How to Get Cancelled

A noted asshole reflects on the misogynistic Napalm of Cancel Culture

Dearest Pancake Brains,

Yesterday, “How to Start a Revolution” was published in the United Kingdom, and an outlet called the Stylist ran an interview with me timed to the release. The article begins: “Lauren Duca is many things. Journalist. Activist. Influencer...Controversial.” A good editor might have reworded this to read: Lauren Duca is on a mission to build equitable public power, but did you know that she’s an asshole?

@PapaTweetThat made this Photoshop for me. Bless you, friend.

The introduction touches on my origin story (“Donald Trump is Gaslighting America,” the Tucker Carlson interview), and then comes the dire list of sins: I tweeted fat jokes in 2012, Jezebel found allegations that I sent mean emails when I worked at the Huffington Post, and, most recently, Buzzfeed wrote a profile about me, claiming that some NYU students decidedly hated the course I taught there this summer.

As far as I’m concerned, neither hit piece can be accurately described journalism. (The purpose of journalism ought to be empowering the public to self-govern, and precisely no one was empowered by delighting in the filth of my dirty laundry.) That said, I feel compelled to note that I have publicly responded to the NYU nonsense, specifically addressing the claim that I “targeted” a high school student who wasn’t fluent in English. I didn’t “target” any student any more than any teacher would “target” a student for dipping out of class and not doing their homework. (If there’s any scandal in need of public inquiry here, it’s probably NYU hiring a first-time professor to teach American journalism to a high schooler still learning English without any real institutional support.)

[Insert Deep Breath Here]. I will resist the urge to further defend my character, because that’s actually not the point. It has occurred to me that the most reasonable way to respond to all of these allegations is simply to ask: So what, if I’m an asshole?

The conclusion of the Buzzfeed piece attempts to erase the value of my work by negating my humanity. It suggests that I am silly and cruel to the point where those flaws undermine my journalism. The big idea is that I am too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Except, the entire reason Buzzfeed asked to profile of me is because I wrote a book about young people’s right and duty to the political conversation. I would argue that remains a significant contribution to human thinking even if there is indisputable proof that I have behaved like a raging cunt.

Do you realize how many famous men are famous assholes? I know my detractors want to tell me that it is specifically me who is not good enough, but when I pull back from the Macy’s-Day-Parade-float version of myself, it sure seems like the idea that my past behavior is fundamentally disqualifying is based on the fact that I am a woman. The claim at the crux of the assertion of my asshole-ry is that it invalidates my voice. I reject that notion.

H/t to my new buddy @jamie_ob for this one. (I might put it on a mug? )

“To some,” The Stylist writes, “Duca is still a vital voice worth listening to and, to others, she’s a hypocrite.”

Perhaps we have had a misunderstanding here. It seems as if the underlying claim that I am a “hypocrite” is based on the misconception that I have ever promised to be perfect. It is the job of the journalist to communicate her purpose, so let me be clear about our terms and agreements here: I can promise no such thing! I have made mistakes in the past, and I can guarantee you that I will make mistakes again. Unfortunately for my haters, this will occur in tandem with my will to live another day.

I’m sure there is some hand-wringing here. Pearls will be clutched. There are a lot of people who would like to see me wallow in shame, or at least apologize for denying them the spectacle. Now that I’ve survived my seventh crucifixion, I see that the public shamings — not unlike far-right harassment — are a coordinated effort to get me to shut up. I am meant to break under the roar of not-enoughness, too tarnished by the smear of impurity to express myself ever again. “You are bad,” the mob says to the cancelled. “Your voice has been rejected.”

We are in the midst of a grander conversation about the toxicity of cancel culture, and I think the most concise way to confront the core issues on display is to ask: Truly, what the fuck is the point?

When someone is being “cancelled,” what are they meant to do, exactly? Was I supposed to crawl into a hole and die? Was I supposed to pack up my entire career in journalism, and, specifically, my past three years of relentless democratic advocacy work, and disappear for good? I remember the jolt of horror I felt when I first learned about the excommunications of Medieval Times. Cancel culture is the modern-day version.

To be clear, shame has a critical function in society, and there are certainly acts that are deserving of it, most especially racism and sexual assault. Except, it would seem to me that the people perpetuating the most shameful acts remain thriving and in power. The most distressing discrepancy in our enduring moment of moral panic is the reality that an openly-racist sexual predator currently inhabits the Oval Office.

There are countless other examples of unabashed villains roving around in broad daylight. The same society that has repeatedly attempted to cancel me also appointed Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. An even more maddening comparison is the media treatment of Brock Turner. As a journalist, I must disclose I’m biased toward myself, but if it’s Brock Turner, the swimmer, and Lauren Duca, the bully, I think we might be doing something wrong.

Still, I am less interested in abdicating myself of blame, because I am not free of it. None of us are.

Now, despite the fact that I am an incredible jerk with bad manners, I intend to keep working to dismantle the white supremacist patriarchy and replace it with equitable public power. In spreading the word of “How to Start a Revolution,” I hope to defeat the myth of youth apathy, by unpacking alienation, and ultimately striving to empower as many young people — and especially young women — to insist on their right and duty to the political process.

Building this new democratic culture will require the endless work of dismantling the status quo. We will need to reckon with past mistakes and make new ones — valorous and otherwise — in the messy, uncertain pursuit of true equality. We’ll have to take risks, to fall while attempting to live out our highest values. Through it all, I don’t know that any of us should be especially concerned with respectability and politeness.

In this moment of awakening, the thing we must commit to continuous evolution. The core problem of the malfunctioning shame known as “cancel culture” is a lack of compassion for the ways in which we all can be assholes. I don’t know whether or not everyone throwing stones is living in a glass house, but I’m sure that we all have assholes. We have to stop insisting on total purity, when we’ve all gotten shit on our hands before. To varying degrees of severity, it can be said that every living human being has behaved like an asshole at one time or another. In the warped torture chamber of cancel culture’s perverse incentive structure, the punitive pile-ons ravage only the people even bothering to suggest that they are accountable to decency while the shameless live on in impunity. We must come together to insist on a more productive public square.

See, I’m not perfect, but I’m trying to do good, and I think the group pile-ons might be better directed at, say, the men in Washington doing crimes. We must channel our collective social power to overthrow this system through which one of the most immoral individuals in the history of humanity is ordering fast food to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We must direct our collective energy toward doing the stuff of democracy, translating our political opinions into action, and routinely participating in the question of how we ought to live together out of a duty to the collective.

I know, I know. That’s seems like a lofty moral high ground coming from me, a noted asshole. But I urge you to pursue it in the same way that I am, as a goal. I don’t have any plans for suddenly becoming more polite, but the promise I can make to you is a promise I hope we can all make to each other: to try our best to be getting better all the time.

With earnest irreverence,