What is cancel culture?
Cancel culture is the phenomenon of promoting the “canceling” of people, brands and even shows and movies due to what some consider to be offensive or problematic remarks or ideas. Cancel culture became more socially acceptable in 2017 when the idea of canceling celebrities for problematic actions or statements became popular.
Dr. Jill McCorkel, a professor of sociology and criminology at Villanova University, told the New York Post in an interview that the roots of cancel culture have been present throughout human history. Societies have punished people for behaving outside of perceived social norms for centuries, and this is just another variation.
“Cancel culture is an extension of or a contemporary evolution of a much bolder set of social processes that we can see in the form of banishment,” McCorkel said. “They are designed to reinforce the set of norms.”
Over the last few years, the social-media trend has gained momentum under the trendy new name placing celebrities, companies and media under a microscope of political correctness.
To be cancelled means being shunned from the same society that saw you to be insensitive. Cancel culture ruins careers. It ruins peoples images. For those who have already been cancelled, it’s something they are finding very hard to get out of.
The pros to cancel culture:
On one hand, cancel culture allows people to seek accountability where the justice system fails. When the #MeToo movement first started, survivors demanded justice by exposing their perpetrators by sharing their names publicly. Now it’s used to justify more than just sexual assault. The list includes addressing those who’ve been racist, homophobic or just generally insensitive to the greater society.
Cancel culture gives a voice to less powerful people. Osita Nwanevu, MPP, Staff Writer at The New Republic, states, “The critics of cancel culture are plainly threatened not by a new and uniquely powerful kind of public criticism but by a new set of critics: young progressives, including many minorities and women who, largely through social media, have obtained a seat at the table where matters of justice and etiquette are debated and are banging it loudly to make up for lost time.”
Not everyone has access to legislators or other powerful people, but everyone can sign up for a social media account. Canceling is a way to acknowledge that you don’t have to have the power to change structural inequality. You don’t even have to have the power to change all of public sentiment. But as an individual, you can still have power through social media.
At least 800 big brands like Coca-Cola, Unilever, and Ford are using cancel culture to boycott Facebook advertising due to the platform’s refusal to censor the speech of organizations deemed “hate groups.”
The cons to cancel culture:
On the other hand, cancel culture is a road that leads to intolerance in society as people systematically exclude anyone who disagrees with their views. Instead of canceling people, we should be encouraging more people to tell their stories, to add inclusivity and complexity.
Cancel culture turns into online bullying, and can incite violence and threats that are worse than the original offense being called out. Sam Biddle, the journalist who retweeted Justine Sacco’s joke about AIDS that resulted in her firing while on a plane to South Africa, later regretted his actions and their results, stating, “it’s easy and thrilling to hate a stranger online.”
People who engage in the cancel culture often want to criticize without listening or understanding why someone said something, and then trying to change the minds of those they disagree with.
A consequence may be that some members of the canceling group join in for fear of being canceled themselves. People should be able to speak out or remain silent on the issues without the fear of being canceled.
Even though I don’t participate in cancel culture, I see both sides of it. I don’t believe that by cancelling someone or something we are getting rid of the problem that society sees as unacceptable.
No matter who or what we cancel those issues will still be there. Instead of cancelling someone why don’t we take the time to provide that person with resources and educate them on the issue? People make mistakes and they should be able to take accountability for their actions and grow from them.
The only way there will be change is if we take the time to educate each other. That doesn’t mean I agree with everyone’s actions, but I don’t think it’s beneficial to completely cancel someone when the pain and the issue are still there even after the cancellation.