Rowan Atkinson, the British comedian, actor and writer best known for his sitcoms, including Mister Bean and Black viper, is apparently not a fan of the “cancellation culture”.
Speak with the UK point of sale Radio Times, as reported by Deadline, Atkinson decried the online bias algorithms created. “The problem we have online is that an algorithm decides what we want to see, which ends up creating a simplistic, binary view of society,” he said. “It becomes a case where you are with us or against us. And if you are against us, you deserve to be “canceled”. “
“It’s important that we are exposed to a wide range of opinions, but what we have now is the digital equivalent of the medieval crowds roaming the streets looking for someone to burn,” Atkinson added. “So it’s scary for anyone who falls victim to this mob and it scares me for the future.”
By Australian newspaper The Australian, Atkinson added that he did not believe in the presence of a social media presence, calling it “a side show in my world.”
For years, various celebrities and public figures have spoken out against “canceling culture” – a nebulous term that often boils down to “being criticized for expressing unpopular and often offensive or abusive views”. Despite the cries of people like JK Rowling and Bari Weiss, “canceling culture” is not like, say, government censorship; he is, more than anything, a boogeyman – one who allows powerful people to avoid having to question their own positions while blaming the professional repercussions of their speech and actions on others.
But these statements are not unusual for Atkinson, who has consistently campaigned against anti-hate speech laws on the grounds that they would stifle free speech – a familiar line many comedians have used to bolster their complaints against the so called “cancellation culture.” “
In 2005, Atkinson joined National Theater director Nicholas Hytner and author Ian McEwan to fight a move to expand racial hatred laws to cover religious hatred as well. (The legislation eventually evolved into the Racial and Religious Hate Act.) The law aimed to curb the Islamophobia that was rampant after the 9/11 terrorist attacks – but Atkinson believed its implications were broader.
“The excuse of this legislation is that some religious communities have been subjected to harassment and a law is needed to address it,” Atkinson said The Guardian at the time. “That in itself is a very good reason, and that is what this amendment we are launching today responds to. But that’s not the real reason behind it [the home secretary’s bill]. “
“The real reason, it seems to me, is that since the publication in 1989 of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic verses, a hard core of religious thought in this country has called for a law to grant immunity to religious beliefs and practices against criticism, adverse analysis or ridicule, ”Atkinson continued, adding:“ The government has prepared a weapon of disproportionate power that can be deployed their name at any time. “
In 2009, Atkinson urged the House of Lords to vote against removing the free speech clause from the Coroners and Justice Bill, a move meant to remove protections against homophobic speech.
Atkinson freely admitted that he did not believe the measure would have led to his own lawsuits, he expressed concern about the broader “culture of censorship” such a move would create. He added that religious groups were “particularly concerned” by the measure. (Try to guess why.)
And most recently, the comedian came under fire last year for opposing the Scottish Government’s Hate Crime Bill. This legislation, like the religious measure, was intended to expand extended protections on the basis of race to cover a wider range of characteristics.
“The fact that the bill does not require intent to be proven in court for certain offenses may have a significant deterrent effect on freedom of expression,” the letter said. “This is why the UN plan in Rabat has six tests on controlling hate speech, including that any law must ensure that intent is proven. This strikes a reasonable balance between protecting individuals from hate crimes and protecting free speech and the bill must be amended to do this properly.
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