Staff Columnist

Iowa is in the middle of a circular canceling squad

Carson King poses with Governor Kim Reynolds and a copy of the proclamation of Carson King Day on Sept. 25, 2019. (Rod Boshart, the Gazette)
Carson King poses with Governor Kim Reynolds and a copy of the proclamation of Carson King Day on Sept. 25, 2019. (Rod Boshart, the Gazette)

Some people in Iowa got mad online this week.

It started as Iowa’s feel-good story of the year when Carson King, a 24-year-old football fan, was spotted on a national TV broadcast from the Hawkeye-Cyclone game.

When King’s homemade sign — soliciting donations to replenish his Busch Light supply — triggered thousands of dollars in contributions, he decided to donate proceeds to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. Busch’s parent company and the cash exchange app Venmo agreed to match, and the gifts now exceed $1.5 million in total.

The story took an unexpected turn when King publicly acknowledged the Des Moines Register planned to reference racist Twitter posts he made eight years ago, when he was a high school student. Anheuser-Busch released a statement to say the company “will have no further association with him.”

King was “canceled,” as we say nowadays, a word to refer to people who lose status or opportunities based on inappropriate remarks or behavior, even if those indiscretions are years old.

Outraged at the newspaper and the beer company, King’s backers canceled back, calling for Iowans to drop their Register subscriptions and stop buying Busch products.

The critics borrowed the newspaper’s own reporting tactics, finding and disseminating racist and homophobic social media posts by the journalist who reported on King. Register staffers wrote online they are aware of the inappropriate posts and “an investigation has begun.”

Anheuser-Busch was not spared. As recently as 2015, internet detectives pointed out, Bud Light used an apparent date rape joke as a marketing slogan, and the company has advertised on comedy television shows with objectionable content.

It’s a circular canceling squad, mutually assured cancellation.

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Some of my fellow conservatives lament “cancel culture” as progressivism gone too far. But in fact, conservatives are the modern pioneers of the practice.

My first recollection of this is when I was a young teenager and I learned major corporations were trying to cancel Christmas. I was instructed by Fox News personalities to boycott any store where clerks don’t say “merry Christmas.”

In the past couple years, companies such as Nike, Gillette and Walmart have faced condemnation from the right. It’s a lot to keep up with, so BoycottLeftWingers.com provides updates on which companies we’re against at the moment.

Recall just last month, when a local TV news station reported about a Kirkwood Community College professor’s leftist political views. So the anti-anti-fascists reportedly threatened the school to demand the professor’s firing. He was ultimately pressured to leave the job, and his supporters called for the TV journalist to be fired.

Cancel. Cancel back. Rinse. Repeat.

Cancellations and call-outs are not inherently bad. Some people should be kept away from positions of power and influence, and everyone should spend their consumer dollars according to their values.

But the rules are sometimes hazy and ripe for petty bias. Our sympathy for the accused, and our belief in whether they can be redeemed, seem to be directly linked to whether they occupy the same social and political space as us.

Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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