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Harrison Butker and Cancel Culture

Personal Perspective: Unpleasant ideas won’t go away by ignoring them.

Key points

  • Venting in a comments section serves only to provide the perpetrator with a false sense of achievement.
  • We need to know what others are saying and doing that may affect us legally and/or culturally.
  • If hearing talk like Butker’s triggers you, simply turning away is an impotent and temporary solution.
Istock Getty Credit/wildpixel
Source: Istock Getty Credit/wildpixel

On May 11, Kansas City Chiefs placekicker Harrison Butker delivered a commencement address as Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. His speech was loaded with numerous conservative cultural references, from criticism of President Biden for being “pro-abortion” to calling out Pride Month as a celebration of the “the deadly sin sort of pride.” He told the women graduating that they were the victims of “diabolical lies,” and thought that most of them should be more excited about getting married and having children than pursuing careers. He managed to criticize contraception, the cultural emasculation of men, pre-marital sex, and even the English translation of the Bible.

Reaction to his speech was predictable. On numerous social media sites people called for him to be cut by the Chiefs; there were even petitions. Some called for his speech be scrubbed from social media sites. Some have claimed that Butker is a closeted homosexual who has been subjected to “conversion therapy.” I want to address some of these issues from several angles.

Butker’s right to free speech

Butker was speaking to a Catholic audience at a Catholic college. He reportedly received a lengthy standing ovation at the end of the speech, and many conservatives have since praised him for his stance. In other words, he was “preaching to the choir.” The primary reason others became aware of his peech is that he has become famous through kicking game-sealing field goals in the Super Bowl, and so he now has a national platform from which he can speak. (Also, I may be wrong, but I don’t believe he wrote this address himself. It seemed too perfect in touching on every single culture war talking point conservative organizations adhere to.)

Regardless, we are better off hearing his remarks, as off-putting as they might be to people outside the conservative bubble. Why? Because they challenge us to examine our own prejudices, fears, and traumas. Some of these arise from LGBTQ folks having been called mortal sinners for most of their lives whose deprivations are corrupting to society and worthy of Hell—or worse. It is important for people to realize how passionate some like Butker are about these beliefs, and to consider whether we can stand as strongly for our own.

Pretending these conflicts aren’t real or even dangerous by “cancelling” them is not always the best option.

The impotency of social media

As a nation we have become obsessed with social media. I enjoy reading or watching social media posts about things or people I’m interested in, and I often use platforms such as TikTok to make brief, discussion-provoking comments about aspects of sexual therapy. I’ll admit to occasionally laughing at a sarcastic or clever comment someone has made about something or someone. But someone’s snarky post or verbal outrage does exactly nothing to change any of what we’re mad at. Cranky online posts are as useless in changing the problems we are upset about as believing that watching a TV show or movie is anything other than entertaining.

More likely, venting in a comments section only provides the perpetrator with a false sense of achievement. The chances of something or someone changing because of you posting a comment are slim to none. Meanwhile, as they say, the person or policy or projection is allowing someone to live rent-free in your head. There are better ways to deal with it, which I’ll address in a moment.

We need to hear stuff

In an age of algorithms, we either find ourselves yelling into an echo chamber or rarely being exposed to what those outside of our circles are saying. In a time of trigger warnings and cancel culture, we somehow think that putting our hands over our ears and humming a favorite tune is going to protect us. It will not. In reality, we need to know what is going on and what others are saying and doing that may affect us legally and/or culturally. Trying to cancel those who are not like us may even make them more powerful. We may believe that speeches like Butker’s are dangerous and therefore should be banned or disappeared, but they will only become hidden away in some dark corner of the internet or our culture, and then someone else will surface with the same rhetoric. How do we combat and protect ourselves from the things being said by people with big platforms, knowing that there is more coming from others?

Most polls find that people holding extremist views like Butker’s are in the minority. Their views get traction because they are shouted louder than the rest of our views, and because our media-heavy culture can’t seem to resist turning the outrageous into the mainstream.

It is understandable why, for instance, the parents of an LGBT child who is exposed to hateful and demeaning rhetoric like Butker’s feel like they should be protected from it. And they should be. But that’s not the world we live in. This culture war is far from over. The more effective response for our own mental health and for the health of our society is to be there for that child by teaching them that there is nothing wrong with them, even though some people don’t understand that. And that those people are wrong for saying otherwise.

Get going

When feeling oppressed or endangered by others’ beliefs or actions, I’ve found the very best response is to get busy. Sometimes taking positive action is the only thing that can help alleviate a sense of impotence, anger, or depression. Perhaps get a therapist to help you sort through how it is affecting you and what you can do about it. Get active in ways to help others who also feel vulnerable and oppressed. Helping others can be healing for oneself. Upset about some injustice? Write or call your Congressperson. Work to get someone elected who doesn’t offend you, or who at least stands against what you stand against. Work to get laws passed to protect your rights. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about. Organize a group of like-minded people and brainstorm solutions. At the very least, take civic responsibility seriously and vote.

If hearing talk like Butker’s triggers you, simply turning away is an impotent and temporary solution. Making a comment on some thread or even starting a thread on social media isn’t enough. Getting busy, however, can be not only therapeutic, but may make a real difference.

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