Ted Lasso, Cancel Culture, and the New Persecution
In the third episode of the second season of the 20-time Emmy-nominated Apple TV comedy series, “Ted Lasso,” we see a unique insight into cancel culture.
For those who haven’t seen the show yet, the main character is Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), who is an American football coach recruited to coach an English Premier League soccer team, AFC Richmond.
With no experience coaching soccer, only football, he focuses his coaching efforts on team-building, culture-building, and non-traditional tactics to build the franchise into a winning team.
The show is hilarious and fun to watch—as much fun as watching Dave Barnes crack jokes with a similar sense of humor.
“Ted Lasso” is like “The Office” (UK version) meets “The Office” (US version)—but without the awkward. Its scripts are witty, the storytelling brilliant, and the depth surprisingly resonant.
My favorite aspect of this series, beyond Ted Lasso’s hilarious character, is the writers’ ability to take the audience from highs to lows so quickly. You can easily see how the series is dynamic, playful, and engaging.
If you can get past the language and occasional inappropriate sexual reference or suggestion (it hasn’t gotten explicit yet), you just might find the show to be your next favorite binge-worthy show.
Cancel Culture in “Ted Lasso”
What I found profound and interesting in this episode called “Do the Right-est Thing,” was their interweaving and indirect commentary on cancel culture.
This season, which debuted in July 2021, is one of the first series to be able to offer commentary on cancel culture as it does because it was produced in January 2021.
The producers integrate two forms of cancel culture into one episode, and I believe these two forms give us a unique insight into the future of persecution as disciples of Jesus consider what our culture could look like in the coming years.
Scene #1: Cancel Culture and a Doll Store
The first scene featuring cancel culture happens in a nonchalant context.
AFC Richmond’s team owner, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), is taking care of her 13-year-old goddaughter, Nora (Kiki May), for a few days, trying to find ways to entertain her. The last time they had spent time together was when Nora was six years old, and Rebecca struggles to find activities that are more age-appropriate.
Nora is too “mature” now to enjoy the princess tea shop and the doll store to which Rebecca takes her.
Each doll comes with a background story, as if they were real historical figures. They window-shop as Rebecca comments to Nora on how grotesque the background stories are of the UK dolls. Apparently, viewers gather from the dialogue, all their parents had died tragically in one way or another. Rebecca and Nora move on and choose not to buy a doll.
Before they have the chance to walk away, however, Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) walks out of the store with his niece, who had indeed bought a doll, one named “Zoe.”
The pairs of babysitters and girls continue down the street together, as Nora asks the other girl about her doll:
“So how did her parents die? Factory fire? Eaten by rats?”
“No. Zoe’s from the modern line,” the other girl responds. “Her parents were canceled.”
Watching this scene is funny, of course, but profound as well. It reveals a profound cultural reality afoot today.
This scene confirms a suspicion I’ve had about what persecution might look like for Christians in the West. Here’s what I conclude:
Being canceled is equivalent to death.
The “old” line of dolls’ parents had died—that was their story—but the modern line dolls’ parents, at least in Zoe’s case, were canceled. One a literal death, the other a sort of soul-death by cancellation.
Cancel Culture as Death
Ever since I watched Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing, in which he defended himself against Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations of sexual assault, I’ve thought about the effect of cancellation on one’s soul.
For Kavanaugh, his cancellation was the destruction of his reputation.
Kavanaugh was, I believe, rightly determined innocent, but his reputation was forever tarnished for those unwilling to side with the committee’s decision of his innocence.
He wasn’t canceled in the same way as others have been canceled exactly, but he suffered his own cancellation nevertheless.
In fact, Kavanaugh himself said, “My family and my name have been totally and permanently destroyed.”
I believe cancel culture has introduced a new form of death into our society: death of reputation.
In a digital age such as ours, to harm one’s reputation—digital or otherwise—can have massive implications on our finances, job opportunities, and relationships. It’s only been possible since the explosive growth of the internet and social media. Even if the harm to our reputation is unfounded, false, or malicious, it can still tarnish the perception of who we are.
Cancel culture is a new form of crucifixion.
It may not be physical like crucifixion, but it’s still a form of death.
The New Persecution
I recently watched an Eric Metaxas interview from July 2021 on the “Hold the Line” podcast with Sean Feucht. During the interview, Metaxas draws parallels between our current cultural moment and Nazi Germany before the Holocaust.
He says for Christians now is the time to take action because if we sit by, it’ll be too late.
Too late for what? I asked myself as I watched.
Are we going to be murdered like the millions of Jews were by the Nazis?
Perhaps. But that’s not likely anytime soon. I find the sort of outright murdering implausible in the West because of our technological advances and means of instant communication.
But cancel culture offers another form of death that can have dire consequences, like a physical death.
While I’m still processing the veracity of Metaxas’s words to the church today, I do think that if his instincts are right—that a massive onslaught of human life is coming if we don’t act now—the onslaught will come in a newer form than what it did in the Holocaust and other genocides.
It wasn’t Christians at the time, but you get the point.
My suspicion is that the new persecution for Christians, if I may call it that, for those in the West will come in the form of cancel culture, not in cold-blooded murder.
It will still be death, but it will be death in modern form: death to the soul, death to the bank account, death to the 501(c)3 status—death to one’s reputation, social status, and rights.
Persecution for Christians will likely not mean being burned at the stake or hung on a cross for most Western Christians. It will mean defamation and exclusion, both of which will carry major social, economic, and personal implications for us.
