As if this year wasn’t already enough of a mess, this week brought a new shock, one that was of particular relevance to me, as a big fan of American Ninja Warrior, and someone actively training for Ninja Israel (and maybe one day American Ninja Warrior too).
To sum things up very quickly, Drew Drechsel, a legend among fans of the show, and the winner of season 11 of the show, and only the second person to win the million dollar prize, was arrested on child sex crime charges. The FBI file on the case has been released to the public, and while he is innocent until proven guilty, the evidence seems pretty damning, and he should be condemned for his actions if he is indeed guilty.
I did consider myself a fan of his, and I traveled to his Connecticut gym twice last summer, and got to chat with him, got a picture taken with him. He seemed like a solid dude, but I didn’t know him personally, and you rarely know someone fully. It’s a goddamn mess, both for fans, and competitors, and for the show itself.
But I’m not really here to talk about the case; the time for a full postmortem will be after he’s had his day in court (his lawyer indicated he’ll be pleading Not Guilty, so we’ll see what happens.
What I am talking about, however, is the (extremely rapid) purging of him from nearly everywhere, an outgrowth of Cancel Culture that I’d like to term Purge Culture. The term cancel Culture is more accurately applied to the drive by people to ruin someone for one reason or another (get them fired, deplatformed, etc.) Purge Culture better suits this concurrent drive to remove everything the alleged or confirmed bad person accomplished, or created, from existence.
In Drechsel’s case, within a day or so of his arrest, his name and “Real Life Ninja” nickname have been removed from the gyms he had owned, and they have officially declared they no longer have anything to do with him. The official American Ninja Warrior youtube channel has removed every single video featuring him, and in their announcement about the incident, it’s implies they he will be edited out of the upcoming special season, which completed filming just two weeks ago. (Additionally, the last few season of the show appear to have been removed, for now, from official streaming services, and I’ll bet you that when they show up again, he’ll be removed.) His social media pages have all been removed as well, though that might be upon legal request due to the pending charges.)
I understand the desire of both the show and fans to not want to have to see him again, and that they don’t want him to benefit, even only slightly, from videos of his accomplishments being easily accessible.
There is also a matter of the historical record, and the integrity of the sport. Are they going to censor out any mention of his name in season 12, pretend he’s not there at all? Are they going to try and pretend he never won the show, never existed? Moreover, do they have a right to tell me I can’t watch those runs any more? No matter what he did, there is still value to those achievements that aren’t linked to him directly. They can be useful watching for those training themselves, and it provides proper historiography for the sport’s history. You can’t just pretend he didn’t win in all last season, or that he wasn’t the last ninja standing at least once or twice before that. Acknowledging that needs to be part of the separation and healing process for the sport, its competitors, and its fans.
This same issue applies to other athletes accused or convicted of awful crimes, as well as to writers, musicians, actors, and anyone who either created or achieved something noteworthy.
By now means should one ignore their crimes, and you absolutely have the right to endeavor to make sure they can’t benefit from that, both monetarily and fame-wise. However, as I mentioned above, there is the historical record to consider. Just like the idea of deleting Wagner’s music from history because of his political affiliations makes no sense, so too trying to erase one’s a ability to see an athlete’s accomplishments on account of his (alleged) crimes makes no sense either.
What will happen in the (admittedly unlikely) event that Drechsel is cleared? We all know his life is probably over regardless, but will people then walk back on not wanting people to see him? Probably not.
Also remember, if they can do this so quickly and efficiently (I even believe many videos of him posted on youtube are blocked in the US now) to a well known individual, so too can they do it to you.
As I indicated above, I’m not pretending this is an easy issue to deal with, especially when it comes to the show & company that he was, for all intents and purposes, the face of. But this kneejerk move to not only cancel people, but to try and erase any evidence of their work, accomplishments, even existence, is extremely troubling and needs to be part of the conversation.
Purging everything is not the answer, no matter awful the crimes, alleged or confirmed, someone committed, no matter how “problematic” something is.
We’ve recently seen calls to cancel classic movies like Gone With the Wind, and it was removed from streaming. Just a day or two ago, the once great Rooster Teeth announced that they’re going to “evaluate” their old (far superior) content, and may delete some “problematic” videos. All the more reason to be sure to save anything you enjoy in a format & on a platform not easily taken from you.
You can rest assured that I will never cancel or purge myself, and I am doing my best to spread my presence out so that it will be hard for anyone so inclined to get rid of me for political reasons.
The best way, however, to ensure that someone is difficult to cancel or purge is to help support & spread their work.
The first 6 books in my Galaxy Ascendant series are available now, and the 7th is coming soon. I’ve got a couple other things out, and soon I’ll be launching a campaign for my next series, Light Unto Another World, which will approach this ongoing culture war from a very different, but just as awesome direction.