Lawn darts and today's cancel culture: an illustration
I am starting to become quite perplexed by the cancel-culture phenomenon. It doesn't make sense to me why so many Americans are willing to erase important historical figures from public memory simply because they made some mistakes or held viewpoints that are antithetical to contemporary sensitivities. Cultural mores, corporate perspectives, and social ideals change over time, and we are on dangerous ground when we categorically and ruthlessly apply modern standards to the past. What is more, if we cancel (i.e., forget) our past and its players--as condemnable as they may be--we are, as George Santayana intimated, likely to repeat their foibles.
Allow me to explain further by way of illustration. When I was a little boy, we enjoyed playing a popular game called "lawn darts." Many of you are feeling the pangs of nostalgia right now, aren't you? The object of the game--as my fellow lawn-dart All-Americans know--was to launch large, blunt-tipped darts into the air and try to stick them inside a ring on the ground some 20-30 yards away. It was a fun game that could occupy friends and family for hours, much like corn hole or horse shoes.
My friends and I, however, invented an alternate game around these projectiles--one much more suited for 11 and 12 year-olds searching for adventure in the seemingly lusterless void of late 20th-century rural Virginia. We called it "lawn dodge." Our game was simple: arc the darts as high into the air as possible and see if you could hit the Hunger-Gamesesque defender whilst he ran through the yard, ducking and dodging behind and under trees and other overhead obstacles. Although I don't remember ever getting hit or hitting anyone else, it wasn't for lack of trying. Unfortunately, several kids in the 1970s and 1980s were seriously injured by these "killer" darts and, eventually, they were taken off the marked.
Can you believe my parents allowed us to play with these "toys"? They must have been horrible caretakers, and they surely hated my friends and me, right? Well, I don't think so! I mean, they seemed to love me dearly, and they always treated my friends kindly, offering them plenty of soda and sandwiches on hot summer days. As for the lawn darts...well...they were part of our culture at that time, and no one gave them a second thought. My parents simply laughed as my friends and I ran zig-zag patterns through the yard, screaming bloody murder, and sliding at the last minute under a swing set or oak tree as the lawn dart impacted with its characteristic ferocity. Ah...the good ol' days!
So, should I cancel my parents? Obviously! They were reckless fools who deserve to be forgotten in the annals of family history--whose actions should earn them a place beyond the margins of memory so as to assuage the consciences of those parents today who wisely discern the insanity of lawn-dart battles and other forms of youthful sadomasochism. All the photos of my parents should be removed from my fireplace mantle, their names wiped from my phone, and my name stricken from their last will and testament...wait, no, I'll keep my name in the will.
If this sounds a bit insane, then you are probably among the prudent. Sure, my parents didn't demonstrate the height of wisdom by allowing us to play with such dangerous pseudo-weapons, but it simply didn't occur to them that these blunt-force-trauma-makers could be so dangerous. You see, they were from the generation of drag-car racing, tree climbing, war fighting, corn-picker operating, hog chasing, hose-water drinking, pond-ice skating, arm-bone breaking, back-truck riding, and river-hole swimming. Danger was a way of life for them. So watching their kids sling "harmless" metal-tipped, plastic darts at one another...well, that wasn't so bad.
All the same, I would never allow my children to play lawn dodge. We've learned over the past 40 years that such games are far too risky. But I don't fault my parents for their decision to give us a little impolitic license. They grew up in a different time, had different standards of danger, and hadn't considered fully the ramifications of a gargantuan dart falling from 50 feet in the air. I chalk their folly up to the growth and maturation processes. Sometimes it takes time for wisdom to materialize within the human experience...sometimes we must grow into Truth, love, and sagacity. Does this mean my parents were "right"? No. But it certainly doesn't mean they are evil and deserving of cancellation. They are my parents, and no matter how many mistakes they've made, they are still my parents, they are still a part of my history, and they remain a part of who I am. To cancel them is to cancel myself and ultimately to ignore the truths and anti-truths they've taught me. And, chances are, if I too hastily write them off and, thus, forget them, I will probably go back to throwing lawn darts.