Book Review of “The Case for Cancel Culture” by Ernest Owens

cancel culture cover

© James Pyles

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I don’t normally review books such as Ernest Owens’ The Case for Cancel Culture: How this Democratic Tool Works to Liberate Us All on this blog, but having inadvertently encountered one of the author’s tweets on twitter, I was intrigued.


Screen capture from twitter

Note that general replies are disabled on that tweet, and this from an author who wants to “liberate us all.”

At first, I thought this was a gag. I mean, these are gifs, for crying out loud. But in reviewing his twitter stream, I saw he was absolutely serious. Looking up his official bio gave me a clue as to why:

Ernest Owens is an award-winning journalist and CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC. He is the Editor at Large for Philadelphia Magazine and President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. He hosts the hit podcast “Ernestly Speaking!” and is an author of the book “The Case for Cancel Culture” by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. As an openly Black gay journalist, he has made headlines for speaking frankly about intersectional issues in society regarding race, LGBTQIA, and pop culture. In 2018, he launched his growing media company that specializes in multimedia production, consulting, and communications.

Ah! He’s selling a book. A great many outrageous statements have been made by some authors in pursuit of selling a book, and this one was published about six-weeks ago as I write this missive.

I couldn’t wait to see what the book was about.

I’ll try to keep this part short. Here’s a snippet of the blurb for the book on Amazon:

The first major case for cancel culture as a fundamental means of democratic expression throughout history, and timely necessity aimed at combating systems of oppression.

That wouldn’t have been my short definition of “cancel culture,” but I’ll get to that.

I noted that there were quite a number of kudos listed for the book on Amazon. Here’s a bit of a sample:

“Journalist Owens debuts with an incisive defense of cancel culture… his arguments are thought-provoking and well supported. The result is an invigorating survey of a hot-button political issue.” ―Publishers Weekly

“A…relevant reminder of the possibilities of cancel culture and how it can make the powerful accountable.” ―Kirkus

“Owens offers a fresh take on cancel culture as a powerful instrument for change.” ―Refinery 29

“Ernest Owens takes a pointed but measured approach, tracing [cancel culture’s] path from Black Twitter to the larger consciousness, and laying out its intersections with race, gender, politics and pop culture. Owens is especially effective when recounting his personal adventures in the cancel culture realm, from criticizing the Mummers to sparking a national conversation about cultural appropriation with a single tweet to Justin Timberlake.” ―Philadelphia Inquirer, Best New Books for February

“So much of the political landscape within the United States is steeped in false equivalences. The term “Cancel Culture” gets thrown around as a Boogey Man to strike fear into the hearts of many, without any analysis of what is actually being named. The Case for Cancel Culture is clear and honest about what Cancel Culture is (and isn’t) and is necessary in the fight for critical thought.” ―J Mase III, author of The Black Trans Prayer Book

“The Case for Cancel Culture is not just essential at this juncture in time, it’s an important tool for all times, and for anyone looking to learn how to have the difficult but necessary conversations about race, injustice, inequality and oppression. What Ernest Owens does in his book is what he’s been doing for all the years he’s been writing: He gives voice to the voiceless and amplifies the message of the marginalized. The powers that be fear two things: Getting knocked from their perch, and Owens, who shows us the way.” ―Dawn Ennis, award-winning journalist, advocate and university professor

“Whether with thorough, bulletproof reporting or incisive, thoughtful op-eds, Ernest Owens has always been a journalist whose work demands accountability. He has always had moral clarity, nuanced perspective, and the facts to back them up. It’s only fitting that he would write one of the definitive works on cancel culture.” ―William E. Ketchum III, Senior Culture Editor, Mic

I noticed that the author quoted William E. Ketchum III (the last reviewer cited) at least twice in the book, so I suppose it makes sense Ketchum would heap praises on “Cancel Culture.”

Whenever I’ve read a book so heavily hyped, almost universally did I find the book failed to live up to that hype, so this didn’t inspire my confidence in Owens’ writing. I’ve only read one or two books in the past few years I thought lived up to their reputation.

But maybe I was wrong. All people are biased including me, so I can’t say I always deliver objective reviews, but I do try to be fair and I generally admit it when I’m wrong.

Everything that follows in Owens’ book depends on an accurate definition of the term “Cancel Culture.” We’ve heard this concept tossed about on social media but what is it exactly?

According to Merriam-Webster:

the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling…as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.

