By Sara Donofrio
Cancel culture is a phenomenon that is not new, but is certainly growing in popularity. On Youtube and in celebrity/Twitter culture, it has become a popular tactic for audiences to cyberbully and shame influencers for their mistakes. While it is perfectly okay to hold someone accountable for their actions, “canceling” someone is harmful and toxic.
Merriam-Webster states, “The idea of canceling—and as some have labeled it, cancel culture—has taken hold in recent years due to conversations prompted by #MeToo and other movements that demand greater accountability from public figures.”
The origin of cancel culture is fairly innocent—an attempt to improve society—but has clearly become an excuse to bully and shame without boundaries. It began with the #MeToo movement, now however the message is twisted and evolved into something quite different. The concept of accountability makes sense, but when you bring “canceling” into it, it changes the narrative. There are many more helpful and constructive ways to educate people and help them learn from their mistakes.
J.K. Rowling is just one example of a celebrity who had been canceled in 2019. She confirmed suspicions that she leans progressive left when she tweeted in defense of a British think tank employee who lost her job for criticizing ideas associated with the trans movement. Fans also spotted her favoriting tweets noted TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists).
While J.K. Rowling displaying her opinions on social media may have been harmful towards the community--particularly her LTBQ+ fans--there are better ways to educate someone rather than abuse them or dismiss them or their work. After her opinions on trans folk spread across the internet, there was a sharp decline in Harry Potter book sales and even a push to charge Rowling with a hate crime.
Explaining to people such as Rowling that what she had said or done was wrong, and creating a space for her to feel comfortable about speaking on the issue would have been much more effective than attacking and bullying her through the internet.
An example of an even more sudden and voracious attempt at canceling, was when last year, Carson King, 25, went to a football game and held up a sign that read “Busch Light Supply Needs Replenished” with his Venmo information. After the sign went viral and donations began to flood in, he decided to give the $600 he had received to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Then the media started contacting him, donations topped $1 million and Anheuser-Busch promised a year of free beer.
But, when an otherwise positive article involving him brought up two controversial tweets from when he was 16, the media frenzy and praise died down and Anheuser-Busch withdrew their offer and their plans to make him an ambassador.
He, unlike others however, has managed to escape the cancellation unscathed because of his honest apology and the actions he took after the scandal. He is now the head of the Carson King Foundation in addition to working two full-time jobs in construction.
The word “cancel” itself refers to an object rather than a human being. To objectify someone in this way ignores the issue at hand and instead villainizes the person. This implies that anything they had done in the past that deserved people’s recognition immediately disappears, which can critically harm one's mental health.
Cancel culture has become trendy and therefore affects people outside of the influencer and celebrity circle. One may be “canceled” even after a breakup and gain treatment from their significant other that is similar to how many audiences “cancel” Youtubers and influencers. The persistent false rumors, bullying, and ostracization from their peers can be taken outside of the social media sphere.
Whether or not cancer culture actually helps or hinders someone’s self-growth may depend drastically on the situation at hand. An example of someone outside of the public eye that had been “canceled,” is a man named Adam Smith, who had experienced major backlash for posting a video of him berating a Chick-fil-A employee about their company’s stance against gay marriage. This was back in 2012, before cancel culture had really taken off. This event drove him to thoughts of suicide and cost him his job.
“Anxiety and Depression is at it’s all time high with the cancel culture because it can be very isolating and lonely, as you feel everyone gave up on you before you could even apologize or correct your mistakes,” says Patrice N. Douglas in her article, “How the Cancel Culture is Toxic for Our Mental Health.”
It is also interesting to recognize that cancel culture comes in multiple forms. There is a type of “canceling” that may be more productive, but that word is fairly vague and generalized. Professor Anne H. Charity Hudley from the University of California, Santa Barbara, an expert on African American culture and linguistics, speaks on these definitions.
“The first is essentially a boycott. It is the withdrawal of financial support, political support, social, economic support, often in pop culture in the form of attention of a particular media star, a political figure, a business figure,” Hudley told CBS News. “And withdrawing publicly your support in a way that informs other people that should withdraw their support as well. The second definition, that is silencing something or somebody,” she added. “And they overlap, but it is a little bit different because one is more about withdrawing your attention and the other is actively seeking to stop someone else from speaking.”
Depending on the individual’s point of view, these definitions could overlap and mean essentially the same thing. It is important to consider that cancel culture may have been exacerbated due to the pandemic as well. Similarly, the explosion of the BLM movement seems to have increased the intensity of “cancels” in the past few months. Lisa Nakamura, the director of the Digital Studies Institute at the University of Michigan, believes that since the current pandemic started, the amount of people on the internet has clearly risen and along with it the pervasiveness of cancel culture has increased.
A person’s redeemability has to do with their actions after wrongful events take place, and should not have to be forced due to humiliation or bullying. To learn and grow, a person has to be given room to do so. Despite someone’s mistakes, there is no reason to “cancel” a human being.
Sara Donofrio is an editorial intern who is passionate about the written word and all things social media/entertainment.