Spawned in part from the progressive political correctness movement, cancel culture has become so broadly disfavored that even left-wing Hollywood elites are taking turns trashing it.
During a July 5 episode of the podcast "Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend," former late-night host Conan O'Brien and actor Sean Penn agreed that the practice of collectively ostracizing people and destroying their careers over past politically incorrect statements is worrisome.
"Empathy is a very important word and also forgiveness," O'Brien noted. "This whole concept of cancel culture is ... We found that someone did something in 1979 that is now not appropriate. They're dead to us."
"It's ludicrous," Penn, famous for starring in hit movies such as "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Mystic River," said.
"People can also be forgiven — if they even need forgiving. What happened to that?" O'Brien continued, adding, "It feels very Soviet sometimes."
At that point, Penn made reference to Alexi McCammond, the 27-year-old reporter who was pushed out of her role as editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue earlier this year after staff members unearthed and condemned offensive tweets about Asian people she posted as a teenager.
"When we're destroying careers like that, what are we really achieving?" Penn asked. "Or you look at politicians ... I give a big nod to anyone that's willing to enter the public arena who is doing so because they give a damn."
Sean Penn · Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend youtu.be
The conversation started with O'Brien heaping praise on Penn for his portrayal of San Francisco politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk in the 2008 film "Milk." But Penn noted that a straight man portraying a gay character is likely not something that would be permitted in today's society.
"It brings up an interesting point," the actor said. "Another one I think a lot about these days. Today, almost certainly I would not be permitted to be cast in that role. We're living in a time when, if you're playing a gay lead character, you'd have to be a gay man, or a trans character. And there have been these casting issues."
He added: "When you have a period of evolution that certainly may [provide] an opportunity for people who have had less opportunities to move forward, that has to be supported. And yet in this pendulum swing society that we're in, you wonder at some point if only Danish Princes can play Hamlet. It is, I believe, too restrictive. People are looking for gotcha moments and to criticize."
While O'Brien's resistance to cancel culture may not be that surprising — comedians often make a living by telling controversial jokes — Penn's certainly is. The actor was quite literally a friend of communist strongman former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
It's fair to wonder if Penn bristled at O'Brien's description of cancel culture as "Soviet."
The actor also practiced his own version of public shaming not so long ago, when he attempted — but failed — to call out evangelical Christians.