As Fox News’ obsessive crusade against the supposed cancellation of Dr. Seuss entered its fifth week, right-wing media’s commitment to fighting “cancel culture” was put to the test by a new music video by singer-songwriter Lil Nas X, in which he slides down a stripper pole to give Satan a lap dance in Hell. To top it off, he teamed up with Brooklyn-based streetwear company MSCHF to release limited edition “Satan Shoes” that supposedly contain an actual drop of human blood in the soles.
The video’s … a lot. And surely enough, Fox News and others in right-wing media responded with predictable outrage, exposing the hollowness of their own stance against “cancel culture,” in which conservative media paint the left as cruel censors and would-be dictators while framing the right as a bastion of free expression. The term itself, “cancel culture,” is meant to refer to the purging of ideas, people, and pop culture artifacts from society. But it now seems to be used to describe just about any criticism that the right disagrees with.
But as anger about this latest Lil Nas X ordeal illustrates, right-wing media don’t consider it “cancel culture” when they are the ones making their disapproval heard. It’s a hollow sham of a campaign to pretend as though the left is a league of censorial scolds in comparison to the right, but it’s one that mainstream outlets often accept at face value, lending undeserved credibility to right-wing arguments.
He laid the bait, and right-wing media took it, showing just how predictable yet insincere they can be.
Lil Nas X is a master marketer. His 2018 megahit Old Town Road made it to the top of the charts thanks in large part to the song’s success on TikTok. On Twitter, he’s racked up millions of followers and even filmed a video with CEO Jack Dorsey. He promoted the music video for his single Holiday with a wonderfully bizarre commercial that combined elements of The Santa Clause and Back to the Future Part III, complete with a cameo from Michael J. Fox, and would later perform the song on the online gaming platform Roblox.
Lil Nas X knows what he’s doing, and he’s now decided to turn conservative media’s appetite for outrage to his own advantage. When Laura Ingraham and Raymond Arroyo of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle expressed their disgust with his new video, titled Montero (Call Me By Your Name), he declared victory on Twitter.
Surely, right-wing media must have realized that they would come off as “cancel culture” hypocrites if they were to criticize his deliberate ragebait. Still, they either didn’t care or simply couldn’t resist the chance to get their audiences worked up into a frothy rage about a gay Black rapper who is beloved by children invoking Satan.
On Fox News and Fox Business alone, Lil Nas X’s video and shoes have been discussed during Fox & Friends, Fox & Friends First, Fox & Friends Weekend, Mornings with Maria, Varney & Co., and The Ingraham Angle. Newsmax has obsessed over the “Satan Shoes,” as has One America News. The Daily Wire has churned out at least a half-dozen outraged articles in the past few days. The same goes for Breitbart, Gateway Pundit, the Daily Caller, and just about every other right-wing media outlet that has been disingenuously arguing in favor of “free speech” (by which they usually mean “freedom from criticism”) and raging against “cancel culture.”
The same people who have been arguing that the consumers’ decision not to purchase a certain brand of beans because of its CEO’s political opinions is a threat to freedom itself are the same ones who successfully goaded Nike into suing MSCHF for trademark infringement. (The “Satan Shoes” are Nike Air Max 97s that MSCHF bought, modified, resold, and not at all officially tied to Nike itself.) Unsurprisingly, when MSCHF dropped its 2019 “Jesus Shoes” that came filled with holy water, Fox News was perfectly able to understand that the brand was not working directly with Nike.
It’s hard to take any anti-“cancel culture” conservative in the media seriously when they repeatedly demonstrate that they don’t actually hate “cancelling” products and people, but simply want to be the ones who get to decide which products and which people get “cancelled.” In 2019, right-wing outrage got Universal Pictures to actually cancel the release of its movie The Hunt, after Ingraham, Arroyo, and others in right-wing media latched onto an obvious misunderstanding of what the movie was about. (The movie was later released in March 2020.)
Maybe it takes something like Lil Nas X’s Montero video and “Satan Shoes” to see through the right-wing’s obsession with “cancel culture.”
Conservatives are more than happy to rail against pieces of pop culture they disapprove of, whether it’s Tucker Carlson using his new Fox Nation show to rail against inaugural poet Amanda Gorman or right-wing groups demanding that PBS ban an episode of the cartoon Arthur because two of the characters were gay. They are happy to embrace tyrannical, totalitarian policies that oppress people on the basis of who they are, whom they love, where they come from, or what their religious views happen to be.
The greatest trick the right-wing media industrial complex ever played was convincing its audiences that it stood for freedom. Maybe Fox News audiences don’t care that the network rages on end about brands changing their logos and people criticizing a TV show while simultaneously demanding that content they don’t approve of be purged from existence. But the rest of the media world should.
If right-wing media groups want to argue that Lil Nas X’s video and shoes are objectionable, they should absolutely feel free to express those views, call for boycotts, and even pressure Nike into suing MSCHF in an effort to get the shoes destroyed. But while they do, the rest of the media world needs to acknowledge just how hollow the right’s anti-”cancel culture” stance has been all along.