It will be the modern equivalent of death.
And the cultural commentary of “Ted Lasso” during the scene outside the doll store confirms my suspicion. I had never heard anyone—let alone characters in a comedy series—equate death with cancel culture until that moment.
Scene #2: Protest and Cancel Culture
The theme of cancel culture appears again in the episode, but this time in the form of protest at an athletic event.
Keeley (Juno Temple) helps Sam (Toheeb Jimoh), a Nigerian soccer player for AFC Richmond, get his photo on the front cover of Dubai Air’s magazine as a part of the team’s publicity efforts.
Unfortunately, however, Sam’s father is upset because Dubai Air’s parent company, Cerithium Oil, has wreaked havoc on the people of Nigeria (both companies are fictional).
So Sam cancels his ad placement with Dubai Air and removes himself from association with the corporation due to its corrupt practices.
This was a huge risk for him and the team because Dubai Air is AFC Richmond’s major sponsor. To cancel them could mean financial dire straits for the franchise.
Surprisingly, the team’s owner, Rebecca, supports Sam’s decision and essentially joins him by keeping him on the team (instead of letting him go, as Dubai Air’s CEO requested).
But the cancelation doesn’t stop there.
Sam indirectly influences the whole team to protest Dubai Air by placing black tape over the Dubai Air logo on the front of their jerseys. In a dramatic moment at the beginning of the soccer game, they all reveal their cancelation of Dubai Air. The photographers go wild—headline news.
The show’s agenda is clear: protests by athletes are good and should be praised.
Then, it moves from a mere corporate crime to a corporate collusion with the government. In the post-game press conference, Trent Crimm (James Lance) from The Independent asks, “Sam, are you openly accusing the Nigerian government of corruption?”
Sam says, “Yes, I am.”
The details of the collusion aren’t spelled out clearly, but the injustice of Cerithium Oil was that they had neglected people for profit by not cleaning up an oil spill off the coast of Nigeria. Somehow the Nigerian government was involved in this crime.
Company and country—canceled.
Cancel Culture: Justification to Stick it to the Man
In the background of this athletic protest, the team owner Rebecca also “sticks it to the Man” at every turn.
With the direct input of her 13-year-old goddaughter, Nora—who literally takes Rebecca’s seat as boss at a certain point in the episode—Rebecca joins the protest by sending a pointed email with the signature, “Boss A** B****.”
They laugh as the email is sent to Dubai Air’s CEO, declaring Sam will not be dismissed from the team.
Then, when the CEO calls Rebecca’s cell phone upon seeing his company being canceled on national television at the soccer game, she cancels his phone call, too.
Big tech and big government at the center stage of cancelation.
So we see on the one hand social commentary of being canceled—the doll’s parents were canceled—but we also see the justification of actively canceling others.
How are disciples of Jesus to respond?
While I answer this question more fully in my new book with Jim Putman, “The Revolutionary Disciple,” let me say this here: we are seeing the rejection of authority as generational cultures collide in an unprecedented way in recent history.
Younger generations, represented by Nora in this episode, are all about protesting authorities. I agree we should protest abuse of power in the right way and through the right means. But to cancel others?
Confrontation, not cancellation, is the path I choose to take.
In the United States of America, we’re fortunate to have a legal system to rightly confront abuses of power, and we should confront them when we can.
Canceling, however, is different.
People who cancel through protest often don’t have the full story, and their protests themselves should often be contested by more information and the benefit of the doubt—not to mention grace for others’ misgivings.
So while I think we should fight injustice, stand up for the marginalized, and even fight against abuses of power, cancel culture and protests, as we’re seeing them, are not the way toward peace.
In fact, cancel culture is the way toward division, not peace.
But we need more than peace—we need to advocate for reconciliation, too, when possible.
In the end, I find it eerie that in the very same episode we find canceling someone as equivalent to death, we also see a justification of cancel culture in the form of protest.
The Coming Persecution
So I believe the cultural commentary of “Ted Lasso” helps us see clearly and in real time what coming persecution could look like.
To me, the new persecution will not come through concentration camps, but through cancelation. And that cancelation will be like death.
That is becoming clear to me.
But what’s not clear to me is how the church will respond.
While there’s a place to stand up, to fight, and to speak out, I personally believe there’s another side to the story for disciples of Jesus who look to Christian history and biblical precedent: of lying down and dying.
Death is the fate of so many martyrs of the past and present, so what will ultimately keep us from so frightful a fate?
While speaking up, especially in a democratic country, has its place, we can only do so much. At some point, those who oppose Christians can and will still kill us because they follow a different god. They follow the “ruler of the kingdom of the air,” who always seeks to “steal and kill and destroy” (Eph. 2:2; John 10:10, NIV).
Death comes in many forms for those who follow that ruler.
As scholar Shane Wood notes, two forms of persecution are in the book of Revelation:
- Social persecution
- Physical persecution
In physical persecution, Christians are tortured or killed.
In social persecution, Christians are simply canceled: we’re uninvited, fired, or kicked out of a group or event or job, to name a few forms.
Which is the most common in Revelation? Wood says it’s social persecution.
While Christians all around the world today face physical persecution, Christians in the West will begin to feel pain in our own way in the coming years.
Our future as disciples will involve cancellation in one form of another. That is clear, as even a TV show demonstrates.
The remaining question is this. When fighting is of no use, are we willing to follow Jesus even to the grave?
For more from Chad, check out himpublications.com.