Rowan Atkinson says cancel culture is a ‘medieval mob looking for someone to burn’

Online cancel culture is like a "medieval mob looking for someone to burn", Rowan Atkinson has claimed.

The star of Blackadder and Mr Bean has long advocated for free speech and has campaigned against legislation he believes stifles expression.

Atkinson, 65, is fearful of the online practice of silencing unpopular opinions by calling out those who hold them and making them pariahs. He has compared the trend to medieval societies rooting out heretics to burn at the stake.

Rown Atkinson says online cancel culture is equivalent to medieval societies rooting out heretics to burn at the stake.Credit:Quentin Jones

The actor believes this culture of "cancelling" individuals is a threat both to the victims of the online mob and to the future of free speech.

"It's important that we're exposed to a wide spectrum of opinion," Atkinson told the Radio Times. "But what we have now is the digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn."

Beginning in 2005 with a campaign against hate speech laws in the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, Atkinson has publicly opposed legislation thought to dampen freedom of expression.

In 2009 he argued against homophobic hate speech clauses in UK laws; in 2012 against "insulting" behaviour being a criminal offence; and last year he spoke out against the Scottish National Party's Hate Crime Bill over fears it could lead to censorship.

Atkinson has now said that online witch hunts are "scary for anyone who's a victim of that mob". He said: "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. If you're against us, you deserve to be 'cancelled'."

The star added that the popularity of the largely mute Mr Bean may be down to the character being verbally unable to offend those with "greater sensitivities", and said this could explain his success in "Muslim countries" and places with "stricter creative regimes".

Despite the huge popularity of Mr Bean, Atkinson has decided not to have an online presence, saying that social media is "a sideshow in my world".

The actor has followed his former Blackadder co-star Tony Robinson, who played Baldrick, in criticising cancel culture.

Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean.

Robinson told The Daily Telegraph last year that calling out and censoring unpopular opinions "is walking the path of the devil".

The actor and presenter said he was passionate about free speech, adding: "It defends our liberty, and I'm very unhappy with the idea that, just because someone is offended by what I say, I shouldn't be allowed to say it."

The concerns follow a year in which figures such as J.K. Rowling were vilified over views on transgender issues, and the Black Lives Matter movement prompted scrutiny of historical legacies linked to racism and slavery.

The Telegraph, UK

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