Free Speech and Cancel Culture

Once in a while, broadcasters and podcasters tell me they are anxious about cancel culture.

Some worry they might get fired for stumbling into a politically incorrect landmine. Others complain, “people are just looking to be offended,” or “you can’t say anything anymore.”

My advice? Stop worrying. Eliminate cancel culture from your vocabulary and replace it with changing culture.

Changing culture implies that when people change, content changes. Audiences today are quicker than ever to adopt new ideas about heavy stuff like race, gender, orientation, truth, equality, and justice.

Cancel culture implies that your audience – including advertisers and the company that provides your platform — are wrong when they object to offensive speech or outdated content. The audience is your customer, and the customer is always right.

We encourage on-air players, “if you think it, say it.” Successful shows are entertaining, unfiltered, not always nice, and often flawed. In other words, real. Most get a few complaints, some lose the occasional sponsor, and an apology is needed once in a while. It has always been that way.

If you are losing sleep over cancel culture, consider that I have coached hundreds of presenters over decades, and exactly one has been canceled – deservedly — for something they said.

Here is an example of changing culture: When I was a boy in the 1960s, comedians on television constantly joked about women drivers. The joke was automobiles were too confusing for dizzy females; they were always denting the family car and so forth.

The joke was, of course, a false premise. At some point, audiences stopped laughing. Smart comedians noticed changing culture and changed content. Thus, no more lady driver jokes.

But some broadcasters persist with false premises, refuse to change with the audience, and get canceled.

I am confident that each knew as they spoke that they were provoking a negative response. It is no secret that these ideas are offensive. Many people like me have been sharing this information with people like you in articles like Seven Deadly Sins That Will Get You Fired.

Yet, some people continued to blame cancel culture as they plummet onto smaller platforms with smaller audiences and smaller paychecks. Some vanish into oblivion.

Call me crazy, but isn’t the idea behind broadcasting to connect with the broadest audience possible? The larger your audience, the more culture change that you have to be aware of to stay in harmony with people as they evolve. Luckily, all you have to do is make an effort – and care.