Cancel Culture Dictionary

Savvy and Witty: A Review of Jimmy Failla’s Cancel Culture Dictionary

Jimmy Failla’s Cancel Culture Dictionary: An A to Z Guide to Winning the War on Fun is a remarkably well-reasoned, witty, and surprisingly serious takedown of cancel culture. The book defines it, explains how it came about, profiles its tactics and contradictions, demolishes its arguments, and shows how to successfully push back against this dangerous assault on our freedom of expression. As Failla sees it, “If speech ain’t free, neither are we.”

Echoing recently published books from fellow anti-woke comics Kat Timpf, Greg Gutfeld, and Tyrus, Failla’s thesis is that “we need to stop appeasing the censorship brigades because they keep narrowing the lanes in which we can enjoy ourselves.” Indeed, “we absolutely need to get back to a time when the world knew the difference between a joke and a hate crime. Because any society that can’t take a joke is destined to become one.”  

Superbly organized with subjects grouped alphabetically, the book quickly pinpoints the forces abetting the rise of cancel culture. A major one is iPhones, leaving Failla nostalgic for growing up in the 1980s when “the only one who spent all day obsessing about their phone was E.T.”

Of course, iPhones are merely a means to the narcotic of social media which “has created a world where what you say is way more important than the things you do. Empathy has become a brand instead of an actual character trait.” Furthermore, “social media made it trendy to look at ourselves as victims and blame society for all of your shortcomings.”

The rise of this cult of victimhood has armed the censorship warriors with a hyper-sensitivity to the remotest possibility of a slight. In fact, “a world that champions victimhood…. [h]as taught way too many people to look for things to get offended by instead of living their lives in search of joy.”

So, while many years earlier comedienne Roseanne Barr got away with trashing the national anthem and satirically wearing a Nazi uniform, by 2018 a social media mob got ABC to cancel her TV series over a single ugly tweet about Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett. In fact, standup comics now face fake fans armed with iPhones “to get attention for calling a joke out as offensive” by unleashing it on social media with no context to try to destroy a career.

Failla further contends that helicopter parenting germinated a generation of completely coddled children convinced they should be protected from ever hearing anything they dislike. Couple this with the Left’s equating words with violence and you have an ideal climate for a cancel culture mob to be generated by a single upsetting statement or even word.

All this toxic brew bubbled over when the Left’s nightmare candidate was elected president in 2016 “after breaking every social media rule there was.” Donald Trump’s ascension to the White House so shocked and enraged progressives that they became unhinged in their fanatical drive to destroy anyone deemed an enemy.   

Failla is particularly perceptive about the sad, empty lives manning the cancel culture brigades who he sees as a misfit gang that is dangerously angry, bored, and narcissistic:

an online rage mob that knows nothing about you, save for the fact that they want to destroy your existence in the name of getting likes and showing the world they know better. That’s cancel culture in a nutshell. A collection of people who wake up every day looking for something to get offended by so they can leverage their victimhood into your firing and their clout. The trend has become so prevalent in society that scientists have a word for people who do this: they’re called losers.

Failla is convinced this lonely lot cares nothing about whatever issue happens to be trending on social media that day. It is only interested in cheap virtue-signaling and scoring the “digital dopamine” that comes with “destroy[ing] anyone who achieves something in showbiz that they themselves couldn’t dream of pulling off.” 

Recalling Kat Timpf’s You Can’t Joke About That, Failla chronicles what is likely the worst trait of “the outrage mob,” a merciless bloodlust to ruin lives for a typically trivial verbal faux pas since, “whenever somebody says something dumb, online prosecutors always recommend the career death penalty.” This is not only grossly disproportionate, but “losing one’s job the first time you say something stupid isn’t a great strategy for any of us to endorse in the long run, given how flawed we all happen to be.” More ominously, “If someone is so devoid of nuance and empathy that they’re willing to destroy your livelihood for one step out of bounds, do you really think they won’t be on board with jailing you for it someday down the road?”

Failla captures this lynch mob element fueling cancel culture since “this is how the mob gets their way: by shouting people into forced compliance with their views for fear of being their next victim.” Simultaneously satirical and serious, he observes that, “If we’re being rational, there’s gotta be a better rallying cry for tolerance than We need to create a world where everyone feels accepted! Unless they disagree with us, in which case, destroy their careers immediately.

In a fevered climate where context, nuance, proportionality, and fairness are condemned by leftists as abetting bigotry, “You never let the facts get in the way of a good riot.” So once a public figure says or does something the mob thinks it can cancel him over, the “keyboard cops” kindle hysteria online to create a “digital firing squad.” This illustrates “the danger of social pressure campaigns: once they get rolling at the corporate level, it becomes a game of virtue-signaling dominoes.”

Ironically, Failla observes, no one’s cancellation ever improves life for anyone; instead, the “cultural arsonists” merely hunt for their next victim. Thus, during the Black Lives Matter riots, we saw “the cultural purge of 2020” in which “statues, syrup mascots, shows on TV – everything was in play, as long as you could attack it from your phone and it wouldn’t help anyone in real life.”

Most disturbingly, the censorship battalions have created an Orwellian environment where inappropriate words are punished far more severely than violent actions. So rapper Kanye West loses sponsors and perhaps his career for admittedly loathsome anti-Semitic comments, but rapper Chris Brown physically beats up the singer Rhianna only to see his career soar higher. Similarly, “Jeremy Meeks, aka the Hot Felon,” was a violent career criminal who “became a supermodel after his mugshot went viral,” and “some of the very same Fashion Weeks who dropped Kanye West for saying stupid s#*$ also hired Jeremy Meeks after he assaulted a minor.”

