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The Dichotomy of 'Cancel Culture'

Updated: Aug 1, 2020

Photograph by Yuyi John
Written by Jatin Shivdasani

'Cancel culture' refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support or canceling public figures (companies, brands, celebrities) after objectionable or offensive actions on their part.

The development of “canceling” individuals, brands, and even shows and films, on account of what some bear in mind to be offensive or problematic remarks, isn’t all that new.

Societies have shunned individuals for behaving outside of perceived social norms for hundreds of years, and this is often simply another variation. The entire premise behind this ideology is to cancel or stop being friends with and working with those who allegedly are perpetuating or engaging in problematic behaviors. At an initial glance, it is reasonably smart. We must always hold people accountable, especially if they are repeated abusers of power and people.

Cancel culture is generally perceived as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming. Over the previous few years, this trend has gained momentum under a fashionable new name — putting celebrities, firms, and media alike below a microscopic view of correctness.

Twitter, do your thing

This widespread request amongst the platform’s users actively encourages someone to be placed under the magnifier. Twitter users are typically famous for their FBI-like fact-finding skills- exhumation of past dirt, recent secrets, and discovering people’s identities. Such tactics, which are their speciality are currently being used for promotion of cancel culture.

In 2019 alone, the list of individuals who’ve faced this ‘cancellation’ included alleged sexual predators like R. Kelly; entertainers like Kanye West, Scarlett Johansson, and Gina Rodriguez, who all had offensive foot-in-mouth moments; and comedians like Kevin Hart and Shane Gillis, who faced public backlash when social media users unearthed prejudiced and racist jokes they’d created within the past.

The #MeToo movement was also fuelled by the cancel culture and plenty of victims found a voice amidst this culture. Public figures like Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, and plenty of perpetrators like them were effectively canceled as the movement unfolded. This culture held everyone responsible for the idea of what they did, what they said or what they posted.

Cancel culture, though, isn’t exclusive to celebrities. Companies and brands are under fire for racist imagery too.

After facing backlash for perpetuating racist stereotypes, the 130-year-old Aunt Jemima breakfast brand is getting a makeover. Similarly, Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Butterworth’s brands might be next.

Sports teams began to jump on board, too. After years of criticism, the Washington Redskins are finally brainstorming a new team name, inspiring the Cleveland Indians to consider doing the same. With cancel culture follows apologies for the actions that caused the cancellation in the first place. The #IsOverParty is an ode to cancel culture which trends after a person has been canceled. 

Jimmy Fallon was recently canceled after a video of him resurfaced wearing blackface while imitating Chris Rock, but the 45-year-old talk show host has since apologized, writing on Twitter that it was a “terrible decision” to wear blackface, that he is “very sorry” and thanked his fans for holding him accountable for his actions, despite how long ago it was. It’s the nature of public introspection and apology that the celebrity engage in when called out by fans that often determines if, and for how long, they’re canceled. 

However, that is not what cancel culture is currently. Instead, we tend to see people with personal vendettas singling out and ostracizing one person due to personal problems that might be resolved with straightforward and firm communication, or might have simply been avoided if people acted fairly and understood that at the end of the day, no one actually cares about who you have got one on one beef with.

Nowadays, we are quick to cancel and not so quick to forgive or believe that people can learn from mistakes and they are capable of rehabilitation. People can grow if given the chance. This intolerance has led people to carry out cancellations by digging up years-old dirt just to publically humiliate the person they don’t agree with. This culture started out as a pure thing but has now become a toxicity that is ever-growing amongst people. The people who oppose this culture have also been subjected to constant humiliation and ‘cancellation’ from the self-proclaimed moral police of social media which has led to unnecessary difficulties in their life.

Rejecting the cancel culture doesn’t mean rejecting the principles of social justice and the push for equality that fuels it. This doesn't mean suppressing our reactions or forgoing on answerability. On the contrary, it means giving ourselves space to really honor our feelings of unhappiness and anger, and conjointly not reacting in an exceeding method which means that others are incapable of compassion and change.

The distinction between cancel culture and a more reuniting, transformational approach to a disagreement is the distinction between expecting amends and never letting a wound shut.

The view that a traditional approach which includes an apology, atonement, and forgiveness is no longer enough may well be shocking. However, to people who think about cancel culture as an activist movement and push for meaningful modification, it’s a very important tool. And it’s clear that, as controversial as cancel culture is, it's here to stay.

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