The Chinese Cultural Revolution was perpetrated by a totalitarian dictatorship determined to beat the populace into unquestioning obedience so they would pledge loyalty to the ideology of party above friends and family.
Fast forward to the United States where a softer, yet just as chilling, version of this cultural purge of wrong-think is being carried out by digital rage mobs and an activist class that enjoys the backing of wealthy elitists and powerful D.C. establishment players.
Although decidedly less violent than the crazed, ideological Red Guards that harassed, assaulted, and killed countless numbers of their fellow Chinese in the 1960s under Mao Zedong, today’s digital rage mobs are just as difficult to appease and demand a similar regimen of public shame and humiliation from those branded as dissidents.
Drawing this comparison between today’s cancel culture and China’s Cultural Revolution, Doug Brandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, wrote last year that, then as now, “Your best hope is to grovel before your oppressors, demonstrating sufficient abject remorse and engaging in enough self‐flagellation to win relief from the draconian sentence normally imposed.”
This is what the digital mob expected of rapper Nicki Minaj recently when they descended on her for daring to express that she had made the personal choice to do a bit more research before getting vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.
Overnight, she became just the latest subject of an outrage mob. And as has happened to many of her celebrity predecessors, she was faced with a choice: either apologize and start repeating the party line or stand up to the mob and face its wrath.
Admirably, an indignant Minaj chose the latter.
This was a bold move, and it was done with some surprisingly astute social commentary on today’s rabid cancel culture.
“I remember going to China and they were telling us you know, you cannot speak out against, you know, the people in power, there, etc [sic],” the rap star said in an Instagram live video last week during the peak of the backlash.
Minaj, who had some interesting personal anecdotes as to why she hasn’t yet gotten the vaccine, explained on Twitter that she was waiting until she’d done more research, which is what sparked the fury of the digital rage mob.
“Don’t y’all see that we are living now in that time, where people will turn their back on you …. People will isolate you if you simply speak and ask a question,” Minaj went on in her Instagram video.
She was, of course, absolutely right. She got badgered and lectured by the likes of MSNBC’s Joy Reid and even received a personal invitation from the White House to be “educated” on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Reporters hounded (and threatened, by some accounts) her family members and friends trying to get to the bottom of her claims that a cousin’s friend ended up impotent after receiving the shot.
Her claim was personally debunked by Dr. Anthony Fauci, who one might imagine as the top White House health advisor would have better things to do than respond to vaccine reaction anecdotes from controversial celebrities, but apparently not.
Minaj was punished in this manner, as she herself explained, not for expressing something that millions of Americans can relate to but for refusing to be told what to say and do.
What she did not do, to her credit, was apologize, which is what the mob wanted, and what the mob has come to demand from those they target with outrage campaigns that are all too similar to Mao’s Red Guard.
As writer Bari Weiss, one of the nation’s most vocal and articulate critics — and victims — of cancel culture, has explained: When the mob comes for you, it’s easy to feel that apology is the only recourse.
“I once had a weekend after a misinterpreted tweet about a figure skater where I could barely get out of bed. It can feel like the only thing that will make it go away is to apologize,” she recently wrote.
That goes along way towards explaining why this initially was the path taken by musician Winston Marshall after he was called out for innocently tweeting out his congratulations to centrist journalist Andy Ngo for his new book on the unsettling rise of the far-left activist group Antifa, who, it must be stated, has the most literal similarities to Mao’s Red Guard of all those perpetuating the West’s cultural revolution.
As the musician would later explain, he wanted to spare his bandmates the mob’s wrath by proxy, but that this also ignited a new mob over “the sin of apologizing,” which branded him “right-wing” merely for expressing support for a centrist who had exposed the far-left.
Marshall soon realized this and later wrote that his “previous apology in a small way participates in the lie that such extremism does not exist, or worse, is a force for good.”
In other words, the only way to defeat a bully is to stand up to him.
That realization led Marshall to famously decide to leave the band Mumford & Sons so he could more freely express his verboten opinions.
Likewise, Weiss, J.K. Rowling, and now Nicki Minaj have also discovered that the only way to stand firm in the midst of the mob’s hysterical attacks is to refuse to cave to their demands.
After all, when Marshall initially apologized, it didn’t do anyone any good. Doing so only acknowledged that his original transgression was indeed an offense — and made everything worse for everyone, including those he was trying to protect.
Countless celebrities have apologized obediently and been able to hide in the dubiously protective cover of a slightly abated outrage mob.
Such an apology, however, necessitates that it include the same spirit of contrition and humiliation as the intense “struggle sessions” demanded by Chinese cultural revolutionaries.
The recent apology experience of dancer and actress Julianne Hough epitomizes the metaphorical bowing and scraping that the mob requires before it will even consider the possibility of granting some sort of relief. Hough was called out for agreeing to be a judge on a new reality TV show called “The Activist,” a misstep that led to the mob recalling a prior 2013 misstep when she wore blackface for a Halloween costume depicting a black character from the program “Orange is the New Black.”
Hough quickly surrendered to their accusations. In a post on Instagram, she thanked the mob for “using your voices, calling me in, your accountability, and your candor” and assured them that she was “deeply listening” She wanted them to understand that she truly regretted her “poor choice” of Halloween costumes and recognized that she had based her decision on her “white privilege and white body bias.” She then assured the mob that she would “reflect and act differently,” not perfectly, of course, but “with a more developed understanding that racism and white supremacy is harmful to ALL people.”
Despite dutifully reading the standard apology script, Hough was immediately labeled “self-centered,” as well as “fishy and performative,” proving that all she really did with her apology was validate the mob’s self-appointed authority to gang up on, intimidate, and threaten anyone they deem to be an enemy of their agenda.
So, when the options are to apologize to the mob and give it strength and credence or to defy their rules and take one small step towards freedom from its burgeoning influence, there can only be one moral and truly practical option if we wish to effectively combat this unsettling trend.
Never, ever apologize.