Making the cancel mob still more despicable is how they cowardly attack folks from the anonymity of their keyboards and phones. To Failla, “Like most of social media, Twitter [X] is nothing more than a Fight Club for people who don’t wanna get hit.” Also cowardly are the corporations who cave to online pressure campaigns waged by people who don’t even buy their products, as well as everyone else too afraid to stand up to the mob.    

For making it much harder to enjoy movies, late night TV, or awards shows, one of Failla’s favorite foils is hugely hypocritical Hollywood:

When awards shows went activist, it was a Bridge on the River Kwai too far, if you will. For one thing, nobody wants to get a lecture on inequality from an actress who’s wearing a dress that costs more than their house. And even when we do agree with the causes, such as we did in the #MeToo movement, it was hard for anyone to take Hollywood seriously, knowing just how many of them looked the other way on decades of Harvey Weinstein’s abuses…. [I]t sounds a little silly coming from an Oscars crowd that once gave a standing ovation to Roman Polanski decades after he fled the country for raping a thirteen-year-old girl.

Rich, award-winning actors condemned President Trump’s “border policies by insisting, ‘We should be building bridges and not walls.’ Of course, after that, they went home to their mansions, which were surrounded by walls.” But Failla reminds us that “there’s not a lot of critical thinking in a room full of people who have their words written for them.” Of professional thespians, he concludes that, “Even if we did want another partisan lecture, we wouldn’t want it from a group of people who have their words written for them. I’m not saying that to slight actors; I’m saying it to implore them to stick to doing what they do best, which is cocaine.”

The book brilliantly exposes the massive disconnect between the trendy woke messaging of corporate giants in general and their actual practices, noting how “The companies lecturing us the most are always the ones with the most exclusionary prices.” In this vein:

the idea of Disney attacking anyone for their take on gay rights is richer than the custard they sell you for $12 a cone on Main Street. Their Disney+ streaming service does business in twelve countries that criminalize gay activity and, in some instances, punish it with chemical castration or even death.

Another recipient of Failla’s wrath is the woke university because, as a standup comic, “I’ve watched up close as colleges transformed from free-thought factories teaching students how to think into conformity cops that teach students what to think.” Accordingly, by 2015, “the list of things they wanted [standup performers] to say was one-tenth as long as the list of things they didn’t want you to say for fear of upsetting someone…. Everything is off-limits. Politics, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation.” Sadly, this “era of incentivized grievance has wound these kids way too tight.” The result is that “What were once proud bastions of free expression are now governed by hive-minded social justice crusaders who frame dissenting views as violence.”

As a retired professor, I agree that the ultimate campus villains are the educrats because:

You see, for all of their posturing about principles, colleges are just a business. And if placating the outrage mob is good for their bottom line, they’ll get behind just about any uprising that happens on campus…. Believe me, college deans are smart enough to know the universal truths that biological men can’t have a baby and that biological women can’t pick out a good movie. They’ll espouse whatever beliefs keep them on the right side of that week’s outrage movement because colleges are just fancy hookers who turn whatever trick they gotta to get that tuition.

To the canard that poking fun at any group leftists label oppressed is “punching down,” Failla counters that “there’s no higher form of inclusion than being made fun of by a comedian. In that moment, we are treating you as an equal who can laugh at themselves just like every other group.” By contrast, to exempt anyone from being joked about is to “infantilize” him, recalling President George Bush II’s observation about “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Besides, like Kat Timpf, Failla argues for the healing properties of comedy – even “about tragedies” – since “there are millions of us who use comedy as a coping mechanism.”    

Though cancel culture is mostly leftist (“All too often in politics, hate speech is defined as anything the Democratic Party doesn’t agree with”), Failla admits that “Republicans and Democrats have gone along with ‘cancels’ over the years,” and magnanimously asserts that we should provide “the same grace” to conservative and liberal comics who misspeak.

To defeat cancel culture, Failla agrees with Adam Carolla, Greg Gutfeld, and Tyrus that defiance is best. Emulate Dave Chappelle and Netflix successfully refusing to kowtow to transgender radicals, as well as Jason Aldean’s song against BLM violence which hit Number One. Consumers are fueling the backlash even more with Roseanne Barr’s big 2023 comeback TV special, the collapsed ratings for politicized awards shows, and the commercial disasters accompanying corporations going woke, like Victoria’s Secret and Bud Light.  

Despite its sober content, Failla’s book remains light-hearted and frequently hilarious, lampooning “this age of performative stupidity on steroids.” On Bud Light’s financial freefall upon having a man pretending to be a cartoonish woman push its product, Failla concludes, “This isn’t what customers meant when they asked the bartender for a beer and some nuts.” 

As for Victoria’s Secret’s costly mistake of having heavy models to appease the mob, Failla declares that “the last people on earth a lingerie company should ever be taking advice from is the outrage mob, because these people don’t get laid. Trust me, if they did, they wouldn’t spend all day on the internet trying to ruin it for the rest of us.”

Like the best comics, for all his skewering of pompous woke warriors, Failla is his own top target. Complimenting his self-deprecating humor is a level of humility sufficient for six pages of acknowledgements.

My biggest criticism of the book is that several sentences are incomplete and some end in a preposition. Plus, there are a few f-bombs. But of all the many books I have reviewed over the past year, this one has the fewest writing errors.

May such an extraordinarily perceptive, funny, and timely book strengthen the resistance to the constipating corruption of cancel culture. While it is both healthy and effective to ridicule the plague, this social cancer is nevertheless responsible for a considerable narrowing of our freedom and poses a fundamental threat to our most basic liberties. Kudos to Jimmy Failla for fighting the fascists with so much insight and wit.