest thing from a new phenomenon, there’s no question the current climate calls on studios and talent agencies to carefully navigate their way forward.
No one feels the weight of that burden more than the crisis-PR practitioners fighting on the frontlines on behalf of their clients. If there’s any silver lining to this rash of incidents, it’s that they offer a wealth of best and worst practices from which to learn how to most effectively handle these sticky situations.
A disturbing recrudescence of sexual harassment and abuse are among the rash of incidents that have dominated tabloid coverage over the past few months. Hammer, Joss Whedon, Marilyn Manson and Shia LaBeouf have all generated sordid headlines that may be resonating even more because one would have thought the progress made by the #MeToo movement in Hollywood would have meant this type of incident would become a rarer phenomenon now that Harvey Weinstein and many others have demonstrated how irrecoverable their careers are as a result.
And yet judging from how these more recent episodes are being handled, it’s as if little has been learned.
For some, there’s just so much smoke that figuring out where the fire is may be besides the point. The sheer volume of allegations that have accumulated against Whedon, once one of Hollywood’s most celebrated creative minds, virtually assures he won’t be working again.
As of this writing, Whedon has yet to comment at all about the allegations leveled in the past week by cast members of some of the TV shows he produced. If his representatives think silence is the best defense, they’re sadly mistaken.
Hammer is facing some pretty damning allegations himself, but don’t conclude his career is just as doomed. His handling of the claims against him so far seem ham-handed, mostly in the form of denials with some slight acknowledgement of poor behavior on his part.
But there’s still time for him to issue the kind of statement LaBeouf issued to The New York Times in which he acknowledges the scope of his problems. It’s not unrealistic to think that by striking a more sincerely repentant tone emphasizing their need for therapy and rehabilitation that these actors can get themselves back on track. But it’s a process that will take years, and as of now there’s little indication either is headed in the right direction.
Justin Timberlake isn’t facing allegations of the severity that Hammer et al. are up against. But in the wake of a Hulu documentary about Britney Spears that raised questions about his behavior in his romantic relationship with her, he issued a statement acknowledging his failings (also alluding to his role in the Super Bowl fiasco with Janet Jackson). It’s a testament to the current climate we’re in that Timberlake was even moved to speak out, but a wise one given the mounting negative sentiment he’s been facing for a while now.
Not all of the celebrities in cancel-culture mode right now are facing allegations of sexual misbehavior. Wallen self-sabotaged himself at what may have been the peak of his career as a country-music art by being caught on video uttering a racial epithet. He took the risky step of issuing a five-minute video apology in lieu of the usual written statement.
While there’s something brave about that approach, it should really only be employed by those who can convincingly express their emotions without seeming disingenuous. Wallen isn’t exactly an Oscar winner in that regard.
Some of the offending celebs are guilty of parking their feet in their mouths with insensitive, politically incorrect comments on social media. Carano, star of “The Mandalorian,” has a history of making provocative statements on Twitter that betray a right-wing bias so pronounced she has been asking for trouble for some time now.
What’s interesting about Carano is instead of issuing any apologetic language, she seems to be embracing this as a moment for touting her conservative credentials by signing onto a movie the very next day with Ben Shapiro, a producer affiliated with the conservative outlet Daily Wire. She’s essentially rebranded herself in a way that won’t be easy to ever undo.
Lastly, there is the case of Nick Cannon. Last year his goose looked cooked when he made anti-Semitic statements that caused disruptions to multiple jobs he had in place. But how he has handled himself since is a testament to the power of going beyond issuing words of apology by taking action; meeting with Jewish groups who have vouched for him publicly is about as effective a redemption as can possibly be earned.
Cannon offers some hope to all the people caught in the web of cancel culture with no seeming hope of escaping.