We’re only five days into 2021 and the news cycle has already reached a certain level of repetitiveness: After one man loosely associated to beans actively chose to spout utter garbage on Twitter for no discernable reason, another Mr. Bean—character actor Rowan Atkinson—proved that he, too, could shirk silence against his better judgment. In an interview with U.K. outlet Radio Times (as reported by Variety), Atkinson turned what could have been a fairly productive conversation about toxic pockets of online culture into more commentary on long-fabled “cancel culture”: “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. It becomes a case of either you’re with us or against us. And if you’re against us, you deserve to be ‘canceled.’”
He continues: “It’s important that we’re exposed to a wide spectrum of opinion, but what we have now is the digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn. So it is scary for anyone who’s a victim of that mob and it fills me with fear about the future.”
Atkinson, to his credit, doesn’t cite any specific examples of this recent “mob-ish” behavior. (Though the neverending, transphobic saga of J.K. Rowling is certainly the easiest to access here.) Still, he joins a chorus of privileged public figures who have felt a need to speak out against this maligned “cancel culture”—which tends to actually consist of marginalized communities speaking out against sustained, systemic abuse while having their words mischaracterized as a “witch hunt,” dreaded “cancellation,” or whatever buzzy labels detractors think up to distract from the core issues at hand. Back in July, Harper’s Magazine published an open letter titled “A Letter On Justice And Open Debate,” which claimed that “the free exchange of information and ideas” was being categorically threatened by public shaming. It was signed by 153 major figures in media and academia, including Noam Chomsky, Gloria Steinem, and, unsurprisingly, Rowling.
Atkinson’s questionable take unfortunately ended up overshadowing genuinely interesting insight on his lengthy career, including his displeasure in playing Mr. Bean (“I don’t much enjoy playing him. The weight of responsibility is not pleasant. I find it stressful and exhausting, and I look forward to the end of it”). Ironically, he also hinted towards the development of an upcoming Mr. Bean animated film, explaining that performing the character from a vocal standpoint is far easier than playing him physically.