Within the definition are a number of quotes:

For those of you who aren’t aware, cancel culture refers to 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.
Demetria Slyt

The relative difficulty of doing something good and the prolonged waiting period to receive credit for it is why cancel culture has flourished. It offers quicker social rewards.
Rob Henderson

Cancel culture is supported as a tool to stop offensive and harmful behavior, while others find it problematic and toxic.
Elise Krumholz

You can click on the link I provide above for more, including a list of examples. offered more:

This can include anything from boycotting a person or company’s products to refusing to work with them. It often takes the form of public shaming, and its proponents typically argue that it is a necessary response to moral failings.

However, critics argue that cancel culture is excessively punitive and often leads to the silencing of legitimate dialogue. They also argue that it can be used as a weapon to silence minority perspectives.

That same webpage offered examples of individuals “canceled” by both the left and right.

Those canceled by the left include:

  • J.K Rowling
  • Donald Trump
  • Joe Rogan
  • Rosanne Barr
  • John Greene’s books

Those canceled by the right include:

  • Colin Kaepernik
  • Ellen DeGeneres
  • The Dixie Chicks
  • Michael Moore
  • Communist sympathizers

I thought that last example something straight out of the 1950s and McCarthyism, but whatever. I’m not sure all those listed above are effectively canceled (Donald Trump seems incredibly difficult to silence), but this is the perspective of that website.

Pew Research Center offers an interesting article on whether or not the Cancel Culture is accountability, censorship, or punishment.

The article is quite lengthy, but this graphic, owned by Pew and reproduced here may shed some light over how differing groups understand the term.


Image from Pew Research Center

The final takeaway from the article is that according to Pew, approximately 38% of U.S. adults see cancel culture as punishing while 58% see it as holding people accountable. For details see the link I posted above.

So there’s really a great deal of disagreement in not only what cancel culture is, but what it is intended to do.

Now enter Ernest Owens. Owens, in the introduction to this book, used the phrase “speak truth to power” three times, and repeated it again several more times in the body of his book. The intent, from his point of view, is to give marginalized and formerly marginalized individuals and groups a voice in “correcting” what is seen as problematic statements and behaviors of other people and groups.

Then the definition takes, from my point of view, a proverbial left hand turn into the Twilight Zone.

The Cancel Culture isn’t just an online phenomenon and it’s not a recently created effect. He goes all the way back to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden in the Biblical Book of Genesis. He also cites the Boston Tea Party (yes, that one) and the subsequent Revolutionary War as examples of cancel culture. Never mind that the former was an act of protest and revolution while the later is literal war.

In the introduction, the author cites an online conflict he had with celebrity Justin Timberlake. Such conflicts between two people in the public eye aren’t uncommon on twitter, but Owens’ following statement is telling:

Folks with fewer than twenty followers and no profile picture felt bold enough to hurl racist and homophobic replies.

Oh, the horror. The plebian, unwashed masses of the internet dared to confront and criticize our noble hero. Egad.

Okay, racism and prejudice are bad, but unfortunately, twitter is made to be a virtual “knife fight” so stuff like this does happen. I did get some insight into how well Owens thinks of himself relative to people without a blue checkmark next to their name.

By the way Ernest, most of those comments were probably made by bots, so don’t worry. Algorithms don’t have intent or feelings.

Owens quoted conservative pundit Matt Walsh as saying:

The hysterical mob demands your unthinking participation. It does not want to answer any questions or entertain any rational critiques. It is not interested in subtlety or nuance. You must jump on the bandwagon of outrage or be trampled underneath it.

Owens’ response is that “bandwagon of outrage” is a “dog whistle” against cancel culture. “Dog whistle.” The first of many uses of terms (buzzwords) commonly used to silence critics.

I could have shot through this book in just an hour or so. The good thing about it is that Owens has a very readable style. However, I was taking copious notes so that slowed me down a bit.

I won’t mine all of the comments I recorded because that would make this review almost as long as the book.

Noteworthy portions of Chapter 1: Cancel Culture Been Here include:

Before it was called cancel culture: The protests, boycotts, and enforcements of political correctness that have taken place throughout history are solid proof that this is not a new phenomenon.

That assumes you accept that anything that has been called “protest,” “boycott,” and “enforcements of political correctness” MUST derive from cancel culture rather than the phenomenon of cancel culture being a subset of those other more expansive concepts. If you don’t accept the definition, then the “solid proof” evaporates like mist.

And thereby hangs my tale. Nothing that proceeds from this book or almost nothing is particularly relevant if you do not accept Owens’ definition of cancel culture. Nothing in his research absolutely requires that cancel culture be defined as how the author imagines. In fact, his definition of cancel culture seems to be used as a justification for advocating for only a single point of view, which Owens calls “progressive” (as opposed to conservative). He has created a definition for cancel culture seemingly to justify his using it in a highly specific manner.

