Useful context for the cancellation of a Dave Chappelle performance

Comedian Dave Chappelle was scheduled to perform in Minneapolis on Wednesday night, but just hours beforehand the venue canceled the appearance.

“We believe in diverse voices and the freedom of artistic expression,” it wrote in a statement announcing the decision, “but in honoring that, we lost sight of the impact this would have.”

The wording is vague but the reference is clear. Chappelle has drawn strong criticism in recent months for repeatedly making transgender people the punchlines of his jokes.

Apparently concerned about appearing to endorse Chappelle’s view, the venue canceled.

By now, any venue engaging in such a cancellation will be aware of what is likely to follow: the decision being cast as a “cancellation,” a term used pejoratively to criticize incidents in which individuals or groups face repercussions for things they have said or done. 

Sometimes those repercussions are overblown and dubious. Often, with a little digging, it’s obvious that they are not.

Sure enough, the expected voices, mostly on the political right, cast Chappelle as the latest victim of “wokeism” — the pejorative term often used to describe those drawing attention to things people have said or done. Others wondered whether this might have a chilling effect on entertainers broadly.

That this involves Dave Chappelle, a well-known entertainer, almost necessarily means that it will generate a lot of attention and consideration. 

We like to ruminate over things to which we have a personal attachment, and most Americans probably have at least some familiarity with Chappelle, if not an opinion of him. So we tend to wonder: What does this mean?