The phrase “cancel culture” has become a ubiquitous catchall that celebrities may cling to after they make a controversial or offensive statement.
But Graham Norton doesn’t think that’s the correct description for what really happens when fans criticize “canceled” people. The right word, he says, is “accountability.”
Norton, the host of a titular BBC talk show, tackled the thorny topic of “cancel culture” at the Cheltenham Literature Festival this week. Speaking to interviewer Mariella Frostrup, Norton decried the concept of “canceling” anyone who still has a sizable platform from which to speak.
“You read a lot of articles in papers by people complaining about ‘cancel culture,’” he told Frostrup. “You think, in what world are you canceled? I’m reading your name in a newspaper, or you’re doing an interview about how terrible it is to be canceled.”
“I think [‘cancel culture’] is the wrong word,” he continued. “I think the word should be accountability.”
He went on to reference John Cleese, the Monty Python veteran who has repeatedly criticized “cancel culture” and “woke” fans who call for comics to retire offensive material. Cleese has in recent years faced backlash for controversial comedy routines, including a 2021 impression of Hitler and jokes about slavery made at the South by Southwest festival in March.
“It must be very hard to be a man of a certain age who’s been able to say whatever he likes for years, and now suddenly there’s some accountability,” Norton said after naming Cleese. “It’s free speech, but not consequence-free.”
Frostrup asked Norton about “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, who has claimed she’s been “canceled” for repeatedly expressing anti-transgender views. Norton, without mentioning Rowling’s name, said that, as a “bloke on the telly,” his voice – and voices of other famous figures like Rowling – are “artificially amplified” on topics they’re not experts in.
“If people want to shine a light on those issues, and I hope that they do, then talk to trans people,” he told Frostrup. “Talk to the parents of trans kids. Talk to doctors, talk to psychiatrists. Talk to someone who can illuminate this in some way.
“Can we wrestle up some f*****g experts … rather than a man in a shiny pink suit?” he asked to the audience’s laughter.
Norton, an out gay man, has vocally supported the rights of LGBTQ people for years and regularly uses his series and other interviews as a platform for those views. Speaking to the Sunday Times last year, Norton, who’s also a judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race UK,” said trans people “need to be protected rather than feared” and said it was a “great boon” to get to know and love trans people.