Rowan Atkinson: Cancel culture is like ‘medieval mob looking for someone to burn’

Rowan Atkinson has cautioned against so-called “cancel culture”, describing it as the “digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn”.

The actor made the comments in an interview with the Radio Times, in which he also revealed he does not enjoy playing his much loved creation, Mr Bean, and spoke about the possibility of revisiting Blackadder.

“Cancel culture” refers to the removal of support, including the boycott of someone, usually a celebrity or public figure, who has expressed an opinion that is perceived to be offensive.

British actor Rowan Atkinson, dressed as Mr Bean, sits on top of a Mini Cooper outside Buckingham Palace, London, to promote the 25th anniversary of Mr Bean, London, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP)
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The actor celebrated the 25th anniversary of Mr Bean in 2015

Speaking about the issue, the star, who is also a free speech campaigner, told the publication it filled him “with fear about the future”.

“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,” he said.

“It becomes a case of either you’re with us or against us. And if you’re against us, you deserve to be ‘cancelled’.

“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’s comments come after more than 150 writers and academics signed an open letter denouncing cancel culture last year.

These included Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood and JK Rowling, who received criticism after taking issue with the phrasing for an article about healthcare equality, titled Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.

Rowling vehemently denies she is transphobic and wrote a lengthy blog statement on her stance on gender identity following the backlash to her tweet.

In his interview, Atkinson also spoke about Mr Bean, saying he finds playing the childish character “stressful and exhausting”.

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An animated film is in the pipeline, he said, as “it’s easier for me to perform the character vocally than visually”.

He then added: “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.

“I don’t actually like the process of making anything – with the possible exception of Blackadder, because the responsibility for making that series funny was on many shoulders, not just mine.”

A return for Blackadder is “certainly not impossible,” Atkinson said, but added: “That’s about as optimistic as I can be, and I’d rather not speculate on when it could be set.

“But Blackadder represented the creative energy we all had in the ’80s. To try to replicate that 30 years on wouldn’t be easy.”

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