Concerning Consent, Chappelle, and Canceling Cancel Culture

In November 1990, the Womyn of Antioch, a student group at Antioch College, published a list of demands in the campus newspaper, threatening “radical physical action” if those demands weren’t met the following week. Enraged by women’s stories of on-campus rape, they wanted a wholly new code of sexual conduct, one that required verbal consent at each step of sexual intimacy, regardless of how many times the couple had been intimate. Antioch met the demand, and a sleepy Yellow Springs, Ohio, liberal arts school of 500 students became a national laughingstock. To some, they were overzealous liberals gone ridiculously draconian. To others, like SNL, they were deeply unsexy naifs overconcerned with date rape—fun-killers, basically. To almost everyone, their prim boundary-drawing seemed unnatural and incorrect in a context defined by its spontaneity, emotionality, and complicated relationship with taboo. Kind of like comedy.
The comedian Dave Chappelle is a lifelong resident of Yellow Springs. His father was an Antioch College professor. In 2004, Dave Chappelle released a sketch, “Love Contract,” whose subject was formalized consent policies like Antioch’s. Wearing a red silk robe and holding a clipboard, Chappelle requires his would-be sexual partner, played by a perplexed Rashida Jones, to fill out a lengthy contract governing their encounter, asking her, among other things, to check a box if she “declines anal.” The sketch hums the same tune Chappelle belts out in his new Netflix standup special, Sticks and Stones. He sees “cancel culture”—progressive Americans’ attempts to police culture, to draw lines around what ought to be acceptable in humor and sexuality and online conduct—as ridiculous. A laughingstock. Even morally wrong.
He joins internet culture criminals as various as Logan Paul (who filmed a dead person in Japan’s Aokigahara Forest and posted it to YouTube), Kanye West (who said, among other things, that slavery is a choice), Gucci (who made several items of clothing deemed racially insensitive), Shania Twain (who said she would have voted for Trump if she weren’t Canadian), and Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of Mulan (because star Liu Yifei stated that she supported Hong Kong’s police force rather than its protesters). To Chappelle’s detractors, his cancelation is a clear-cut moral issue like all the others: Chappelle used his platform to punch down, to layer jokes on top of other people’s suffering, and therefore should no longer be given that platform.