Firstly, what is cancel culture?
Cancel culture is a form of online boycott, personally I think it’s more online shaming/bullying). It stems usually against people who have shared a controversial opinion or view, or those that have in the past behaved in a way which is perceived to be offensive. That behaviour is called out online – leading to them being ‘cancelled’.
Cancel Culture for me is one of the strangest phenomenons that’s found it’s way into the zeitgeist.
Taylor Swift summed it up well…’When you say someone is cancelled, it’s not a TV show. It’s a human being. You’re sending mass amounts of messaging to this person to either shut up, disappear, or it could also be perceived as, “Kill yourself”.’
2019 was the year that the term cancel culture went mainstream, as a rotating cast of characters (some famous, some not) who did unwise things (some awful, some not) faced the shame mobs.
I remember reading this: https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/10/15/20916272/gina-rodriguez-n-word-apology-backlash-history about Gina Rodriguez. Now I am big fan of Jane the Virgin. It’s funny, lighthearted and generally an easy watch but being completely honest when I read this article… I unfollowed Gina. I am actually a little ashamed about that now. It’s not a protest, a show of solidarity for black people, it’s empty because people make mistakes, they are human and it’s important to look at why people make mistakes like this – what is society has perpetuated their ability to act in the way that they do?
I highly recommend that you read this article and watch video below: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/31/us/politics/obama-woke-cancel-culture.html – Here’s an excerpt from it: ‘I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people … that the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people and that’s enough.’ Obama said that achieving change was a much more difficult issue than simply using social media. ‘That is not activism, that is not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far’.
He summed it up perfectly. Cancel culture ignores the fact that no one is perfect. Yet, it expects everyone to act as if they are.
Then today I see the release of this letter:
JK Rowling was recently at the centre of a social media frenzy after controversial tweets led her to be faced with accusations of transphobia – leading to several Harry Potter cast members speaking in support of transgender people as well as four authors leaving her literary agency in protest. She is one of the people to have signed this letter calling for an end to ‘cancel culture’.
Now I am conflicted here. The activist in me is angry and 100% aligns with this feedback:
But the human in me, wants to under ‘why’ people say or act in a way that warrants a ‘cancel culture’ response. I agree with Barack Obama in that this is not activism. I agree with him that this does not create change and in many cases can actually heighten popularity and awareness.
When we dive back into old tweets, we have no context. We don’t understand the viewpoint – we just see words. We don’t take into account ‘experience’ and what people have learnt over time… we also don’t ask questions. We jump to conclusions and judge. Essentially leaping into a keyboard warrior frenzy without asking ourselves ‘why’?
DO NOT misquote or get me wrong here. There is no excuse for racial, homophobic, sexist, discriminatory talk or actions. I don’t agree with it at all. People like Katie Hopkins should have been banned from Twitter years ago. She’s a prime example of someone who uses their D-List fame to further there horrendous views. Instances like that require a ‘badge of shame’ and actually, cancelling those kind of people in the ‘right way’ has its place. Hateful conduct should not be tolerated and those with a clear track record of this kind of behaviour need to be brought to account BUT it needs to be done in the right way. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/jun/19/katie-hopkins-permanently-removed-from-twitter.
The question I asked myself as I finished reading the letter posted by Harper’s Bazaar. Am I perfect?…
I’m not. I’m far from it.
Are you perfect?
My suggestion would be therefore that we have to stop character assassination and instead consider the problem in society that drove them to act in such a way.
So what have I learnt? Is it naive to think that being kind breeds kindness? Maybe… is it a bad way to live? Probably not.
We’re in a time of social and cultural uncertainty and we need to seriously consider where we stand and why. Our opinions and fight for social justice, equality, an end to systemic racism and so much more, do not give her carte blanche to be judge, jury and executioner… they give us the opportunity to use our voices for good, use of our voices for change and stand up in right way against what’s wrong.
I want to be able to sleep at night and I need to know that I helped create change that’s lasting. Does cancel culture allow that? Or does it just breed further unrest and toxicity within society?