Scrubbing TV shows and movies from existence simply because they are deemed 'offensive' is madness – and it’s got to stop, writes Joe Hildebrand.
Scrubbing TV shows and movies from existence simply because they are deemed 'offensive' is madness – and it’s got to stop, writes Joe Hildebrand.

TV and movies cancelled: ‘You couldn’t make this stuff up’


Some 30 years ago the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously suggested that with the collapse of the Iron Curtain humankind had reached "the end of history".

The great ideological contest between communism and capitalism was over and the West had won.

It was self-evident that liberal democracy was humanity's natural or at least most desired state. In Germany, people literally voted with their feet as they clambered over the rubble of the Berlin Wall to freedom.

Sadly, he was soon proven wrong. Other ideologies quickly flooded the vacuum and made their presence felt on the global stage.

Terror in the name of Islamic fundamentalism became the new enemy of the West while Communist China, which had once seemed on a slow but inevitable path towards liberalisation, embarked on a newly aggressive nationalist path and now threatens the US as the world's dominant superpower.

Meanwhile, in the West's liberal democracies themselves, there is a resurgence in support for communism and anarchism, largely among affluent university students too young and too privileged to have ever seen what these ideologies actually look like first hand.


This is what is so deeply concerning to so many people about the unrest taking place across the globe in response to the appalling killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota.

There is no question that Floyd's death was an atrocity that deserves to be loudly condemned. It is perhaps even tempting to think that those close to Floyd would be justified in wanting revenge.

But they do not. Floyd's family has been desperately vocal and resolute in calling for peace, even from the depths of their grief.

It is others, a vast number of whom are clearly not black nor from disadvantaged communities, who are violating the wishes of the family of the man whose memory they are claiming to serve.

They are also deeply damaging the cause they claim to serve.

It is obvious that the killing of Floyd and the deaths of many other black men and women at the hands of police is inexcusable.

But by embracing violence themselves these extremists have only served to distract from these outrages.

Instead of a focus on police brutality against a vulnerable community there is now a competing impression of police brutality against a lawless mob.

It is these extremist elements - not the vast majority of peaceful protesters pleading for change - who are killing hopes for police reform just as surely as the police killed George Floyd.

Their actions are not just morally inexcusable but politically insane.

The actions of ‘extremist’ protesters are killing the hopes for police reform in America. Picture: Rick Browner/AP
The actions of ‘extremist’ protesters are killing the hopes for police reform in America. Picture: Rick Browner/AP


And so why are they doing it? The short answer is that for this hardcore ideological minority, the death of George Floyd is merely a weapon to be wielded in their efforts to tear down capitalist liberal democracy itself.

This is plainly stated on placards, shouted in chants and proudly declared on activists' Twitter profiles.

"We're coming for you," is a common catchcry.

The first "you" they are talking about is the police. There is no doubt that in America's jittery and gun-laden world of law-enforcement police are often aggressive and violent.

Amazingly, this has even been seen in their response to the protests about police brutality.

But for the vast majority of people in the vast majority of places police are the frontline defenders of basic civil rights - the right not to be killed or robbed or assaulted.

Sometimes, as we know, they can be the violators but for any rational person the solution to this is to weed those officers out, hold them to account and change any culture that allows such behaviour.

Instead the extremist response is to simply abolish the police altogether, which would only make vulnerable communities even more vulnerable and drive vast swathes of sympathetic and moderate citizens into the arms of conservative parties.

Again it is a morally and politically vacuous betrayal of those who most desperately need meaningful practical reform.

But it is not just the cops they want cancelled.

Gone With The Wind has been pulled from HBO Max over its depiction of the American South during the US Civil War.
Gone With The Wind has been pulled from HBO Max over its depiction of the American South during the US Civil War.

Gone With The Wind is now gone with the wind, apparently for having the temerity to depict the American South during the US Civil War.

Never mind the fact the film highlights the war's folly, never mind the fact that it produced the first ever African-American Oscar winner in Hattie McDaniel.

Likewise Little Britain has been wiped from the BBC and Netflix database for having a blacked-up character in one of its many skits poking fun at UK stereotypes.

The show's creators said they would not have included such a character today but that is apparently not enough. The character must be eliminated from history as well.

Chris Lilley is also cancelled for various crimes, especially his portrayal of Jonah from Tonga.

This was automatically deemed offensive, which was news to at least one Tongan fan.

"Being part Fijian & Tongan, Jonah from Tonga by Chris Lilley was one of my fave characters because it rang true," she lamented online.

"There were islander social cues that were captured perfectly in a satirical context. Jonah's struggle with his education and his place in society was also captured well and was relatable to members of my family."

Not anymore.

Actor Chris Lilley as Jonah, a character that has now been scrubbed from the history books.
Actor Chris Lilley as Jonah, a character that has now been scrubbed from the history books.

Likewise my best friend - a quadriplegic - saw for the first time in his life comedy that spoke directly to him in the Little Britain skits about the fake wheelchair-bound schemer and his insipid carer.

He thought it was the best thing he'd ever seen but he can't see that anymore either.

Even my Channel 10 colleague Waleed Aly - so often a champion of progressive causes and a pioneer in breaking through the white world of Australian television - was trending on Twitter this week after being accused of racism himself.

You honestly couldn't make this stuff up.

As a Greek Australian bloke told me yesterday: "At the height of Comedy Company, 'Con' did a promo at a local supermarket. Our Greek school shut down for an hour so we could all go meet him. So many in the community loved him. Today there'd be non-Greeks taking offence on our behalf, 'explaining' why we don't get the racism."

It's not just people who are racist either.

There is a genuine movement afoot to "Shutdown STEM" because science, technology, engineering and maths are also racist.


Meanwhile across the world statues are being torn down and churches torched because they are racist too.

Christopher Columbus met his end in Minnesota for his colonial crimes, as have others with any association to slavery or oppression.

And why stop there?

Should the Arc de Triomphe be demolished because it was built by a despotic dictator called Napoleon who caused the deaths of thousands?

Should Ancient Roman monuments be reduced to rubble because they are relics of a brutal slave economy?

Certainly there are other ideological movements that have no problem with destroying historical artefacts that clash with their world view.

Their names are the Taliban and Islamic State.

Because this is the ultimate goal of all extremist ideologies - to wipe out all conflicting views not just from the present but from history.

Any dissent is dangerous to an irrational absolutist cause.

Yes, let us reform our institutions to make them work better for the disadvantaged.

Let us make comedy and art that is funny and meaningful to the people we are now.

And let us build statues that commemorate those that establishment history may have forgotten.

But destroying the foundations of civil society, whitewashing and wiping out history and tearing down relics of the past achieves none of that.

It hurts those who need our help and it insults the intelligence of those we embrace as equals.

Eliminating history is not the same as the end of history.

But it is the end of reason.

Joe Hildebrand is editor-at-large for and co-host of Studio 10, 8am-noon weekdays on Channel 10.


Originally published as Cancelled: 'You couldn't make this stuff up'

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