Rowan Atkinson’s “Mr. Bean” character mostly murmurs, relying on facial expressions and physical comedy to get the laugh.
The real Rowan Atkinson, however, is not afraid to speak. And he is once again using his voice to speak out against cancel culture.
“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,” he said during a recent interview with the United Kingdom’s Radio Times. “So it is scary for anyone who’s a victim of that mob, and it fills me with fear about the future.”
The British actor, who also played the title role in the satirical “Johnny English” spy movies, said that the way the internet currently works is making the situation worse.
“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 canceled.”
This is not the first time Atkinson has spoken up about this issue; in 2012 he argued against British laws that restrict free speech, saying that people must have “the right to insult or offend.”
“My starting point when it comes to the consideration of any issue related to free speech is my passionate believe that the most precious thing in life is right to express yourself freely. The most precious thing in life I think is food in your mouth, and the third most precious is a roof over your head. But a fixture for me in the number two slot is free expression, just below the need to sustain life itself,” Atkinson said. “That is because I have enjoyed free expression in this country all my professional life and I fully expect to continue to do so. Personally, I suspect, [I’m] highly unlikely to be arrested for whatever laws exist to contain free expression because of the undoubtedly privileged position that is afforded to those of a high public profile. So my concerns are less for myself and more for those more vulnerable because of their lower profile.”
Rowan Atkinson nails it: Defeating cancel culture is about protecting those who are at risk of losing their job or having their business or livelihood destroyed by an internet mob, with no way to defend themselves. It is about making sure people are not cowed into silence for fear of possibly saying something wrong. It is impossible to know in advance in all situations what will offend someone, so freedom of speech is the freedom to express ideas; it is the freedom to think.