Annulé(e) : A Nuanced Essay on Cancel Culture

By Alexandra Grenier

Annulé(e) (Cancelled) is a long non-fiction essay by author, journalist and media host Judith Lussier. It puts today’s “cancel culture” into context, explaining and analyzing the concept. This is an issue which has been widely discussed and debated in the media since it first appeared in the collective consciousness just a few years ago.

This long essay can be seen as a follow-up to Lussier’s last work, On ne peut plus rien dire (We Can’t Say Anything Anymore), published in 2019. That dealt with the militant nature of the social media age, which in a sense is at the root of the present cancel culture.

Events Under the Microscope

Over the course of the 254 pages of Annulé(e), Lussier examines several events that have made headlines in the past few months and years. Think especially of the Professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval affair at the University of Ottawa, when she was suspended for using the “N word” during a class discussion, thus touching off a debate on intellectual freedom in the classroom; or of François Legault’s famous list of literary recommendations of 10 French-language books, which the Quebec booksellers’ association took off their website for 24 hours after complaints that the list included a book by ultra-right-wing nationalist columnist Mathieu Bock-Côté; as well as the Harvey Weinstein affair, when the powerful Hollywood producer was accused of sexual assault by several women. These incidents perfectly illustrate cancel culture, and are analyzed by Lussier.   

After reading Lussier’s book, I began to see the debate over the changing of the name of “Mr. Potato Head” to just “Potato Head” in a whole new light. Like many, I thought that the famous toy was becoming gender neutral. In fact, it was only the brand’s name that changed: both Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head would remain in the toy’s package. “It was the dispatches of the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse that sowed confusion with alarmist headlines,” Lussier informs us. Personally, I am pretty good at picking up on fake and erroneous news; but this time, I let myself fall into a trap.

Without trying to pretend she has a monopoly on the absolute truth, Lussier brings to light certain aspects of these situations that we may have missed. She explains from the very start that “this book won’t offer answers to calm your anxieties.” It’s more of a tool to bring facts to light, with analysis to help readers form their own opinions.

Annulé(e) is a book that aims at encouraging reflection. All the ins and outs of cancel culture make an appearance here, be it the separation between the work and the artist; the importance of dialogue; the impact of capitalism; and, of course, censorship. When you’ve finished this book you’re left with the impression of having fully explored the subject, leaving no stone unturned.

Unforseen Consequences

What struck me the most about the book was the way it deals with the consequences of cancel culture. Lussier explains the sweeping nature of these sanctions often go way further than the person who denounced the situation wanted. She also adds that the consequences aren’t always just reserved for the “cancelled” person, but also for the “denouncer.” The case of Safia Nolin, the Québec singer who accused TV host Maripier Morin of sexually harassing her, is an excellent example of that.

Without taking a preachy tone, Annulé(e) nonetheless contains a certain amount of political rectitude. Some people on the right of the political spectrum, like Mathieu Bock-Côté, won’t appreciate this long essay as much as I do. The columnist has not hidden the fact that he and Lussier do not share the same political opinions, and this is made clear by Lussier herself in the book. However, she admits that her opinions on cancel culture evolved over the writing of this book, and may well change again with the passage of time.  

In summary, Annulé(e) is an interesting long essay that doesn’t commit to one side or another in the cancel culture debate. Rather, it adds some nuances to a very polarizing phenomenon. Lussier clarifies and makes us more aware of events in order to give us the keys to a better understanding of what is going on. Should we abolish cancel culture? Not necessarily. Lussier deconstructs this concept with all its negative aspects. But it has launched some necessary societal debates.  

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What is Cancel Culture?

In Annulé(e), Judith Lussier devotes a chapter to the birth and use of this term. She explains that according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it is: “The practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” In this sense, canceling means “the mass withdrawal of support from public figures or celebrities who have done things that aren’t socially accepted today.” This practice of canceling or mass shaming often occurs on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Reasons for canceling can vary, but are generally tied to the fact that the person in question has expressed controversial opinion or conducted themselves in an unacceptable manner, to the point that continuing to support this person leaves a bitter taste.

– First seen in Reflet de Société, Vol. 30, No. 4, April 2022

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