Cancel Culture Addressed in Open Letter from JK Rowling, 150 Others

Cancel Culture Addressed in Open Letter from JK Rowling, 150 Others

JK Rowling and Margaret Atwood, creators of Harry Potter and The Handmaid’s Tale respectively, are trying to cancel “cancel culture.” They are among 150 signators in an open letter published in Harper’s Magazine, as JK Rowling proudly tweeted earlier:

Now, we love a good open letter around here, so obviously, this will get our attention. But, the words used inside are a little peculiar (considering the sources) and definitely strong. There is real disdain for the current sociopolitical climate, in particular the nouveau “Cancel Culture” that can be seen everywhere.

When some notable people do something that is unconscionable, their careers deserve to be battered into oblivion (i.e., Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, R. Kelly, Kevin Spacey). Then, there are some things that can be stretched into Laffy Taffy over the smallest of nuance.

JK Rowling could be considered a victim of the latter, but first, why the open letter?

ADDRESSING Cancel Culture

Cancel Culture gets addressed in open letter

Fast forward to today, it’s called “Cancel Culture.” Someone misspeaks, acts errantly, has an “oops” factor, or has something drudged up from a decade back, we should ruin their lives. Some richly deserve it. Others definitely do not. But no one is given the time to respond because everyone is quick to react.

This is what has happened to many people in this open letter found in Harper’s Magazine, one that espouses the following thoughts:

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture: an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.

We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought. 

Open Letter, Harper’s Magazine, July 2020

In other words, “Piss off with your closed-minded rancor, people. We have something to say and you need to listen…finally.”

You can’t have a one-way debate — that’s called accusations and name-calling. If you want to really understand why you don’t agree with someone, ask. If you want to figure out why someone can have a stand on something that is so polar-opposite to your sanctimonious POV, listen.

The 150 or so people listed in this open letter about cancel culture do not feel like they are given a fair shake in a field of public discourse, so they wrote a one-way form of communication.

And we’re talking esteemed and respected people like:

  • The aforementioned Margaret Atwood
  • Roger Berkowitz
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Drucilla Cornell
  • Shadi Hamid
  • Garry Kasparov
  • Wynton Marsalis
  • Olivia Nuzzi
  • Salman Rushdie
  • Gloria Steinem
  • Fareed Zakaria

Every one of them have stood side-by-side to say knee-jerk reactions can be–although, not always–toxic in our society. And for their opinion toward cancel culture advocates, they have been throttled by many.

Why JK is Howling About Cancel Culture

JK Rowling is upset about Cancel Culture
Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Rowling was recently given the brunt, sawed-off end of an ugly Cancel Culture stick because of some errant tweet many considered to be anti-transgender. This is largely what brings her to this open letter.

Last month, she was trending after she was lambasted for transphobia (which is still an incorrect term the world refuses to use grammatically) for mocking a headline about “people who menstruate.”

Funny, right? With that sharp quill, acerbic wit, and tongue firmly planted-in-cheek, Rowling implies people used to be called “women.” In today’s age, that term is a little more difficult to define accurately. The political correctiveness is something she wasn’t too giddy to entertain. To wit, many organizations pounced and other nameless cowardly trolls attacked.

Sure, calling her on the phone would have been more direct, but calling someone out on social media is so much easier. How many times have you complained at a restaurant instead of praised your service? Yeah, it’s like that, only with misspelled words and middle-finger emojis.

Freedom of Speech Has A Cost

Freedom of Speech and Cancel Culture
And “Open Mic Night” ain’t so open
(Source: REX/Shutterstock)

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has made mangled into potty liner for a birdcage in some instances. Sure, we have “Freedom of Speech” but that doesn’t mean you have freedom to hate and target narrow-minded vitriol. That freedom gives us the permissive right to say what needs to be said, not necessarily what you want to say in your brooding group of ne’er-do-wells.

Debate used to be a skill, something people welcomed. Opinions that varied were wanted in the court of public discernment. Look at the famed Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Romans gathering in the forum to listen to people disagree as sport, or even open challenges in Greek amphitheater. Shoot, there is even a prized method in debate named after Socrates.

Public discourse has been around for centuries, and people used to relish the opportunity to not only speak their point-of-view, but also listen to others. Today, not so much. Someone disagrees with you and they are labeled or painted with this homogenous brush.

The only reason people curse in a debate is because they don’t have the intelligence to say what’s on their mind in the first place. (Blame Malcolm X for that mindset. He’s right, BTW.)


Yes, these are privileged people who carry a bully pulpit — if they want to say anything, they will be heard. Of course, they are butthurt when people come out against them. Many of those people are common folk, so who cares what they think? Well, they should. Technically, they are the ones who pay your bills. The problem is that a person’s voice is merited by what status they hold in society.

Unfortunately, what should happen is an understanding that opinions come from a person who have every right to shout at the top of their lungs advocating that which you may have spent a lifetime deflecting at the top of yours. They should all be heard.

And until they are, people will use short-cuts to ensure they are. Cancel Culture exists because debate was cancelled first. That is the source of this problem. Rant over.


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I write for a living, among other things in the digital journalism and analytics universe. So I'm a little like a nerd unicorn. But no bronies. Move along.
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