Further, when I “think” Owens is actually meaning Democrat and Republican, he universally substitutes progressive and conservative. Yes, not all conservatives are GOP. Some are libertarian. Some are independent or moderate leaning right. Also not all progressives are strictly Democrat. Some are Socialists. Some are Leftists. Granted, there is significant overlap to these categories, but Owens tends to think in very binary terms (in spite of him denying that he does so).



Chapter 1 is the 1st of his long rants on Colonialism and his take on the history of the world through the social justice lens. He isn’t necessarily wrong in many of his points, but while the history is interesting, we’ve heard it many times before. On top of that, if you don’t accept his definition of cancel culture, then the history is irrelevant to the topic, which is a basic description of almost all of the book.

Chapter 2: When Canceling Was The Only Option:

Cancel culture is not the spontaneous whim it’s often characterized as but can serve as an intentional, final move when all hope is lost for the marginalized.

Tell that to Gina Carano.

In February 2021, actress Gina Carano was fired from her role in the television show “The Mandalorian,” supposedly following an online, cancel culture, outrage:

over a social media post that likened the murder of Jews during the Holocaust to the US political climate.

This is according to an article on The Daily Mail.

In her own defense, she said:

Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors…. even by children.

Because history is edited, most people today don´t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?

While Carano was accused of anti-Semitism, this statement doesn’t support the allegation, but it could have been used as an excuse for those who didn’t like her more conservative views.

Regarding allegations that she’s “transphobic”

She also mocked the use of gender pronouns, listing ‘beep/bop/boop’ in her social media bio after some expressed outrage that she did not list any pronouns in her bio.

My understanding is that the various online pundits were pressuring her, for whatever reasons, to post her pronouns in her twitter bio. I personally take exception to that which is why I don’t post my pronouns as well. I guess she finally got fed up and decided to put something in tongue-in-check. The “mob” chose to use that as another nail in her professional coffin.

This flies in the face of Owens’ assertion that no one innocent is ever canceled, that cancelation is always an extreme but thoughtful action when all other actions to educate and correct a person or group have failed, and that there’s no such thing as a “mob mentality” in cancel culture.

Speak truth to power. Carano may be a celebrity, but in the relative scheme of things, she’s not that powerful. Obviously, because the “twitteratti” gathered together to pressure Disney to fire her and it worked. Her crime? Not really the statements she made. It was really more about how she was perceived to be just because she didn’t possess the socially accepted political views. As I said before, Oh the horror.

Owens said that the cancel culture is activated as a matter of self-preservation by marginalized and vulnerable groups. My wife and children are Jewish and I’m very sensitive to actual acts of anti-Semitism. Nothing in Carano’s statements about the Holocaust rang true as being against Jews. As far as beep-bop-boop, my perception was that Carano was pushing back against online trolls and bullies who thought they could control her output just because.

Chapters 3 and 4, When Progressives Cancel and When Conservatives Cancel can be summarized thus:

The Left uses cancel culture to expand rights and freedoms for more people.


The Right uses cancel culture to retain power – and to keep others from acquiring it – by employing a myopic nostalgia for “the good ol’ days.”

Did I mention the author using stereotypes heavily to support his points, mainly by evoking emotion rather than reason?

Chapter 5: Now All Cancellations Are the Same is something of a rehash of the previous two chapters, saying what by now I expected him to say. It could be boiled down to “progressives using cancel culture = Good” while “conservatives using cancel culture = Bad.” Really, I’d like to provide a more detailed analysis, but Owens has repeated and regurgitated his talking points, all stereotypically left (did George Takei and Wil Wheaton help with the editing?) by this point, and I could feel my thought process numbing at the constant bombardment and bludgeoning. It was like being metaphorically beaten about the head and shoulders with a blunt, dull instrument.

Actually, worse than sounding like a set of leftist talking points, as I continued to read the book, I got the distinct feeling I was reviewing a collection of the author’s personal pet peeves, as if writing the book, for him, was therapeutic somehow.

Chapter 6: Cancel – Cry Me a River is also what you’d expect. it boils down to, “If you don’t like my points, too bad. I’m right and you’re wrong. Cry me a river.”

