Cancel culture refers to the practice of withdrawing support for public figures and companies after they have done or said something offensive,it is a rather new phenomenon that is often encountered on many online social platforms. We could call it a modern-day trial, but the only issue is:who is really the “judge” here and to what extent does it actually help raise an issue?
Let’s start with the fact that this subject is highly criticized; some people call it a way to hold awareness and not be indifferent to social problems, others think of it as a way to give online haters more voice and freedom because usually their comments are not constructive.
Condemnation and criticism have been part of our society throughout history, and we can observe that usually there was a tendency of cancelling minority groups or individuals that were of different ideas and beliefs, public shaming was a way to punish those that were deviating from social norms.
What is truly interesting is the fact that this cancel culture has its origins even before social media existed. For example, in the times of the Cold War blacklists were made to forbid certain industries to hire people that were supporters of the communist ideology. Even Hollywood had its own blacklist, which included, for example, the well known Charlie Chaplin.
Nowadays we are talking about a digital world with new social norms and all the steps we make online are being seen by a global audience. A very famous example of cancel culture online was the case of J.K Rowling. The notable Harry Potter author was herself the target of this phenomenon, after her comments on transgender identity caused a wave of criticism from trans activists. Of course, when she made this comment she was already at the peak of her career, meaning that she didn’t have lots to lose, but what would have happened if she had published the same tweet when she was just at the beginning of her career? Would that have been the end of Harry Potter?
And I think this is what is truly important to understand, the severity of how hard can the action of cancelling “hit” a person, especially if that person is just at the beginning of their path.
Another interesting point is that online outrage can move from the online world to the real one. As an example, we could give the Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police.
The positive side of the cancel culture is raising awareness of social issues that for quite a while have been unknown to the public and also condemn those that were responsible for them. In these past years many powerful Hollywood producers, white supremacists and corporations have experienced their downfall. But sometimes it can also affect regular people, sometimes it can qualify as cyberbullying. So how much is too much?
As I mentioned before, public shaming is not new to anyone, but because nowadays we can do it online it becomes a very easy process: you open an app, leave a bad comment, others that share your way of thinking like your comment or even add a further one and the targeted person on whom you left a negative remark is getting more and more attacked. This is also because the online world is unconstrained by geographical space, because of this we are not talking about a group of people that are part of the same society, but about people from all over the world being able to express themselves with very few restrictions. This is why negative information circulates so fast online, and the same goes for fake news.
Sometimes cancel culture turns into pure bullying. Looking into the feed history of many people we can find posts where their comments were hurtful or they were being unaware of some topics, but we need to understand that humans make mistakes, especially at a young age. This is the real issue of cancelling, it doesn’t give us the chance to say sorry and understand our mistakes. If a person is conscious of the mistake he or she did and is changing his or her view on the topic, why should we take away the option of learning from their mistakes? We all deserve another chance, especially at a young age when we are just starting to form opinions on some topics. Alexia Lewis’ “A Parent’s Guide to Cancel Culture, Explained by a Teenager” states that “all it takes is a small action to be deemed cancel-worthy, but being aware of your actions can help you prevent getting canceled, too. Once you’re canceled, especially on a large scale, it can be hard to come back. Being canceled means everyone around you now questions their involvement with you, because in the eyes of the masses you now only represent the very thing that you were canceled for.”
Maybe this movement is actually the only option in a world where we can’t rely on a justice system to punish those that express racial or sexist behaviours. Take for example Harvey Weinstein, the producer who was able to dodge sexual abuse accusations for over 25 years, it was just with the famous MeToo Movement that this case took a turning point and the police got involved. In 2018 H.Weinstein was charged with rape. So, in this case, we cannot say that cancel culture didn’t have a real and major impact.
But it is not just in the case of famous people that this movement caused an important change. Big corporations can also suffer from it. A well-known case is the fashion powerhouse Dolce&Gabbana that made racist comments about the Chinese community. It didn’t end up just with tweets and hating comments, it ended up costing the brand $2M in just a few days.
After all this being said, we need to understand that cancel culture is not entirely good or bad. Sometimes it is a way to connect people to fight against an issue, but there are also times when we focus our attention and energy on things that don’t matter, there are times when an innocent person is being accused without having even the chance to speak out. We need to create positive change, we need to take advantage of these online platforms and spread awareness and lastly, we need to take a step back and listen.