I see myself as an old soul. I have realized very recently that I’m not as up to date on trends as I should be. You see, I was feeling pretty good about myself because I recently discovered what a VSCO girl was. I read multiple articles, took the Buzzfeed quiz and I even have the scrunchie to prove it.
But it seems I have missed a pretty big one: Cancel Culture.
I discovered this through a large chaotic group chat I’m in. Multiple people kept saying that this was “cancelled” and that was “cancelled.” My interest was piqued.
The first logical step for me was to take a Buzzfeed quiz. The quiz I took is called “Would Twitter Cancel You If You Were A Celebrity?”. The quiz asked me questions such as “What would you be famous for?,” “Are you friends with anyone who is problematic?” and “Have you deleted tweets before?”
In my case, Twitter would cancel me. Maybe because I have never deleted my tweets before and I’m not sure if any of my friends qualify as problematic.
But how can I be cancelled? When I think of things I’ve cancelled, they usually involve a monthly subscription, a debit card or a reservation at a restaurant. I never thought a person could be cancelled.
An article written by Logan Mahan in August helpfully explained that the terms Call-out Culture and Cancel Culture are similar. Call-out culture is when people call out people for their controversial behavior.
Cancel Culture is similar in that it involves addressing poor behavior, but takes it a step further by boycotting them to the point where their career experiences setbacks. Said questionable behavior is usually brought up from the person’s past mistakes in the form of old tweets, photos, videos, ect. of that person being offensive in some way.
It is important to consider how we transfer content in today’s society. Usually, when someone creates, they show an audience, and that audience can provide evaluative feedback that will either benefit or hurt the artist.
With social media and the internet, this process is more direct. Giving audiences the ability to assess the quality of certain content so easily gives audiences more power.
For example, Michael Blackmon reported that the Sonic the HedgeHog movie character design was heavily criticized through memes and tweets. The direct feedback encouraged the director, Jeff Fowler, to delay the release of the film so that he could appease his audience.
“Taking a little more time to make Sonic just right,” Fowler said Friday, May 24, 2019 in a tweet.
This is the same situation with Cancel Culture. Through technology, we as an audience are powerful and able to band together to call out public figures for their actions. Social media bridges the gap between everyday consumers and sought-after celebrities.
Cancelling someone isn’t new, however. It just has a new name.
An article written by Sarah Murphy in 2019 reports that in March 2003, the Dixie Chicks were heavily criticized for their comments about then president George W. Bush. “Radio stations subsequently banned Dixie Chicks’ music and former fans publicly bulldozed CDs,” explains Murphy. One might say they were “cancelled.” The Dixie Chicks incident is similar to the cancellation of current celebrities because cancel culture is so connected to mob mentality.
Large groups of people identifying a scapegoat for larger issues echoes the mindlessness of a large angry mob. The loudest person points their finger at what they believe is the problem and the rest follow. Add the anonymity that comes with social media, and logical thinking may be thrown to the wayside in favor of emotionally driven thinking.
So, is “Cancel Culture” a good or a bad thing? I say yes to both.
“I think it’s good in the sense that it shows we’re becoming more aware of social issues, and that we’re starting to hold people more accountable for their words and actions,” Emily Wills, a junior philosophy major said. “But I do think there’s a downside with the way people have been using it to bash people instead of educate them. What could be a really effective way of holding people accountable and teaching them how to be better has become an excuse to be kind of mean.”
Junior political science major Rachel Hagan expressed similar sentiments. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing. Oftentimes, people make snap judgments about people and cancel them. It makes it super hard if it turns out that the judgement was wrong,” she said. “It also doesn’t give the person a chance to have a change of heart and apologize. But it can also be good in terms of stopping support for people who sexually assault women or treat others badly to get where they are.”
Cancel Culture is a good thing because communication about social issues and problematic behavior matters. Comedians, for example, are being held accountable for every joke they make, when before they reserved the right to make vulgar material.
Leah Asmelash, in an article written last month, discusses how Shane Gillis was fired from “Saturday Night Live” for racist jokes he made in the past. Asmelash addresses those in opposition to Gills’ firing, such as comedian Jim Jefferies, and those in support of his firing, such as author Mark Harris to show how opinions vary when it comes to comedy’s boundaries.
Redefining what is acceptable in comedy restricts creativity, but should they get away with problematic behavior just because they finish it with “just kidding”? Is a comedian doing their job if they alienate part of their audience or make someone feel unsafe in some way?
To hold people liable for their actions seems like a good thing, but tapping into this ability holds great power. When people are presented with power, they use it how they see fit, and this can be used to hurt as well as eradicate wrong behavior. It seems people are getting cancelled all the time now, and the reasons can be for legitimate flaws in character, or bored people on the internet. This can be dangerous.
There is a tendency to dismiss people when they do something wrong because it gives us moral satisfaction. This person did a bad thing so they should be punished in a way that will matter to them. For celebrities, this is affecting their fanbase and livelihood by deeming their creative contributions unwanted.
And maybe this is called for in situations where that celebrity is the leader of an organization who is harassing their employees or using their influence in a volatile way. That person needs to be cut off from their platform because it is negatively affecting the wellbeing of many, and creates a society that is complacent in the face of discrimination and harassment.
Yet, cancellation may not be the answer in cases where an individual makes a controversial claim in their past. Or their present, for that matter. When people make controversial and surface level statements it may come from a place of ignorance. Cancelling someone for being ignorant on a topic takes away the possibility for redemption and growth.
Cancel culture has the ability to do good and bad, so realizing the nuances of that power is important. The next step is to find the balance between normalizing hate and attacking people before seeing the entire picture.
People shouldn’t be defined by one moment, and we prolong their character issue by cancelling them before they have a chance to better themselves.