Here he supposedly refutes arguments against the cancel culture such as:

  • The Censorship Argument
  • The Mob Mentality Argument
  • The Innocence Argument
  • The “No Grace” Argument
  • The “No Fun” Argument
  • The Power Argument

His points in the final chapter Cancel Culture is Democracy Unchained proves that there is censorship “baked into the DNA” of cancel culture. While the First Amendment promises that the Government cannot impede free speech, Owens’ argument is that this allows “hate speech” (however you define that term) and that cancel culture simply inhibits and punishes (my word, not his) such “hate speech” so marginalized groups can be free. While I don’t advocate for racist, sexist, etc… speech against others, this goes far beyond those points, allowing only a single voice, the progressive voice, to be heard. Everybody else, “stay in your lane and shut up.”

That’s what I call censorship.

How about books?

I know the topic of book bans (usually just in school libraries) is a topic used against the GOP at this point, but all groups ban books. Leftists publishers have stopped producing six Dr. Seuss books because of archaic depictions of certain people groups. Roald Dahl and R.L. Stine children’s books are being edited and “updated for modern audiences” for supposed “offensive language.” In the case of Dahl, one example is switching out “fat” for “huge.” Also Agatha Christie mystery novels are being edited and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, an American classic, has received a “trigger warning” from the publisher stating that it is “problematic” and “racist.”

Gee, let me think. A novel about the Civil War set in the racist South is actually depicting how racism worked in the South might have racist concepts and scenes in it. What a shock.

Oh, the trigger warning for “Gone With the Wind” was issued by its publisher, Macmillan Publishers. As fate would have it St. Martin’s Press, which published Owens’ book, is an imprint of Macmillan (remind me to only read older editions of classic novels from now on).

And this is the world Ernest Owens is advocating for. His tool for achieving progressive paradise is cancel culture. Heaven help the poor, dumb fool who crosses the line, even by a toenail or so.


Ernest Owens, CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC – Photography by Ronald Gray – found on Owens’ website

I could go on, but what’s the point? I’ve said what I came to say. I was generous in giving this book three stars on Amazon and goodreads. The review is live on goodreads now, but Amazon has yet to approve it as of this writing. It was fairly brief and not complementary. I’ve noticed Amazon tends to weed out criticism in certain circumstances, so my review may not make the cut with them.

In reading the one-star reviews on Amazon, those people also found the book to be as tiresome, redundant, and often as irrelevant as I do, so I’m hardly alone in my analysis. For those who found the book worthy of four and five star reviews, let alone the aforementioned glowing reports, I can only imagine these are people and groups who already embraced Owen’s social and political perspective.

Given the author’s reputation and impressive resume, he has the capacity to write a more informed and balanced assessment of cancel culture, especially one that isn’t dependent on anachronistically applying the cancel culture to ancient Christianity and equally ancient Rome (and he betrayed his lack of understanding of how Christians operated in first century C.E. Rome, compressing it to a few paragraphs…I’ve been studying that topic for over twenty years so it was easy for me to pick out).

In the image I posted way at the top, I photographed the book suspended over my kitchen garbage can. It’s a library book, so no, I won’t throw it away. Even if I’d spent good money on it (and thankfully, I didn’t), I’d rather sell it to a thrift shop or donate it to a library because even the worst of books needs a home somewhere.

However, it did symbolize my feelings during and after reading Owen’s wee text.

I don’t like giving bad reviews, but this one just screamed out at me to write it as I have.

Your mileage may vary.

Oh, I’ll send him a link to this blog post because I owe him that. If he chooses to respond (and he probably won’t), I don’t doubt he’ll treat me with the same disdain as he does other “conservatives” and stereotype the heck out of me.

To liberate us all? I don’t think so.

Addendum: Oh, and I’m blocked. I guess he didn’t like what I had to say before, but based on my review of his book, I guess he doesn’t take any form of criticism well.


Screen capture from twitter.


7 thoughts on “Book Review of “The Case for Cancel Culture” by Ernest Owens

  1. Whatever happened, I wonder, to the corrections that Elon Musk was presumably making since his purchase of Twitter? Wasn’t he against the left/right censorship and political cancelling? Lately, I’ve heard a couple of significant instances which seem to indicate that the forum is still up to its old tricks and has not become a balanced open environment.


    • I don’t think Musk really is very consistent in his management of twitter. It seems a bit more chaotic than it was before, although I discovered that someone who had been booted from twitter a year and a half ago was allowed to come back.


  2. IMNSHO, cancel culture is what you get when evolutionary social mechanisms of in-group versus out-group dynamics meets social media. Cancelling being the social media version of shunning or ostracization by the community for breaking social norms.

    That’s neither approval or condemnation of cancel culture, just a reframing that it’s part of the human condition.


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